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Friday, August 11, 2017

This one goes out to the one I love

This is the weekend of Doug as he flips to minus one year and counting before…a big decade birthday. This also happens to be the same month we celebrate 23 years of wedded bliss. It all feels like a major milestones for us. (Maybe it has something to do with seeing his ex last weekend at the class reunion.) I’m just so happy I married someone I still like. As a matter of fact, I made a list.

Why I like my husband:
He will even selfie with me.
·         He makes me laugh even when I don’t want to. (Case in point: whenever something good happens, he shouts out with glee, “Tits!” I hate this exclamation, but I laugh every time.)
·         He is as cute as ever and kills it with his thinning tresses. Yessiree, Alex and Cole Kramer. The chemistry between us is still there. So, suck it up and watch us kiss.
·         He loves his kids in a way so different than me that without his influence, we might have raised horrible children who would’ve never learned anything about baseball.
·         He convinces me to relax. That is exactly why my house is a disaster most of the time. And I rarely throw a tantrum about it.
·         He’s entirely handy, not be confused with handsy. (He’s that too, but I wouldn’t think of adding that on this list.)
·         His favorite outfit is a gray t-shirt and sweat shorts, which happens to be my favorite outfit to wear as well. I love being a couple who wears comfy threads to the bar on a Saturday night.
·         He feeds our cat potato chips off the counter.
·         He’s annoyingly modest. (He actually makes me feel like a show off. But the quality is so endearing. I try really hard to be more like him in this respect.)
·         He takes the dog for rides on the four-wheeler.
·         He will take me to Natalie Merchant and hardly complain if they run out of beer.
·         He thinks Tom Hanks is the best actor of all time. I don’t happen to agree with this, but I love it that he has an opinion about acting. (Mr. Hanks—if you’re reading this blog, you would be in my top ten.)
·         He calls me beautiful every day no matter how depraved I look.

And those are the main reasons I like my husband. Oh yes. I love him as well. Why you ask? It can be summed up as this:

Douglas Mark Kramer is something better than great—he’s good. (Yeah. I totally ripped this off a movie. But it’s true.)

Happy Birthday, Love.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

One Time, at Band Camp

The summer is closing in on us! And kids are biting at the bit to get back to school! Well, some kids probably are. Not mine so much. My college-aged child seems to be having a notorious time in Iowa City, as indicated by her Snapchat stories. (I’m a stalking mom.) My high schooler also seems to having a good summer with his various expeditions. (Thank goodness for friends who do cool things and invite Cole to tag along. And a cousin who's convinced him that golfing is addicting. Otherwise his summer might’ve consisted of “How I Met Your Mother” marathons with his parents.)

Actually, the summer hasn’t been without a little constructive activity for our children. Alex has been working her tail off at a restaurant and discovering the freedom that comes with a little pocket change. Cole has been required by his mother to take an online Algebra class. And we made him go to soccer camp.


Now, as most of you know, Cole is very passionate about soccer. But he was less than excited about attending camp–at CREIGHTON no less! The university he dreams of attending, but probably won’t because it’s too pricey. On the day we were to take him to Omaha, our happy son turned atypically growly. I didn’t blame him for being anxious. You see, when I was young, my parents sent me to (wait for it) piano camp. Yes, I’ve been the butt of many family jokes about this.

It was the summer after my 7th grade year. My parents dropped my off at Coe College in Cedar Rapids–that city with the emanating rancid odor from the Quaker Oats factory. It didn’t add appeal.

After Mom and Dad left me with a roommate who was less than excited to be chumming up with a small-town girl from the other side of the state, my heart sunk and I felt lonelier than I had ever felt. I would’ve done anything to go home. But I also knew my parents had paid a fee that took a decent bite of their paychecks. I had to suck it up. And you know what? I learned some valuable life lessons, like:

·         Not everyone will be nice. But you’ll still be okay.
·         A lot of people are nice. It’s up to you to seek them out.
·         Only you can make or break an experience.
·         Getting out of your comfort zone will prepare you for more situations in life than you can possibly imagine.

Hey Dude. Where should we put the snacks?
I went to piano camp every year through high school. And I have no doubt that piano camp was training ground for my career in college and, well, my career. I told all of this and more to my son before we left that day. He was still cranky. Until, of course, we picked up his best friend and met four of his other buddies at the dorm. He practically pushed us out the door with glee. Sure, he had the benefit of being surrounded by his friends, as opposed to being stuck with a snooty bitch from Des Moines. (I'm not bitter.)

But still! He met people, learned to play with an unfamiliar team, take instructions from new coaches, and be responsible–getting to all of his sessions without his mother's help. He did it! And only locked the keys in his room once! No matter, he had received something better than soccer tips at camp.

I sensed a new confidence in Cole. (He’s a confident kid anyway. As a matter of fact, when I told him I missed him the other day, he responded, “I know! I would miss me too!”) But this was a different, more mature confidence. Perhaps he’s realizing that college isn’t so far away. And the future isn’t so scary after all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Mom's Job is Never Done. Hallelujah!

Last night after a tough night at soccer practice, Cole came home a bit crabby–unusual for the typically happy kid. So, I put on the mom-motivational hat, giving him the pep talk about staying positive, working hard, encouraging your teammates even when you're night isn't going so well, and so on...Who knows how much of it sunk in? It's a bit difficult to tell through glazed eyes. I'm sure he wasn't bored with my profound thoughts. I'm assuming his lack of response was from being too hot and tired. Right?

Then, after falling asleep, I got a text at midnight. My daughter had a horrible headache. As a migraine sufferer, my fear has been that either of my kids will inherit that insufferable affliction. So I texted her all sorts of advice: drink lots of water, take ibuprofen (with crackers), tie an ice cold rag around your head, give yourself a sinus massage, and so on. After we quit texting, I wondered if I should've sent her to the ER!

Instead of waking up refreshed, I woke up worried. Was Alex okay? Was Cole still discouraged?
A rare pic with me and the kids: the Princess and the Pooh.

I'm happy to report that both are fine. Cole hung with friends all day and Alex made it to her summer job. Here's the funny thing. Just as I'm starting to feel irrelevant as my place as a mom, BOOM! I'm needed again: advising a dispirited kid, being awakened in the middle of the night by a sick daughter. Not that I felt happy about either of their situations, but I was there for them. I have been trying to convince Doug we need to adopt some 5-year-olds, but maybe we're good. Maybe we still do serve a purpose.

Tonight, I'm sitting at home by myself watching old episodes of Glee. It's a good way to keep occupied as I stay on guard, at my post, until my kids need me again. Although, I wouldn't mind having someone besides my dog to watch these fantastic musical routines with...Duh! Maybe I should call my mom.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Happily Ever After

A few weeks before we were married my mother said something to me I won't ever forget. "Doug is a great guy. But you need to understand that no matter how much you love him, marriage is hard." I smiled and thought to myself, "Sure. Maybe for most people, but they don't know us!"

I don't have to tell any of you who have been married longer than a year, that my mother was right. Marriage is hard. (Imagine the courage of my husband who decided to do it twice!) But after nearly 23 years of wedded bliss and more stretches of empty-nest-edness, I'm happy to report we are really starting to get the hang of this marriage thing. With a bit of thought, I've determined that there are three distinct challenges in marriages to conquer: career, children and domesticity.


I was studying for my MBA when Doug and I met, so he knew I was going to be a career woman. I'm pretty sure that was part of the attraction–someone who was driven with a goal. He was also driven with a goal. We both fervidly agreed that we each needed to be happy in our own professional lives before we could be happy with each other. I still believe this to be true. But there was a slight problem with how each of us interpreted this belief. Doug and I both threw ourselves into careers without any real thought of supporting each other. I had to learn that he would simply be absent during the fall and spring. He had to learn that I might be gone at times as well for work–even traveling overnight. It took a while for both of us to really understand how we needed to support each other. And now? I will stomp through cow manure with him to fix fence. And he will attend a work event without long as there is beer of course. But that goes without saying.


Who would've thought the thing that reflects your closeness as a couple could cause so much discord? For the year following Alex's birth, I was questioning how much I really liked Doug. (I knew I loved him, but liking was difficult–even with his ability to make me laugh.) Obviously, he loved the cute little baby, but he seemed to think of her as more of a pet than a responsibility. There were town-team basketball games to play, bars to keep open. One time, Doug and his friend, Pat, went golfing as their wives stayed home with the babies. The weather began to shift and tornado warnings were issued. It was upsetting. I was scared and wanted my husband to be home with us. So, I called Doug and said something to the effect, "It's really bad outside. You might want to watch the weather before you come home." What I really was saying: "GET HOME RIGHT NOW! YOUR WIFE IS NERVOUS AS SHE'S CLUTCHING THE BABY IN THE BASEMENT!" As it turned out, Doug hung up the phone, turned to Pat and said, "Hey! Stef says the weather is bad and not to come home right now." Thus, another late night ensued with a touchy morning in the Kramer household.

By the time child #2 came around, things had changed considerably. There was an understanding
that both of us had to raise the kids. Of course, it helped that Doug was getting too old to play basketball. And since #2 was a boy, there would be baseball lessons to teach. All kidding aside, we did began to understand each other's parenting strengths and we play to them the best we can. I happen to be the more nurturing type and do things like cut the kids' meat. Doug is more practical and knows that it's his job to teach the kids how to cut their own meat. The partnership has worked pretty well.

While raising kids certainly has had its challenges to our marriage, at least we have been committed to do the right thing for our kids' sake. Mistakes? For sure. But at least we've become a united front in this area. This means that the biggest challenge to our marriage has been...domesticity.


In my opinion, there are three legs to this domestic aspect of marriage: cooking, household projects, and the horrible chore of cleaning.

I remember being quite proud of my young husband, many years ago, when someone asked him, "How can you stand your wife getting home so late from work? Don't you want supper made for you by then?" My very-evolved farm boy responded, "I don't expect her to cook for me. She works hard too." What a guy. But I'm not sure he completely adopted this philosophy, until recently. The "What's for supper?" mentality was too far engrained in his soul.While he didn't think it was right for me to do all of the cooking, he really didn't want to do it either. So for many years, we ate out a lot. Then, one day, we began to watch the Food Network. It honestly changed our lives and gave a boost to our marriage. We BOTH began to experiment in the kitchen with foods and flavors. Together, we found the joy and reward of making a savory meal. Now cooking isn't a chore for us. It's bonding time. Thank you, Bobby Flay!

I ran with this Food Network idea and began flipping the channel to HGTV. Sneaky, huh? Sneaky, maybe. But effective. As Doug and I would watch episodes of Fixer Upper, we began to get ideas for the house. Most recently, we've installed a limestone border, created a berm for our front flower bed, built a brick border for the fire pit, and have lots of ideas for new projects–much of them involve repurposing stuff from the old farmhouse for our current residence. I still can't believe how crafty we've become. Of course, I am much more of a director and Doug is very much the brawn. No matter, it works. Thank you Chip and Joanna Gaines!


As for cleaning? We really don't have a great and fair system for this. Honestly, we both bicker about it a bit...mainly, because we both really hate to clean. But I have faith that very soon there will a new channel to inspire us to dust and vacuum more. In the meantime, we'll continue this marriage adventure by finding more and different ways to bond. Hey...I got an idea! Travel. We have yet to become addicted to The Travel Channel. No worries, Doug is great with the remote. Chicago.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Backseat

My husband and I are sitting in the backseat of what used to be our good car which has been handed down to our son. Cole is practicing the route to Council Bluffs for when he turns sixteen next month. This will come in handy for things like soccer practice and apparently dates, he says. Our baby is almost sixteen. Ready to escape.

Our eldest daughter stayed at college this summer, opting to make money and hang out with young adults in a fun town. Since she is waitressing, it's difficult for her to come home on the weekends. And if she happens to come across a free weekend, she'd prefer Chicago over Earling. Go figure. Anyway, I was determined to reunite our family nucleus, so on the 4th of July we met in Des Moines for lunch. We skipped barbecue and fireworks in favor of Chinese food, the bookstore, an action movie, and of course ice cream. (There were actually quite a lot of us celebrating our patriotism this way. I guess that's why they call it America, baby.) Anyway, the day was peaceful and filled with laughs. I felt sad when my daughter departed for Iowa City, since there are fewer and fewer times we get to be together.

When the kids were little, we'd always attend the Dunlap 4th of July parade. It was (and still is) the quintessential Iowa parade: billions of tractors, marching geese dressed up like cowboys, fire trucks who like the sound of their own horn, melty tootsie rolls, and pretty horses who practically wave to the crowd like beauty queens. Then one day as I was instructing everyone to put on their patriotic Old Navy tees before the parade, they asked, “Do we have to go?” It was Independence Day, and they were testing their independence. Sure they were older, but still pretty darn young. My heart tugged a bit, and I realized there would be many more moments like that. I had to adjust to the facts. The kids would continue to grow up. They would continue to have their own interests. They would choose what they really wanted to do, like miss parades. Effectively, they'd be the drivers of their own lives. 

I'm not sure I love sitting in the backseat. But I'm getting used to it. And to be honest, Baby Driver was pretty freaking entertaining. And as long as our kids never outgrow ice cream, they will always be the young toddlers in my heart.

"Kids! We're taking you to parade!"
"Just kidding. How about a movie?"

Sunday, June 25, 2017

On Age

“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're thirty-four.”

That quote is from the late and great Nora Ephron. Unless you're Jennifer Aniston, most women over the age of 40 will relate. Yesterday I celebrated numero 48. It was a fun, celebratory day with lots of good wishes from lots of special people in my life. But it's impossible for me not think FORTY-EIGHT! OH MY GOD. WHEN DID I GET THAT OLD? My own father can't believe he's the dad of an old person. My kids, on the other hand, have always thought I was old. Nevertheless, I will continue to coach myself by saying things like, "Well, I'm not 50 yet." And when that milestone hits in two years, I'll move on and say things like "Well, I'm not 51 yet."

me concerned about age at 47
I used to work with a guy who would tell people he was 50 when he was actually in his thirties. Everyone would be like, "Really? You look so young!" I thought this to be an ingenious strategy. If someone is bound to lie about their age (unless they're under the age of 21), they tend to say they're actually younger than they are, which is kind of dumb really. If I were to tell someone right now I was thirty, they'd look at me and spout out some sort of lie like, "You look so good."  But they'd actually be thinking,"Whoa. That woman hasn't aged well." Best to stick with the truth probably. And why not?

There's much to be said about aging. I could go on about the wisdom you gain as you grow older and yadayadayada. Or, how it's nice to reach an age when you don't have to worry about how to pay your bills. But the truth is that each year brings its own challenges and rewards. Good stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. You figure out how to cope and you try to laugh along the way. Laughing is key as your body starts to take on some strange qualities. (When did my husband and I obtain such bad breath? How does that happen all of the sudden?)

I often find myself reminiscing about the days when our kids were cute toddlers and long to go back to snuggling and reading with them on the couch. Undoubtedly, I loved those moments. But there were the other moments too. The little spats with my husband on dividing up the work. Picking up the zillions of legos on the floor. (I still find them once in a while.) Drying the many tears that come with children. And the continual insecurity that time was going too fast and I wasn't doing everything I needed to be doing.

Then I reached 48. And I'm not so worried anymore. I can go to the grocery store without makeup and not care. My husband and I are as happy as we've ever been. The kids are fine–quite good actually. They can do their own laundry and make grilled cheeses.

Okay sure, my hair needs color every four weeks. There's this squish around my stomach that won't shrink no matter how much I diet. There are things like colonoscopies that lurk in my short future. It's all really okay. I know this because I can put on a bikini (in the privacy of my own home of course) and instead of cry, I laugh–a sure sign of maturity.
me with posse not concerned about age at 48

Monday, June 5, 2017

I Want to Run!

There were plenty of reasons not to go.

  • It was going to be expensive.
  • The boys might've had state soccer that weekend.
  • Cole is playing summer league.
  • Doug would most likely be spraying.
  • It was going to be expensive.

Still. It was U2. The 30-year reunion of The Joshua Tree tour. Quite possibly the best album ever made according to the Stef Kramer book of music opinions. So I bought the tickets and made hotel reservations for the closest venue: Chicago on June 4th. Then I found out my cousin was getting married that weekend. Oh druthers! God didn't want us to go.

I decided we would sell our tickets. When I tried to cancel my hotel reservation, I was told, "No problem!" But I'd still be charged for both nights. What was going on? God was definitely giving us mixed signals. So after some hand wringing and an assurance from my cousin that there'd be no hard feelings, the trip was on. 

I took two days off from work. Doug scrambled to finish spraying before leaving. Cole told his coach he'd be gone. So with a touch of anxiety, we left for the weekend. Within a few hours, I had no regrets. The weekend was in the Top Ten strata. Why you ask?

My and my college pal, Laura.
  • Met up with our busy and elusive daughter, Alex, in Iowa City just as the Arts Festival was going on. What luck! Doug and Cole couldn't have been happier to get their dose of culture.
  • Had lunch with a college friend whom I haven't seen for 20 years. 20 years. It was a three hour lunch. (A three hour lunch!) Tears. Smiles. Memories of two 21 year-olds in 1990 getting 42 pitchers at Dooley's on their day-apart birthdays with hardly enough friends to drink all the booze. Lots of laughter.
  • Talked with my hubby. I mean really talked. Not once did we discuss schedules or daily to-do's. And you know what? I really like hanging out with Doug. He's fun and good and likes to laugh. I'm so glad I married him.

Did I mention we saw U2? In Soldier Field? In all honesty, it wasn't even the highlight. It was the opening act, The Lumineers. Kidding! I won't deny the entire show was a delight. But the best parts of the weekend? Our kids hanging out together while we scooted off to Chicago. Seeing an old friend whom I still adore. Spending alone time with my cool and awesome husband. 

There's always a million reasons not to do something. So next time you agonize over taking that trip, I'd suggest focusing on the one good reason to do it: connecting with the people that matter to you. That's what Bono would do.