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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tales from #TheDressmaker

One of my mom's favorite sayings is "Nothing perks you up like a piece of fabric." This mantra has been ever-present since the time my mother would either use her seamstress skills or whisk me off on a weekend shopping trip to ensure her only daughter had a plentiful wardrobe. Often I think about my affinity for a trendy coat or a new pair jeans and wonder. Is this vanity? This need to replenish my closet with something new anytime I notice an empty hanger?

My best friend Amy also likes to shop. Throughout the years, we have sketched out several shopping trip plans. Kansas City. New York. Chicago, This year, this has translated into two days. Once in Harlan and the other in Gretna. If you'd ask either of our husbands, they'd estimate we do this every week. But they are quite mistaken. Two times this year. One of those days happened to be last Monday to honor that wonderful celebration called Columbus Day. Whether we were moved by the explorer's historical significance, or enriched by the quick dash to the city, we're unsure. But I am certain our spirits were lifted.

Here's a quick summary of the day:

  • Discovered Nebraska Crossing Outlets by Gretna with its infinitude of stores. As we drove around with our mouths agape, it felt just a little like hitting the jackpot. Gap. J Crew. Loft. Fossil! We were most likely going to do some damage. My credit card was bouncing in my purse.
  • Dashed through some rain (didn't melt). Hit Nike first. The stop was practically an obligation. Kind of like a Target stop for toilet paper. We'd be able to pick up a few guilt purchases for our kids AND pick out those pieces which would either inspire us to workout or allow us to hangout in sweats just a little more than we already do.
  • Dashed through more rain (now pellets). Landed in Michael Kohrs. Amy needed a purse. I had no intentions of making a purchase since I had just bought a purse which I love, but that store was kinda neat. Not only did Amy find a show-stopping suede purse and I find a pair of maroon-jeans that actually fit, we got our merchandise for more than 50% off. Jackpot fer sure.
  • Unbelievably, it had become decision time. Time was flying at Mach speed. We had only made it two stores. But there was this movie, you see. A MOVIE! A movie without the requirement of action or gore. A chic-flick! We decided to cash in on our good fortune and head to the big-screen. Popcorn, candy and Diet Coke would become our most satisfying lunch.
Stef and Amy

We saw The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslet who was amazing and beautiful as a, wait for it...dressmaker. She returns to her gritty hometown in Australia to uncover a great secret of her past and the town's past. (Beyond the engaging plot, witty banter, and colorful attire, there's quite a bonus in this movie: Liam freaking Hemsworth.) One particular scene captured the spirit of our shopping day when the dusty, colorless town suddenly becomes garnished by ladies in extravagant evening gowns, just going about their daily business. This all made for good comedy; but I couldn't help but observe and relate how the attitude of the women had been transformed into an appealing confidence. The power of fabric.

Perhaps there is a sliver of vanity in wanting new clothes. But I think there's more to it. None of that day would've been much fun if I had been by myself. Whenever I decide to break out my new maroon jeans, I'll be reminded of the fun day I shared with Amy. And I can't help but think a piece of fabric not only revives the spirit, but connects people. It fuels friendships. It's only fitting my mother operates a clothing boutique as her retirement gig. She's not just surrounded by fabric–something she loves, but she's surrounded by people–old and new friends.

Mom should probably revise her saying:

Nothing perks you up like a piece of fabric–or a good friend–or a good friend with a new piece of fabric.

Monday, October 10, 2016

#momlife conversation REBOOT with Mandy Wagner

With the weather turning chillier, it's a fine time to cozy up with a hot beverage and settle in with another mom chat. So grab your poison. Here's another good one.

With Justin Wagner serving as superintendent of our beloved school system, chances are many of you've met Mandy–the adorable wife and mother of the Wagner clan. Our oldest girls graduated together last year. Thus, we endured the same grieving process last year as we sent our daughters college, of course. I asked Mandy to share some thoughts on life.

Quick Bio:
Justin, Carter, Mandy, Brady & Taylor
Married to Justin and mother of three: Taylor(19), Brady(16), Carter(14). Stay at home mom (even though all my kids are school age), but my dream job finally came true 5 years ago!  I thank my husband for giving me the opportunity. I firmly believe that I am a better wife and mother because I can take care of the day in and day out things, and take care of the household and all the details. Then at the end of their school day I can focus on just being Mom and give them the time/attention they deserve!

Note: Not only is Mandy a dedicated wife and mother, but she spends her time volunteering and mentoring.  

The first thing you do in the morning:
Check my calendar for the day

The best advice you've ever given to your kids:
Be the reason someone smiles today! It's the simple gestures that mean the most and can make the difference!

Favorite Family Tradition:
Operation's our name for the crazy black Friday shopping done over Thanksgiving with my side of the family. Everyone (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) is involved and it truly is a mission to divide and conquer and get everybody's wish list checked off! Topped off with breakfast at Perkins to talk about the craziness of it all!

Opinion on Life Balance:
I love the quote,"Balance is not something you find, it is something you create."  With the craziness of life and constant change, I find myself recreating that balance time and time again, with as much gratefulness along the way for all the blessings in life!

Guiltiest Pleasure:
DVR in my bedroom and snapchatting my three sisters 

Most-used or Favorite App:
AccuWeather - I am a weather freak and am constantly tracking weather and following every meteorologist I can on social media to compare it to my weather predictions.  I think I would be a storm chaser in another life!

What's your go-to meal?
Spaghetti is always and quick and easy one in our household, and probably the most requested. But with as much as we are on the go, PB&J and Pringles get packed in our car cooler quite frequently!

Favorite piece in your wardrobe:
Honestly , my jammies are my favorite, especially as the weather gets chilly. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, if I know I am done with all the running/activities, my jammies go on whether its 3pm or 9pm!

How you disconnect:
I am a reality TV junkie, so I'm kind of embarrassed to say I love all those crazy shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, Say Yes to the Dress, Naked and Afraid, The Voice, Chopped, Big Brother, Bachelorette...the list goes on and on!

Last thing you do before you go to bed:
Wash my face and say my prayers.

What was the last thing you read or saw that you couldn't quit  
thinking about?
Taking God At His Word by Kevin DeYoung 
It is one of the countless books we get as gifts from my mother-in-law, and I use to complain about all the self-help books she sent (feeling more inadequate with each one.) Over the years I've come to realize how great they are and that she is one of my biggest fans and wants nothing more than for me to be the best person/mom/wife I can be. 

What has been the most surprising thing about being a parent?
Life truly does get better and better! In the moment we worry and cry and fuss about our kids growing up and moving into the next stage of life. We reminisce about what was and how it can't possibly get any better....but each stage is more beautiful and rewarding than the next and it makes me so excited to grow old with my hubby and watch our kids lives unfold!

No one would deny the Wagners are optimistic and kind people who work hard to make good things happen. I think we have a glimpse as to why. Thanks Mandy for sharing!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Perspectives a Fortune Cookie Teller

Three months ago, I received a fortune cookie that said, 

Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.”

Like any rational person, I put a note on my Outlook Calendar, marking the date. Imagine my delight when I saw my note on Tuesday! Something big was going to happen. Had I purchased a lottery ticket I had forgotten? Or registered to win a trip that didn't require an investment in a timeshare? Or maybe, just maybe, I had finally gotten that big book deal from Random House. I won't lie. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. I only had a four-hour board meeting to get through. No problem! Good things were in store.

Once I got home, I checked my email. Dick’s Sporting Goods was having a 40% off sale. Good news, but not great. I kept scrolling, but didn't find any message indicating a book deal or contest winnings. Not to worry. The night wasn't over!

I'll cut to the chase to avoid suspense. I went to bed, wondering if my Chinese fortune cookie had been defective. All week I wondered. As a matter of fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how HAPLESS the last few days had been.
  • Got a nail in my car on the way to meet an author I admire! Missed the entire event.
  • Had a random beer bottle thrown at me. Seriously. It shattered before my feet.
  • Gained a pound.
  • My son got yanked from his position in football.
  • Okay. Actually I gained two pounds.

I reread the fortune. (I keep a stack of them.)

"Good things are in store for you."

I put it away with a sigh.

But I didn't put it out of my head.

Had I overlooked anything this week? 

Any good things? 


  • Daughter surprised us by coming home from college to round out a fantastic Kramfam weekend in which we devoured a crazy delicious pizza in Panora. Worth the two extra pounds of muffin-top.
  • Aforementioned daughter also called me twice this week to chat about life plans instead of a physical ailment she self-diagnosed on Web MD.
  • Sat by good friend at Mass this week. Cheered my heart.
  • The beer bottle MISSED my face. No one was maimed. How great is that?
  • Received an email from an old college friend telling me how she loved my book and has been recommending it to others. (Better than a book deal! Almost.)
  • Ran into another good friend whom informed me that her hubby had just survived a serious bout of WEST NILE! He is better now. Thank goodness!
  • Harvest! Doug opened up the fields! And we've gone five days without rain! (Did I just jinx it?)
  • And the coolest thing about this week? A text. Received from my son, after I sent him some encouragement. Here's the dialogue.

I got a pretty good life anyway so I'm good. :) 

A pretty good life fo sho. My kids are great. My hubby is happy. Our parents are healthy. We have great friends. And we can have pizza pretty much anytime we want.

Fortune cookie was spot on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Breaking the Silence: A Beloved Advocate’s Legacy

Teal isn’t just another pretty color. For many, it’s a reminder of a deadly killer who strikes without warning. The family of Nadine Kenkel knows this all too well.

Last month I was asked to join the Relay for Life committee to write monthly articles to shed light on cancer awareness. I was excited about the request—tapping into my writing hobby to do some good. With September designated as Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, I knew the first person I wanted to interview. And after sitting down with a sweet, young pregnant woman named Jenna Hucka who lost her mother to cancer, I misjudged one thing about myself. My emotional capacity to withhold tears. Impossible.
Jenna and Nadine

The following post is a version of the article that will run in the Harlan Tribune next week.

Jenna, along with her father (Steve), brother (Tony), husband (Todd), and toddler daughter (Priya Nadine) continue a tireless journey to raise awareness and funding for Colleen’s Dream Foundation in which 100% of the proceeds go toward ovarian cancer research—there are no paid employees. This year, the Annual Breaking the Silence Tournament, started by Nadine in four years ago raised over $18,000 for the cause. Myrtue Hospital sponsored a bake sale and raised $1,500. Next Tuesday night's HS volleyball game will sponsor a Teal-Out to raise even more money. Without this level of community support, there would be no research going on.

Ovarian cancer is not only the fifth leading cause of death, but the leading cause of gynecologic cancer deaths among women according to the American Cancer Society.  September has been designated as Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, so break out your teal and listen up.

When detected early, 93% of women survive five years. However, fewer than 15% of cases are diagnosed early because currently there is no effective screening or early detection test. For women who discover the cancer in its later stages, less than 50% survive past five years. Awareness is critical.

Nadine Kenkel died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56. Her story is a blend of tragedy, inspiration, and a dose of humor– for anyone who knows Nadine, that's no surprise.

Nadine and Steve
In 2010 the vibrant nurse began having some seemingly mild symptoms: bloating, weight gain, feeling full quickly. Eventually a fever convinced her to seek help. Her practitioner, Jill Ferry, discovered an infection and prescribed medication. Unable to knock the fever, Nadine returned a few days later. Ferry found fluid around her abdomen and sent it for a biopsy. By the time Nadine arrived home from the clinic, she received a disturbing call. Less than a week later, Nadine was in surgery, having a football-sized tumor removed.

Nadine endured three full rounds of chemotherapy, 18 weeks each, over 4 year time frame. She experienced fatigue, loss of hair, and nausea. But that didn’t stop Nadine from pursuing a cause. It also didn’t stop her sense of humor. Always trying to get her stoical oncologist to crack, on one particular visit, she boasted of her new "tattoo" on her leg. He cracked.

Speaking to over 1,000 women after her diagnosis, Nadine elevated the “Break the Silence” campaign, urging women to be vigilant and watch for signs including:

      • Bloating
      • Pelvic and Abdominal Pain
      • Feeling Full Quickly
      • Urinary Symptoms (Urgency or Frequency)

Common symptoms, no doubt. Differentiating these from normal monthly symptoms can be tricky. “Don’t be afraid to see a specialist,” said Jenna. “These doctors understand the disease and know what to look for.” Without a screening tool available at this time, being aware is the best method for early detection.

Ovarian cancer risk factors have been identified. Women should consider:

Family History and Genetics: Having a mother, sister of daughter with the disease increases risk. Genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 have also been linked to increased risk. A test can identify these mutations.

Age: The average age of diagnosis is 63 years.

Pregnancies: Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk.

Menstruation: Increased risk occurs for women who experienced early menses or frequent cycles.

Hormone Replacement Therapy: Women who have used HRT to alleviate menopause symptoms have an increased risk. 

Nadine worked diligently the last few years of her life to spread vital information. The medical clinic always knew when Nadine had spoken because appointments would fill up with women experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms. Certainly, her message had impact.

On August 25th, 2014, Nadine lost her battle–four years after her diagnosis. After her death, her oncologist admitted to her family that after he had removed Nadine’s difficult tumor, he didn’t think she’d live a year. But her sense of purpose, good humor, and sheer determination proved him wrong. Not only did she survive longer than expected, but she survived to make a difference. Now her family carries on her legacy.
Nadine and her Princess: Priya Nadine

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Guest Blogger: Diane Stamp, Pure Enthusiast

Whenever I'm having a stressful day at work, there's one person I can call for lunch or even a quick chat and suddenly, my perspective has changed. I will be deeply sad next year when my friend of 19 years retires. We began at the Shelby County State Bank the same year, and I can't quite imagine my work life without Diane Stamp. However, I'm truly happy for the girl who hasn't stopped dreaming or creating goals for herself. Just last week, she made her debut as a public speaker–her post-retirement venture. As one of the most inspirational people I know, I asked if she'd offer a few thoughts on my blog.

Please welcome, Diane Stamp:

What are you passionate about?   Wow!  What a question!  Well, there’s so much in life to be passionate about, but right now at this stage in my life, I’m all about having a good time with my family and friends.  I love having lunch with a friend, shopping with a bargain hunting buddy, sipping a drink before dinner with my hubby, or reading books and sharing giggles with my grand-daughters.  
Did I say grand-daughters?  Oh yeah – they are not just my passion, they are my life!  Like any other grandmother, I am not ashamed to say that MINE are the best!  My little Joslyn (age 9) and Maggie (age 4 ½) are such a blessing to me.  After having two brothers and two sons, you can only imagine the joy I have for these two little girls!
Can I share a quick story?  Way back when Joslyn was about 18 months old, I made the mistake of telling her that Grandma did not like crabby girls.  Well- that just opened the door for a grandma that had no particular name until then.  After she saw how I hooted and howled when she called my hubby “cobby poppo”, she decided that since I enjoyed that so much, she would make it MY name.  So--- for the last 7 ½ years I have lovingly been called, “cobby gammo” which graduated into “crabby grandma” 
Now – move forward to just last week.  My little Maggie has been so confused.  “Gramma”, she said.  “Why are you “crabby grandma?  You’re not crabby!”  
Finally!  A child who agrees with me!  So her mother suggested that she choose a name more fitting.  So little Maggie thinks a bit and then spouts out, “Gramma Kitty Farts!”  OMG!  I haven’t decided yet if “Gramma Kitty Farts” is an improvement or not!!  Where did these kids come from??? 

What are your current career plans?  RETIREMENT!!  My plans are to retire at the end of February.  I’m excited to explore other ventures and my hope is to get into motivational speaking.  I spoke at the Shelby County Women’s Conference and I totally loved it!  So if you are looking for a speaker for a meeting or an event, please give me a call.

How did you decide to pursue this path?  After being a banker for over 30 years, I feel like now is my time to walk down the path of spontaneous adventure.  I have hired many speakers in the past and they always seemed to be so free spirited and such good story tellers.  Many times, as I sat and listened, I thought, “I could do that.”  So now’s the time!  It’s now or never!

What advice would you give others about achieving their dreams?  Well, first of all LIVE FOR TODAY!  Don’t let one slip by without being thankful for what you have and without dreaming about what you want.  Dream and dream big!!!
PS – another piece of advice for those who are soon to become first time grandmothers-
When your kids ask you what you want to be called as a grandparent, do not say that your grandchild will figure it out on their own!!!!  
Anything else?  Yes.  It’s a busy life.  We all know that, but if you have the support of your family and friends, you have it all!  Thanks Jerry, Jerod, Jordan and of course my mom for being my rock then, now and forever!

Thanks Diane for your humor and inspiration! And best of luck on your new, second career. While you'll be a loss to the bank, you'll be a gift to your new audiences!

Maggie, Jocelyn and...Crabby Grandma? Or Kitty Farts?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tailgating: Then and Now

There's something proud and surreal about having a daughter attend your alma mater. These sentiments are expressly felt during that great festival known as tailgating. Last weekend the Iowa Hawkeyes opened their football season in Iowa City, and I found it impossible not become nostalgic and observe how quickly things change in 25-ish years.

Compare and contrast a young tailgater to one who is more seasoned:

Then: Drinking was a race: something to be conquered by 10:00 AM. There are no consequences–none that you'll remember anyway.
Now: Drinking is a strategy. Pacing and water are critical for an enjoyable day.

Food can wait. Dominos is open late.
Now:What are we going to eat? Let's plan. Procure the grill. Buy the burgers and brats. Bake something that won't melt in ninety degrees. For God's sake, bring plenty of food.

Then:With no uncertainty, someone is going to puke. Watch your tipsy step.
Now: Regrettably you forget that someone will puke, until it's a step too late. (Good luck on those flip flops Ann.)

You wonder why anyone over the age of 40 would sit in the Sports Column, and bring their high school sons. 
Now: You become distinctly aware of your age as you want nothing more than to stomp over to the DJ at the Sports Column and demand to lower the volume. And do something about that drunk spilling my son's Sprite!

Then: Boys are an emphatic nuisance whose filters become lost in a deluge of drink. You don't appreciate the flattery of their bawdy attention.
Me and my college roomie. Some time ago.
Now: Boys look over your head, unless of course you're Ann Heithoff  and get invited to party with a group of college lads at the ATM. 
My mommie friend Ann and me. Saturday.

Then: You catch a fleeting glance the middle age alumni who stake out their places in their fancy cars and RVs and think to yourself, "Awe. That's so sweet."
Now: You remember when you were a college student and noticed those old people. And you can't believe you became one. It's a little sad. But it's a lot great.

Tailgate and carry on.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Celebrating the #Fam

Last weekend we celebrated two events in our family: 22 years of wedded bliss and 15 years of raising our bouncing baby boy. Our anniversary and Cole's birthday happen to fall on the same day: August 27th. When I tell people this, I often get a look of sympathy. Some say, "Oh! That's too bad." As if we are sad or shortchanged by the overshadowing of a kid's birthday. But here's the deal: We scheduled Cole's birth to be on our anniversary. Yes we did.

Doug and I had always planned to have kids–almost from the day we met! (Maybe that was just me...) But when it didn't happen so easily, we began to recognize what a gift children would be for us. When we did finally get pregnant and squeak out a couple of babies, we were utterly and fantastically grateful. It wouldn't have mattered what day they came. My birthday! Christmas! Yom Kippur! Groundhog's Day! You wouldn't hear any complaining from us.

A family celebration is a family celebration, no matter what the reason or the date. I will use any excuse to commemorate the love and closeness of our family, even when not everyone can be together. Case in point: my college daughter sent the most awesome of texts on our family group message this weekend despite her inability to depart from Iowa City:

Say what you will about technology, but not much makes my heart happier when our core family banters on the Kramer vs Kramer vs Kramer vs Kramer messaging. We'll find anything to connect about: the defeat of the Red Sox, a puking spell, the intersection of a birthday/anniversary, or the best thing of all–poses of a weird cat.