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Friday, December 31, 2010


Christmas. Father’s Day. Dad’s Birthday. All perplexing dilemmas. What do you give to the man who refers to gifts as “prizes”?

A daughter’s need to please her parents never fades. But pleasing my mother is usually quite simple. (Of course, she'd never tell me if she hated a gift anyway. She’s much too gracious.) But my dad?  He’d let me know if the wrapping paper wasn't quite right. After all, forthrightness is character-building. Oh what the heck - it’s all in good fun.

Anyway, this year an idea struck me in the realm of gift-giving. But first - a bit o' history about dear old Dad. Besides the fact that he’s difficult to buy for (what father isn’t?), he also happens to be a motorcycle enthusiast. And I'm not talking about your proverbial motorcycle guy. Show up with a brand new Harley Fatboy and you’ll get a polite smile. (He is genuinely a nice guy.) But show up with a '46 Indian Chief…now you’re talking turkey. You'll become inducted into the small fraternity my dad considers friends.  As a matter of fact, here’s the kind of stuff my Dad gets excited about – 
Harley JD Left Gas / Oil Tank, 1925-1929
Rusty gas tank

Rust. Not chrome.

So last summer when he bought this fancy “new” 1984 Harley FX, equipped with a radio (c'mon Dad!), I couldn’t help but give my old man some guff. (Seriously -this is the guy who drove across South Dakota on a '45 Indian Bobber only a few years ago...I probably don't have the year correct on that Indian or the model on that Harley - will certainly receive a call on that.) So, kicking the tires on his shiny new motorcycle just didn't fit the bill. I asked him several times, “Why didn’t you just buy a Honda, Dad?” 

A Honda.  An idea struck me….One day, a few weeks before Christmas:

"Hey Dad! I got your Christmas present. And it involves motorcycles.”

I could see the gleam in his eyes....then the day came. On eve of Christmas. As he unwrapped the gift...and noticed the label on the box.

“It IS from a motorcycle superstore. You weren’t kidding!” He almost smiled, his almost-smile.

Then as logo-recognition set in, the excitement waned. Noticeably. Time stood still. 

“Oh, no. No. No.”  Slowly, he took the t-shirt out of the box. The t-shirt  -- that so audaciously displayed Honda's proud emblem.

Alex spoke up, “Oh Grandpa – that looks cool. I’ll wear it.”

“I’d never let my granddaughter wear that,” he spoke swiftly and sharply.

I sat back in my corner quietly and watched the scene play out. My prank had worked - and it had worked well, without suspicion. And with great laughter by all – except perhaps by the victim.

What will become of the Honda t-shirt? Only time will tell. It may come back haunt me. But most likely, I imagine, the t-shirt will be become shredded garage rags… 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Apple

You know the old saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree?"  Not so much in the case of my daughter. Quite frankly, as I've attempted to coax her back to my branch, she has cleverly hopscotched her way to the next orchard.

Ah- but it's been an intriguing observation...this hybrid apple we call Alex. She certainly isn't a girly-girl. When I entered her into the county baby contest (12 years ago), I had to choose a particular category for her to compete. For some reason, only known to God, I placed her into "Most Feminine." Undoubtedly, Alex was the cutest baby. But when they lined all the babies up, it was obvious that my girl would've kicked the shit out of the others. Delicate? Perhaps not. As a toddler, she could easily knock over heavy furniture and drag things that I could barely move. "Alex, could you help Mommy move the TV?"  (I still call her my little Bam-Bam. Although, now her enthusiasm to lift things for me upon request has waned slightly.)

Anyway, the point of this blog isn't to brag about my daughter's brute strength. What I love about Alex is her ability to stew her creativity and act upon it. She can sit for HOURS and watch the Food Network or  any mundane network...but then a few days later, voila.  She's composed a song on her guitar, or she's written a fantastical story (with great dialogue). One day this month, she sat down and created Christmas decorations for the tree. For three hours, the girl  sat at the dining room table cutting, gluing and assembling these pretty ornaments - with cornucopias, ribbons and nostalgic animated characters.

I read somewhere that unless we have the ability to create, our souls are not truly satisfied. And undoubtedly, the process of creation doesn't happen automatically - it takes time to brew. This is something I have to keep reminding myself, but my daughter is already the wiser. So next time I feel myself a bit annoyed by her practice of wasting time, perhaps I'll take a trip to her orchard. Maybe it'll be fun.
Alex and her Independent Soul

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blessed are We

Isaiah 58:10 “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.”

I've been saving up a few of our "requests for donations" this holiday season, so we could decide as a family which charities we should place our funds. Of course, it was impossible to select just one... But ultimately, we gave a few dollars to the following organizations:  

Meals from the Heartland - Amazingly enough, this organization exists practically in our backyard.
The Open Door Mission - Just the name evokes emotion, doesn't it?
Women for Women - Not sure how I came across this entity, but it promotes the economic stability of women  in countries who need it most.

I hope you spend some time looking at their websites - it's nearly impossible not to be moved their stories. Certainly these entities appreciate the donations, but in the back of my mind, I'm wondering what can I do? Perhaps this will be a Stef Kramer Resolution for 2011? Money is good - actions are better.

Anyway, I do hope you take a peek after you've opened all your gifts - or watched your loved ones open all their gifts.

God Bless.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Be Like Cole

I read a fabulous article in one of my periodicals on how people should take a few lessons from pets…one of the lessons being: celebrate everything – as a dog would. Those of you with a smiley Lab or a hop-pity Rat Terrier know exactly what I'm talking about. Going to the kitchen? GREAT! Opening the fridge? GREAT! Laying on the couch? GREAT!

Well, I decided today that I need to celebrate life a little more like our son, Cole. (Some of you are well-aware that he bears some eery resemblances to our canine friends.)

-Upon awakening for school at 6:30 AM, with puffy eyes, our boy is as happy as a wagging tail. "Good Morning!" he sings to everyone else who is barely speaking...And he's off to start the day in five minutes.
-Fresh off the bus, growling tummy, wet socks, and sporting a fat smile.
    “How was your day, Cole?” 
    “What made it great?” 
A shrug. He’s typically focused on devouring something like a bag of Cheetos. 

But the darndest things make this kid happy:

  • Hot dogs - genuine excitement about getting hot dogs at lunch.
  • Some obscure reference about the fourth Spiderman sequel being made.
  • Becoming struck with the idea of dressing up as Harry Potter on Halloween (on the Eve of Christmas Eve).
  • Getting kissed by a poop-eating dog.*Dropping Mentos in Mountain Dew (But who doesn't love that?) 
  • Writing seventeen letters to Santa Claus.
  • Eating one pound of hamburger. 
  • And putting up a good wrestling match with his Dad - nothing makes a boy happier than some old-fashioned violence, right?
There's some sort of statistic which compares the number of laughs between kids and adults in a day. It's something really pathetic - like 100 children giggles to 5 adult laughs. Now, this is one lesson we need to take from our kids - laugh more. If you can't figure out how or why, spend some time with a kid. And if you can't find any, you're welcome to hang out with Cole. He'll find a way to make you laugh. Maybe he'll even give you a ride on his motorcycle sometime. Although, that just might scare you to death. But I bet you'd be laughing.

Cole Kramer. Lover of Life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anyone Feel Like Reading a Short Story?

A few months ago I submitted yet another short story to a Writer's Digest contest. I fear that my claim to fame will only be one Honorable Mention in one writing contest. Ever. Despite several (I mean several) entries. Oh well. I hope a few people enjoy some of my writing entries to the world.

Here's the link to my other, sparsely frequented, blog: Read.Write.Share.  It's where I posted the story. I attempted to do a "mystery/young-adult" genre short story. See if you guess the culprit!

Chronicle of the Winter Weekend - A Change in Plans

There's dialogue in the movie Marley and Me when John and Jen are reflecting upon his career.  John is, once again, wondering if he made the right decision by changing his career path.  Comically portrayed by Owen Wilson, he makes the remark, "None of this was part of the plan." But the always wise wife (played by lovely Jennifer Anniston) responds, "No, it wasn't part of the plan. But it's so much better."

This weekend didn't quite go according to plan. We had arranged a small gathering for some friends when Old Man Winter decided to quit pussy-footing around. Who can blame him? The kids haven't had a lick of snow days and it's December 12th already. Anyway, despite all my toiling in the kitchen, my dedicated practice of vacuuming seventeen times before a guest visits our house, and, of course, at least one teary-eyed child when told of the cancellation, we had a pretty darn good day.

Let me in please. I'm freezing.
The weekend started off with a foreboding on Friday: the 1950 garage-refrigerator took a dump and left us without a home for soda and beer. And guess what? We had meat from the 2003-era in the freezer. The good news? That smell we had noticed was not Percy-poop in some secluded corner of the garage - as we had suspected. The bad news? No place for extra beverages. And no time to shop for a new fridge. On the upside (we think), Percy found some new treasures that he assumed he could bury in the house somewhere. Sorry, Dude. You're not that cute.

Once the storm rolled in, we did what 80% of the the rest of the families did in Shelby County this weekend. We baked. Being the mother that I am, I rolled out the sugar dough (compliments of Betty Crocker), and started making stars, angels, trees, candy canes, and a few other unnameable patterns. Then I attempted to place my cut-outs on the cookie sheets. And I cursed. The sweet little scene fell apart from there. Yes, I know I needed more flour. But what do you do when you only have approximately 1 1/2 cups? You scrimp! And it never bodes well in the cooking or baking department. So, after one batch of making "cracker-cookie-cutouts," we just made circle-cookies. And the kids frosted them. They were just fine. Better than fine. Look closely - see a bit of frosting on around those cute little lips?

 Sometimes the best plans are those curves on the road. We just need to learn to lean into them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

And Speaking of Vacuums

I don't understand what type of commerce goes on in our schools these days, but my kids sure require a lot of cash. Daily. Before school. Usually on the way in.

"Oh, Mom. Do you have a buck? I need it to buy these pencils they're selling?"

"Who's selling? For what?"

"Mom!  It's for the food pantry."

What do you do? Sure, take my last dollar. The thing is, no matter how much I probe into the ultimate good of my cash uses, it's a futile exercise. There are ceaseless causes to support. And we like to support causes. Oh yes, we do.

Back in my day (ooh, how I love to say that to my offspring!), I rarely had a need to carry any money to school.  Maybe by the time I was in high school, I'd scavenge a few quarters for the occasional soda. But Mom and Dad would've needed additional part-time jobs to pay for all the nickel and diming our kids do to us. (Wait, my folks already had additional part-time jobs.)

Am I sounding a bit like Ebeneezer? Perhaps. Don't get me wrong - we get great satisfaction from giving. So what is it?  Is it the constant requests of "Can I have $5 for this or $5 for that?" that eventually begins to feel like nails on the chalkboard? Nope, don't think so. Anyone with kids learns to tolerate repetitive phrases by the time they turn 3. My greatest irritation of getting nickeled and dimed from my kids is this: the mere inconvenience of having to carrying cash. No lie. I'm a banker - I use my debit card everywhere.  I don't like to carry cash, because it screws up my very intricate budget system. (Ahem.) But now, I'm finding myself having to add a whole new budget category - school trinkets. And I'm not sure I can prove the deductibility.

Naughty or Nice?
It's occurred to me that perhaps we should keep a whole wad of one dollar bills for these occasions. But my sixth sense tells me that's a bad idea. So, I'll just keep ranting and raving every time the kids need more cash. And find a way to get it to them and hope we are really making a difference!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dear Mr. Dyson

I've been a little obsessed with my vacuum lately.  Of course, it all started with this dog, Percy.  We keep saying that we're gonna keep him outside more. But that resolution is toast as soon as the mutt bats his big black eyes in our curtain-less windows. We can't resist his canine charm. Consequently, we live in hairball hell.

You know that song "Me and my shadow?" Don't know any of the other lyrics, but that's the tune that rolls through my brain as I grudge to the closet to, once again, vacuum most specifically those spots that Percy has frequented.  So, here's my story.

For those of you with bagless vacuums, have you ever studied the quantity of your carpet debris? I'm not so interested in quality, because in our house, it's mostly gray and hairy. But it's the quantity that amazes me! I've been emptying that compartment everyday - not because I need to so much - but mostly out of curiosity. But here's the problem. I'd like to know more specifically what I've done in a day. Empirically, my family and I will tell you of the vast and disgusting amount. "Look at that Doug! It's a one-day collection!"  Dyson should consider adding a metric line to their amazing machine. Seriously, since they want to disclose the grime of our carpet anyway, why not measure it as well?  Soon, women will quit talking about the loads of laundry they've done. It will become passe'.  You'll start to hear comments like "I dumped 9 gallons of gunk from my Dyson this week." And who wouldn't rather talk about dirt, than laundry?

Happy dog - basking in the rug.
Anyway, just some food for thought for the Dyson folks.