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Sunday, October 30, 2016


My parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this weekend. Via text, I asked them what's the secret to a happy marriage. Mom indicated that using the phrase "yes, dear" is useful. (Sarcasm? You decide.) My father replied, "honesty and respect." I found this to be surprisingly thoughtful. He said he googled it.

La La Love. (Note the sign.)
While amused by my parents' responses, I often find myself confounded by the institution of marriage. It can catch you off guard in either the most delightful or most upsetting ways. I remember a few weeks before our wedding, my mother said these words to me: "I know how much you love Doug, but marriage is hard. You need to work at it." I nodded, all-knowing, but not really all-knowing. I was still in the la-la stage. It is hard work. But who said hard work is a bad thing?

After 22 years of marriage, I've decided on these truths in regard to marriage:

  • Maintaining a sense of humor is vital.
    Mom mentioned this to me a few times as I was growing up. I get it. One time, early in our marriage, Doug had gone out with his buddies to "Stag Night." After waking up at 4:30 in the morning to see he had not made it home yet, I began a calling campaign. (We didn't have cell phones at the time.) Of course, I was none to pleased as his friends playfully answered the phone with names of non-existent bars like Bob's Bar and Grill. When I finally connected with Doug to "suggest" he come home (NOW), he said he would. Knowing he was only five minutes away, I sat up and waited. And waited. Finally, about thirty minutes later he showed up. As you could imagine, I was livid. He looked at me, wide-eyed, pleadingly and said, "I'm so sorry! But the train went through. Really! The longest train ever." He chuckled. "Shitty timing for a train, heh?" I'm not saying I completely excused him from being out so late, but how could I not laugh about a train coming through as he's trying to hightail it home to his mad wife? Humor is vital.
  • Amalgamation adds dimension.

    There's a scene in Fever Pitch when Drew Barrymore is struggling with the fact that she's becoming someone else after her rendezvous with Jimmy Fallon. (Corporate climber is lured into becoming part of the Red Sox cult. Great flick. Sports and rom-com all in one.) But as long as you don't lose sense of your core values, this kind of transformation is actually kind of cool. As a matter of fact, this anti-athlete of a girl is sitting here watching the World Series. And Doug's not even here. It's a heck of a game even!
  • Food is the great equalizer.

    Having an argument? Stop whatever discussion you're having. Ask your spouse if they're hungry for some meatloaf or ice cream. Nothing brings a couple together like food. Well. Doug might argue there's one other thing that trumps meatloaf. But I'm not sure he's say it trumps ice cream...
  • Keeping score is never a good idea. It's easy to fall into that trap. I did this, so you should do that. But what good does that do? Nothing is ever really equal. But kind and simple gestures pay dividends on their own–without worrying about what you might get back in return. Doesn't it feel nice to surprise him with a pack of Duluth Trading Company Buck Naked Underwear? The smile on his face as he wears the powerful boxer-briefs are totally worth the price.
On that same note, I asked my parents what they got each other for their anniversary when we took them out for dinner the other night. My mom smiled and shook her head. "Well, I didn't get your dad anything. But guess what he got me?" Dad interceded and said, "I got her the most expensive bottle of Pinot Grigio I could find." This shocked me as I considered all the times I helped my father find a gift for my mother as long as it remained within a certain, tight budget. (Sweater from Shopko, etc.) The wine story struck me as a profound moment. There was no keeping score. It was a gesture that was given with kindness and received with gratitude. Those are the interactions that make a happy marriage.

So marriage is kind of hard. Maybe it's the hard that makes it so great. (I totally swiped that line from a baseball movie. Can anyone name it?)
Mom, Dad and me. Early years.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pink Hope

How many people do you know who have battled breast cancer? I bet you need both hands to count.ou didn't have to think to hard about it. I've had an aunt with stage 4. I've had two friends at work who fought the disease. Most recently, I received a message from cousin that she had just been diagnosed.As a part of the Relay for Life team, I'm writing an article each month to bring awareness on some  form of cancer.  Here's a preview of the article that will run in the Harlan Newspaper soon. A big thanks to Julie Bruck for sharing her story:

October evokes images of orange pumpkins and black ghouls. But for some, October evokes images of pink ribbons–a reminder to be vigilant about the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Breast cancer awareness month comes with renowned fundraising events, famous ambassadors, and most importantly, survivors we all know and admire. Julie Bruck is one such survivor.

Julie’s Story

In March of 2012 Julie went to a routine doctor visit and asked about a lump on her breast. Having had a mammogram the previous July, she wondered if it was really anything to worry about. Then after a mammogram, ultrasound and two painful biopsies, the news was dropped on her: stage 2B breast cancer. And it had spread to the lymph nodes. 

Fear struck Julie as she considered her busy role as a wife, mother, and career woman. Her oldest son was soon to graduate high school. Her three children (Ben–18, Ally–14 and Conner–10 at the time) were highly involved in activities. Her husband, Randy, was on the verge of kicking off a busy planting season. “There was no time to be sick,” said Julie as she considered her circumstance.
Julie, Ally, Randy, Conner & Ben

Telling the family was one of the most difficult tasks she faced.  “I wasn’t prepared to break the news and believe me, they weren’t ready to receive the news.”  It wasn’t long before she realized how much she could depend on all of her family for support. Faith is a huge part of Julie’s life, and praying together and attending “Healing Masses” as a family were activities that meant a lot to her.

Julie endured eight rounds of chemo, once every two weeks. When it seemed as if she was beginning to feel better, another treatment awaited her. Despite the sickness, fatigue, mouth sores, and hair loss, Julie didn’t stop working nor did she give up attending her kids’ events. There were times when she didn’t get out of the car as she watched her kids play ball. But she was there, often accompanied by her mother, as they watched a game from a distance. Keeping her routines and staying busy was important to Julie’s emotional health.

Once the rounds of chemo were completed, Julie had a double mastectomy along with the removal of lymph nodes–an innovative approach with her intense treatment taking place before the removal. After the surgery the tissue was sent to pathology. Before Julie left the hospital she was given incredible news: no sign of cancer anywhere! With the guidance of her oncologist, Julie decided she would not go through radiation. Today Julie is cancer-free.
Julie at the Susan B Komen Race

Risk Factors

Understanding risk factors is an important strategy to battling the disease. Heredity can play a big role–especially if a mutation of the BCRA1 or 2 gene is found. Having this mutation increases the possibility of breast cancer between 45 to 65%, depending on the gene mutation.

Julie tested negative for this mutation. Like Julie, most women (8 out of 10) do not have a family history of breast cancer. However, it’s important to understand that women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk of the disease.

Other risk factors include:

-Being a woman. While breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women, the risk still exists for men.
-Age. The most invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older.
-History. If breast cancer is in one breast, the risk for developing cancer in the other breast increases. This risk is even more pronounced for younger women.
-Having dense or “fibrous” breast tissue, which can increase the risk for cancer to 1.2 to 2 times from a woman with average breast density.
-Lifestyle choices such as excessive drinking, being overweight, or lack of physical activity.

Performing self-exams and scheduling mammograms are the best methods for detecting the disease early. Symptoms can include a new lump, swelling of a part of the breast, skin irritation, breast pain, or unusual discharge.

The American Cancer Society is helping breast cancer victims through various programs such as 

-Road to Recovery, providing transportation services to treatments, 
-Look Good Feel Better, offering wigs for those who have lost their hair, and
-HOPE Lodge, providing a place for patients to stay. Ground has just broken in Omaha for one such unit.

The ACS has invested $62 million for 160 research grants specifically for breast cancer. But one of the most important weapons in this fight is education and awareness.

Every cancer victim copes differently. When Julie was battling the disease, she didn’t feel like talking about it. She didn’t want others to define her by the cancer. Now, back to leading a healthy and productive life, she’s a great ambassador for the fight. As she said at the Relay for Life event earlier this year, “We need to find a cure. So keep giving, keep walking and keep fighting until we can say with all the certainty in the world that there is a cure for cancer.”

I'm happy to report that in addition to Julie, my aunt and coworkers survived. My cousin is determined to beat it. While the breast cancer certainly lurks, there is much hope out there. Pink hope. Spread the word.

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!