Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan - Part 5

It’s time again for my “Christmas Sanity Plan” blog. I’ve decided that this month it’s time to start actually purchasing a few gifts to have ready for Christmas. So, this month I’m going to concentrate on the friends for whom I generally get a gift.

I know what you are thinking. O.K., I may not know exactly what you are thinking but I know what I’d be thinking if I were reading this. I’d be thinking, “Nancy is crazy, it’s only May!” But, if you’ll recall, my plan is to be done with all Christmas shopping by December 1, and spread out the purchasing so I’m not a nut case on December 25. But, I do have to admit, that even though this is my goal, I’m having trouble getting motivated.

This month, I’m going to focus on the few friends for whom I buy gifts. Now, what to get them? Do you have a favorite book, or CD that you think your friend would enjoy? Does one of your friends love to cook? How about a fun new kitchen gadget? Do you know a lover of music or the arts? How about tickets to play? It’d be even more fun if you went with them.

Is there a single mom on your list? I can pretty much guarantee you that she’d enjoy a gift certificate to a local take-out restaurant, or even a frozen meal she could pull out after a long day at work. She won’t mind if you give it to her in May instead of December.

Be creative and focus on matching the gift to the person. There is nothing I love more than to see something when I’m shopping that is “just perfect” for a particular friend. Sometimes I save them for Christmas, but what I love most is to give it them on a random “thinking of you” day.

Perhaps May is just as busy for you as December but you, too, would really like to get a jump on your Christmas shopping. Here’s my motto: “never underestimate the power and ease of internet shopping.” If you need a little motivation, put “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the CD player and grab the laptop. Add a little spiced cider, ramp up the A/C and it’ll feel just like Christmas.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Behalf of a Grateful Nation

Ah, Memorial Day. Time off work, picnics, parades, working in the yard, time at the cabin; isn’t that what Memorial Day conjures up in your mind? As I fell into bed last night, contemplating the beautiful weather predicted for today and all I would get done, I was suddenly compelled to pray for the number of families who lost a family member to the war this year and would spend their first Memorial Day without them. I can’t imagine their pain.

My mother-in-law, Emily, was in the Navy WAVES during WWII. As a side note, WAVES stands for “Women Approved for Volunteer Emergency Service.” Approved? All I can say is, it was a different time.

Emily is found in this picture, standing at the close end of the first full row, of the WAVES and SPARS (Coast Guard women - Semper Paratus Always Ready- they got a better name) taking their oath in front New York city hall on February 8, 1943.

At the end of Emily's funeral last January we all gathered outside the church (in sub-zero temperatures, I might add) for a 21 gun salute and taps. This ceremony is usually held at the graveside, but, in January, in Baudette, MN, the cemetery is snowed in and the ground is frozen solid so the burial doesn’t take place until the spring. In fact, we just had her burial service last Friday. There were cows mooing in the background which provides a totally different atmosphere than the playing of taps. But, I digress - again.

After the playing of taps, when honoring a fallen veteran of war, the family is always presented with an American flag. I can’t remember all of the words I heard at Emily's funeral that day,but the final words, spoken by a VFW representative as he presented a flag to John's dad, will always stick in my mind – “on behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to our country.” I sometimes wonder if we are grateful enough, or if we just plain forget the price that has been paid for our freedom?

So, you see, I can’t let today pass without saying thank you. Thank you to the men and women who have served our country, be it in a World War, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq, or a war I may have forgotten. Thank you to the families who wait at home as their son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister or cousin fights for our freedom. And, to those who are spending today mourning the loss of a fallen loved one, I thank you. On behalf of a grateful nation, who may have a tendency to forget, I thank you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Makes a Life-Long Friend?

What is it, I wonder, that allows us to be life-long friends with some people and friends for only a season with others? If you read my previous blog, you know that this past weekend I was in Portland, OR for our son’s graduation from college. The bonus of being in Portland is that I also get to visit my brother and his family, and a couple of old friends. And by old, I am referring to the duration of our friendship, not our age – though both could apply.

My friend, Angie, is one of the first people I met when I moved to Cannon Falls 32 years ago. She helped me figure out life in Minnesota. When I suggested a picnic in October, way before its crisp days had arrived, Angie clued me in to my naivety regarding the weather. We raised kids together, sewed, scrapbooked, did Bible studies, and laughed ourselves silly more times than I can remember. For awhile, our paths split, but in the last few years we’ve reconnected and when we are together we have to force ourselves to shut up and go to bed. One minute we’ll be deep in serious discussion, and the next we’ll be in hysterics.

Angie moved to Oregon three years ago so now our time together is limited to infrequent visits and chats on the phone. But, we are still great friends and we’re always able, it seems, to start up where we left off.

I was also able to see my friend, Claudia in Portland. I don’t exactly remember when I met Claudia, but I’m fairly certain it was before I ever went to Kindergarten. Claudia’s parents and my parents went to college together and as a kid we lived 100 miles apart. I remember family trips for a weekend visit, and, as I got older, taking the train to spend a few days with Claudia and her family. Man, we had fun; going to the beach, watching scary movies through the holes in the crocheted afghan, talking about boys, playing games, and, I’m sure, making her mother nuts. We even went to horse camp together. Claudia enjoyed that experience way more than I did.

When I had lunch with Claudia she came bearing the obligatory pictures of her kids (the one I never seem to remember), and her photo album of years gone by. Oh my, the pictures! The worst was of us at Disneyland with our little brothers. We must have been 13 or 14 and there I sat with my long, straight hair in pigtails with two huge grosgrain ribbons tied into bows on each side. What was I thinking?

As I flipped through her old album, I also found myself traveling back in time to my first dance with a boy; he in his rented light blue tuxedo, and me in my beautiful pink dress. Together we looked like we’d just emerged from the newborn nursery in outfits that clearly stated our gender.

I must have sent Claudia all of my “boyfriend” pictures. She still has, in her album, a photo of me with the guy I dated right before I met John. Both of those pictures have long since left my memory books though I'm not sure why. I suppose it just seemed like the respectful thing to do when I got married. She offered to give them to me. I declined knowing that once every few years was often enough to revisit them.

So, what is it that makes these two women life-long friends? I’ve had other friends that I’ve done equally fun things with, shared with, and laughed with but for some reason we don’t seem to stay connected once they move away (John and I never move so you can’t blame me.) I can’t say that I really know why some friendships last forever and others fade along the way. All I know is I’m glad these two friends are still in my life.

They know too much to have it any other way.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Milestone

"Upon the recommendation of the faculty, the approval of the board of trustees, and by the power vested in me, I confer upon these candidates the degree of Bachelor of Science with all the rights and privileges pertaining there to." With these words, spoken by the president of Multnomah University, our baby boy graduated in Portland, Oregon on Friday, May 15.

After the ceremony the rest of the family in attendance commented on the miracle. Oh, not the miracle of Scott's graduation, we knew that would happen. The miracle was that somehow John and I both made it through the entire ceremony without tears. Even we were shocked. Of course, there had been a baccalaureate ceremony earlier in the day where we both shed plenty of tears, but the rest of the family was unable to be with us to witness them.

During Baccalaureate, student awards were also announced. At one point I thought they were describing Scott; "will do anything to help someone" (this was evident even in first grade), "a good listener" (Scott's a great listener - just not much of a talker), "LOVES coffee" (we still don't know who he got that from), and many other qualities that I thought aptly described my son. I told Scott later that for a moment I thought he was getting an award. He responded with, "I'm just glad they are letting me graduate." "Great sense of humor;" that's what was missing from the other boy's list of qualities.

So what are "the rights and privileges pertaining there to" and doesn't the president of the college know that you aren't supposed to end a sentence with a preposition? The way I figure it your main options are to get a job, work towards a higher level degree, or bask in the knowledge that you have attained, well, more knowledge. Scott will be doing all three. After a short summer internship, Scott will head to St. Cloud State University to work on his masters. I'm sure he'll take time for basking somewhere along the way.

My brother, Chuck, and his family live in Portland and have provided "dorm respite" care for Scott over the past three years. Scott will miss them, especially on Tuesday nights, when he and his cousin, Connor, would watch the weekly episode of House together.

No earthly award could make us any prouder of our son. Good job, Scott!

With the exception of big brother, Paul, who had to work, our entire family was there to watch Scott recieve his degree. And we'll all be there again when his masters degree, with all it's rights and priveleges, is conferred upon him. You can pretty much count on tears!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Day Surprise

Earlier this week our oldest son, Paul, called to see if we'd be free for a little Mother's Day adventure. Well, of course! All I was told was to wear they same type of clothes I'd wear to church (which could mean anything), bring my camera, and a jacket, in case it's chilly. So, as soon as church was over we got in the car and started to drive. I had some thoughts of what the surprise adventure would entail, but as we drove and drove, each idea was squelched. Hmmm, where could we possibly be heading? Of course, my first question was, "does this include food of any sort?"

My daughter-in-law, Erin, told me that Paul will sometimes take her on surprise destination dates and that I am much better at not asking questions regarding the target location. She seemed to enjoy being "in the know." We were quite a few miles north of our starting point, and as we started to head east, Erin kept asking, "have you figured it out yet?" And truly, I hadn't. Now, had I known that in Taylor's Falls there was a company that provided river boat rides on the St. Croix, I might have figured it out a bit sooner, but without that knowledge, I was clueless. I was worried for a bit that we were going to float down the river in inner tubes! Brrrr! It wasn't until I saw a billboard about five miles from the embarkation point that I began to wonder if this was the intended surprise.

Sure enough, brunch on a St. Croix river boat was my Mother's Day gift from Paul and Erin. We had a great time, and saw some spectacular views, but the best part of the day was being able to spend it with at least a couple of our kids.

I am so blessed that many years ago God entrusted me with three great boys, and has since added to our family with two beautiful daughters-in-law. Though they don't all live close enough to join us, I did get to talk to each of them. Of course, I wasn't sure if son #3 called to tell me Happy Mother's Day or to have me help him solve his broken down car issue, but still, it was good to talk to him.

Paul, me, and John as we begin our cruise.

My sweet daughter-in-law, Erin and me.

I took more than a few scenery photos!

If you REALLY use your imagination, this spot in the rocks along the St. Croix River looks like a cross. According to our river boat captain this cross inspired the name of the river. Sometimes I think tour guides make stuff up. Let's just say a Google search did NOT come up with any such information.

It appears as though John is certain the day was planned just for him! He's thinking this will be a great spot to go back to for fishing later this summer. I think Paul may be off the hook for Father's Day!

All in all, it was a beautiful way to spend the day. Thank you, Paul and Erin!

Monday, May 4, 2009

There Must be an Easier Way

I like to think of this as a full service blog; funny stories, spiritual insights, book reviews, helpful hints, and more. So, when I learned this trick I just had to share it with those of you who take the time to read my ramblings.

If you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago I had a tea for my neighbors. I used my silver tea pot as part of the centerpiece and as I polished it I figured out why silver has lost its popularity. It was a bugger to polish! Then, I borrowed some cute little silver spoons from my friend and she told me how to polish them. SO EASY! Since I needed a little visual aid when she explained it to me, I took some pictures for you as I polished a necklace and an antique silver spoon.

Step 1: Line a bowl with aluminum foil and add one teaspoon of baking soda.

Step 2: Boil one cup of water.

Step 3: Pour water into bowl. This part is really fun because it gets all bubbly and looks like a high school science experiment. The bubbly goes away immediately so don’t think you’ve failed when bubbling subsides.

Step 4: Add silver items to be cleaned. Let sit while you go have a cup of tea or something.

There really is a necklace and a spoon in this bowl. You might need to enlarge it to actually see them.

Step 5: Rinse and dry silver.

The first few times I used this technique it worked perfectly. I have to admit, however, the antique spoon wasn't quite as shiny as I hoped, after my little staged demonstration. And, as I was attempting to upload my blog, I worked on a few other pieces. They too, didn't have that shiny look that I was hoping for, but were way easier to clean with silver polish than they usually are so at least the process helped a bit.

It has taken me a few days to decide if I would even upload this writing because of my disappointment with the results, but like I said, this method worked great on the first few items. I guess my advice would be to try it, and if it doesn't work, at least you'll have softened the tarnish up and can quickly finish the job with some polish. But, if it works, you'll love me.

Check back for other tips I have other tips up my sleeve. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Bit of a Rant

“How can my cell phone be ringing?” was my panicked thought as I quickly reached for my purse. I was at a seminar and the familiar ring tone interrupted my rapt attention on the speaker. I was sure I’d turned my phone to silent before even entering the building. How could I have been so stupid? But wait, as I grab my phone and notice it isn’t even vibrating, much less ringing, I hear a deep voice a few tables away. I stuff my cell phone back into my purse grateful that it wasn’t me interrupting the class. Then, I realize that the offending phone belongs to a guy who has decided to carry on a conversation without so much as leaving the room! Seriously?

Now, I’m sitting there annoyed because the speaker, who is apparently used to rude people, has continued on with his teaching and I’ve missed part of it because this guy (whose phone has the same ring-tone as mine) is talking! The glares in his direction tell me I’m not the only person who is miffed. O.K., mister, I understand that people make mistakes and forget to turn off their cell phones, but to answer? And then, to carry on a conversation?

Finally, my attention moves back to the speaker, whom I’m sure said something brilliant while my mind was elsewhere, and I continue on with my note taking. Not more than twenty minutes pass and there is that familiar ring tone. Again, my attention is interrupted, and again, said man answers his phone. At least this time he leaves the room. But once again, I miss a few minutes of the speaker’s insights.

Maybe it’s the slight bit of Attention Deficit Disorder that I’m sure I have, but each interruption takes my mind completely off the speaker and I lose precious time trying to refocus. Time, by the way, that I have paid money for.

I love cell phones, don’t get me wrong. But, NOBODY is so important that they can’t turn theirs off, or at least to vibrate, for a few hours. I understand there are emergencies but come on people, use some common sense.

I attended a play two days after this whole cell phone incident and an announcement came over the loud speaker before it began. The announcer asked everyone to take out all electronic devices, turn them off, throw them on the floor, and stomp on them. Perhaps he had been at my seminar. Two minutes into the show, a phone rang.