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Monday, September 18, 2017

School Daze

Ah! Autumn!
I love school. To this day, I love stepping on to a campus – any campus. Grade schools. High schools. Colleges! The aromas of autumn and cafeteria spin me back to those days of learning. Armed with a new batch of pencils, it was a time to reunite with classmates after summer break and show off my new roller skating jeans. Not everyone had roller-skating jeans.

My parents had a sneaky way of instilling my love of learning. They loved to quiz me on news and topics I was oblivious to. Eventually, I grew tired of being dumb. So I convinced myself to study harder and read stuff beyond my Nancy Drew mysteries. Learning paid off of me. And there's one thing I know for sure: I want it to pay off for my kids.

This has not been a problem for my daughter who is naturally-inquisitive. I've never had to push her to study. As a matter of fact, she found my homework assistance detrimental to her grades. (I offered to help with a TAG English assignment once. Apparently, it was one of the worst grades she got that semester.)

My son is a different story. Not only would he prefer to be doing just about anything else in the world than study, but he believes there's absolutely nothing wrong with a B. And I agree. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a B, as long is it's someone else's grade. I'm only kidding. Sort of.

To be fair, Cole is doing well in school this year. (So far!) Some of this has to do with the fact that he's beginning to realize college is around the corner. Some of this has to do with the development of his teenage brain. Mostly, I think, it's because he's not obsessed with any particular girl right now.

There's been a learning curve for me on this whole business of "raising your son to take school seriously." But here are two actions I have found to be somewhat helpful:

  • I never assume he has studied for a test, even if he says he did. 
  • I push and push and push him to explain concepts to me. Within 30 seconds I can tell whether he understands what he's talking about. It's not just about memorization anymore.

A few years ago Cole told that he received an A on a test. My response was, "See Cole! Doesn't it feel  great to get that good grade? It's kind of like when you get a goal in soccer!" He quickly retorted with a snort. "No, Mom. It's nothing like getting a goal in soccer." He went on to explain that the first thing he thinks about when he gets a good grade is how it will make his mother happy.

Professor Steffie
But I'm sensing a change in Cole. He texted me the other day about getting an A on a science test. And that night? He went on to talk about what he was learning. With great interest, I listened intensely as he droned on about anatomy. I wasn't so intrigued with the content. But I was excited to detect a bit of pride. It might not have been as exhilarating as a soccer goal, but he certainly seemed to feel a sense of achievement. I think a love of learning might be starting to percolate.

I'm teaching Principles of Management at Iowa Western this semester. I didn't decide to do this because I've been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I decided to do this because I value learning. And as many of you have probably guessed, I like to share my experiences. Maybe, just maybe, I'll help a few others to percolate a love of learning.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pulling off the Band-Aid

The other night I was walking a track around a soccer complex filled with intense youngsters wearing colorful uniforms and the most adorable, tiny cleats. As I watched pure exuberance chase soccer balls, my heart sang and stung just a little. Weren't those my kids just only a few short years ago?
watching them play is still fun

Last weekend we traversed (in our Traverse!) to Iowa City to enjoy the first football game of the season. The plans were to meet up with our good friends and catch a glimpse of our college-aged daughter. And a glimpse is all we got. She's a busy girl with a full course load, a job, and friends who do't go out until after 10 PM. Crazy kids.

I'm so proud of our kids who are focused and have goals. Alex will become a journalist tackling social issues. Cole will either be an MLS soccer player or something else. (He really is talking about the "something else" possibilities.) 

Sometimes it just hits me. My usefulness as a parent is waning fast.

I was expressing this sentiment to a recently-retired friend of my parents. This is how he responded:

I remember when we took Michael to Luther College in 2001. Everything I had read said to not prolong the "tearing" apart by lingering at college after getting him settled into his dorm. They told us that parents weekend was just six weeks away and a good time to linger. So, with an abruptness we took him, moved his stuff in said our good byes and departed. It was rough on me and I was full of tears in the car pulling away. It was not that I was first experiencing his independence that we trained him to have but the finality of it all that the corner actually turned. Since that date our times together are richer and better with time. A beer or glass of wine are not required to make this so but they are a compliment for part of the times we are now together.

Beautifully-worded, Chris Hoffmann.

an Iowa City party sans the daughter
Last night I was completely sacked out when my son came home after midnight. He had driven a carload of kids to Council Bluffs to see the movie. The kid just turned sixteen, and I don't even remember saying goodnight to him! According to Doug I said, "Home so early, Cole?" Bad mom? Nah. I'm a good mom who has a proclivity for deep sleep. As most mothers understand, deep sleep is typically not an option as your kids grow up. Maybe, just maybe I'm pulling off the band-aid. And you know what? I'm going to enjoy that deep sleep – and every other moment as it comes.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Tale of the Generous Spirit

One summer during college I worked at Mickel’s – that landmark restaurant of Shelby County with the cheery orange and yellow facade on the corner of 12th and Chatburn. Decadent fried rolls. Homemade sweet salad dressing which was clearly the best condiment in the house. Mickels (may it rest-in-peace) was a local treasure. I still think fondly of my time there, remembering the fun environment and, of course, the fried rolls.

There was an elderly couple that came in fairly frequently. Okay, there were a lot of elderly couples who came there frequently. But this particular couple was iconic to the waiting staff. The man was a dear, gentle soul with an adorable smile. And his wife? Oh my goodness. I’m not sure there are words. Maybe the best way to describe her would be this: a fire-breathing dragon lady.

As he would try to make friendly small-talk, she would interrupt with a spitting, “I want a cheeseburger.” Then she would tell him to shut up and order. As she growled, he continued to chuckle in a polite way. She never liked her food. He always complimented. And when it came time to pay the bill, she made darn sure he wasn’t going to leave a tip. Somehow, he always managed to hide a little something under the placemat.

You know what I think about when I remember that old couple? The kind soul of the old man. It easily eclipses the fire of the dragon lady.

Here’s the thing. Kindness is powerful. I loved waiting on that couple – we all did. Because Mr. Kindsoul was inspiring. The poor guy lived in hell, but you’d never know it. His response to his situation seemed to be patience and generosity.

In our household lives a soon-to-be 16-year-old boy. I’m not sure if any of you have experience with teenage boys, but they don’t always think. As a matter of fact, it’s been proven scientifically that teenager brains are not fully developed. But, when Cole forgets to shut off a hydrant and lets water run all night, our knee-jerk is not to remember that he can’t help his folly. We are ready to chew some ass. 

“Cole! What kind of dumb-ass move was that? You gonna pay the water bill next month?”

Cole feels terrible. I feel terrible. I’m thinking Doug feels kind of bad too, but I’m not sure fathers experience mom-guilt like we do.

Maybe patience and kindness is the answer. What would be so wrong with this?

“Cole. The weirdest thing happened – the hydrant was left on overnight. Any thoughts on how that might’ve happened? Ha ha!” 

Okay. Maybe no ha ha. Cole would still feel horrible, but I’m thinking he’d appreciate our gentle approach. And we all would move on to the next thing. Unless, it happened again. Then I’d probably emerge into Mrs. Dragonlady.

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.