Something BIG is happening here!

Growing up, I had only brothers.  They were good brothers, but I often thought that I ought to have a sister.  Later, they each married, and gave me two excellent sisters, Jill and Wynette.  I can’t imagine doing this life without them. They mean everything to me, and we love each other unflinchingly and unconditionally.

God has done a very cool thing for a few of us, and looking back, it’s easy to see that He’s been working on it for a long time.

Going way back… Our whole Hammer family story intersected at the La Mirada Christian Church.  We Hammers had been there since I was a babe in the nursery. The Coopers (Wynette’s family) came along when I was in early elementary school, I think, and then the Cunninghams (Jill’s family) came along later, maybe when I was near junior high.  Jill was in college then, and we all just thought she was the coolest (because she actually was). Wynette was three years ahead of me in school, right between Scott and Steve (my brothers), so we didn’t share much space, but it was a small church, so we all knew everyone.  Jill was our youth choir leader, and we were all in that choir – Scott, Steve and I, Wynette… everyone! We traveled, gave Jill agony, grew very close to each other, laughed a LOT, and just shared so many sweet moments. (Except for that time that Wynette pranked me, about getting Michael Landon’s autograph in Sonora.  Still not funny.)

I remember how much I admired both Jill and Wynette, as older Christian young women.  They were both people that I wanted to emulate; they were who I wanted to be “when I grew up.”  (As if.) Both of them taught me things, and poured themselves into me. The important part about this is that they did it before there was any thought that they would eventually be my family.  They weren’t doing it because they wanted to date my brothers, or because they were already dating them. They did it because they were (and are) caring, thoughtful people, and because they loved me.  I was blessed with an excellent mother (and father!), and I thank God for them. But I also believe that young people need others, apart from their parents, to model good living for them. And that’s what Jill and Wynette were to me, in my teen years.

In the summer after my junior year, Steve married Jill!  And the following summer, right after I graduated high school, Scott married Wynette!  Can you imagine, from my point of view, how incredible that was? Two years later, I was engaged, and my nephews and nieces started to arrive, all at the time I was married.  And then my babies, too… it was a (very) rapid family growth spurt. Between 1981 and 1989, the three families had eleven kids. Family gatherings were loud, fun, hilarious, crazy.

Jill and Steve lived in northern California (we were in southern California), and weren’t around as much, but Wynette and I got to spend a lot of extra time together.  We, along with my mom and grandma, invented a big Annual Shopping Day Event, which folks now tend to call “Black Friday”. We did some crazy-huge craft shows in our homes.  We would get together for birthday parties and game nights and anything else we felt like doing. We saw the kids in their church programs, and participated in each other’s lives.  We were sisters, because both of us only had brothers in our families of origin.

Then, it was determined that the South family was moving to Iowa.  Iowa. From Southern California --eternal springtime, beach days and palm trees California -- to Iowa.  Pre-internet Iowa. Pre-cell phone, smartphone, videochat, instant-message Iowa. It was going to be hand-written letters and long-distance phone calls.  And for the uninitiated (anyone under, what, forty?), that means you literally pay for every minute that you’re on the phone. Even when we lived 20 miles apart, we didn’t talk on the phone unless we really needed to, because long distance was too expensive.  So this news was crushing. We were two families with four children each, all very busy with life, without a bunch of money sitting around, with no big “travel budget” to run back and forth across the country.

In many ways, before that move, I had to “check out” emotionally.  I found reasons to look forward to living in Iowa. It was going to be a great adventure.  (Side note: It WAS and IS a great adventure, and Iowa is my home now. I love it, and I do not regret coming here.  At the time, though, it was difficult.) But I was leaving behind so many people. Steve and Jill had been back in Southern California for a few years, and we had spent so much time with their family, as well.  I can barely add this part: During that time, our sweet Cayla had been born (as I’m writing this, it’s May 7, 2018, and it should be her 30th birthday).  But in the time between us finding out we’d be moving, and our actual move, Cayla went home to heaven, at age four, after spending her whole life with a terrible disease called histiocytosis. So to leave, I was walking away from my grief-torn brother and sister and nieces, my parents, my other brother and his family, my beloved church family, my dear, dear friends, a home I loved, the state I’d lived in since birth… and the grave of my precious Cayla, who was as dear to me as one of my own.  So I checked out a bit, focused on the details, turned my mind to the future, started woodenly saying my goodbyes.

And then Wynette gave me that darned book.  Annie Bananie. That book pushed me over the edge.

Annie Bananie is a children’s book, with delightful illustrations.  Annie Bananie herself is a bit of a “pill,” and in the story, she’s about to move away from her best friend.  Here’s how some of it goes.

Annie Bananie, my best friend,

Said we'd be friends to the end.
Made me brush my teeth with mud,
Sign my name in cockroach blood.
Tie my brother to the trees,
Made me tickle bumblebees.
Promised we would always play,
Now Annie Bananie's going away.

Annie Bananie, Do you think it's good
Leaving your whole neighborhood?
Who will feed your porcupine?
Who will swing from your clothesline?
How can you just go away?
What about my sixth birthday?

Annie Bananie, Do not cry --
Even best friends say good-by.
Make some new friends, try to write,
And when you are in bed at night,
Remember you will never ever ever
Find a friend who's half as clever
You will never ever find
Someone who’s as sweet and kind
No you'll never, ever ever
Never ever
Find another friend like me.

Will you?

That darn book.  It undid me. To this day, I either tear up, or get that tight feeling in my throat any time I think of it.  It’s worse for me than “I Love You Forever,” and that one is pretty intense. For more than 25 years, that book has been on my shelf, but I do not open it.  I’ve never read it to my grandkids.

So anyway… let’s move on with the story. (All of you: “Seriously… let’s move on.”) If this was a movie, you’d see a big whirling montage of Hammer/South family events (but it’s not, so you get word vomit here, hehe). The Souths move to Iowa. Steve and Jill move to Phoenix. Mom gets cancer. Scott gets cancer. Susie gets cancer. The kids grow up. High school graduations and weddings happen. Mom gets cancer again, fights hard, and goes home to Jesus. Steve and Jill move to Pittsburgh. Scott fights cancer for so, so long, but in the end, it takes him, too. Wynette moves to Nevada. Babies happen…lots of babies. Twenty-two babies at this writing. Dad finds, and marries Londa, and we adore her. After 35 years of marriage, I suddenly and surprisingly find myself alone. Wynette retires from teaching. Our children spread out around the country.

During that 25 years between when I moved, and now, “the internet” happened. It became my livelihood, but it also became my link with Wynette. I was able to lure her on to AOL instant messenger, and that’s when we started chatting every night. Annie Bananie and her friend finally had a way they could afford to communicate, and it’s been onward from there.

People have always said things like, “It’s too bad that you and Wynette can’t live near each other,” and we’d agree. We like to travel together, we have so many similar interests, and we just click. And now, as things have happened, we’re each doing life on our own. And as we’d visit with each other, we’d say, “If only!” but then follow it with, “But your kids are there, and my kids are here… so we’ll just visit.”

Last fall, I went on a fun trip with my childhood friend Janine, and wasn’t doing my nightly chat with Wynette. During that trip, she texted me and told me that when I was on my way home, I should call her, because she had some things to tell me. (And of course, she told me “everything is fine!” because otherwise, she knew I’d worry.) So, I called her when my flight landed, and after some chit-chat, she said, “Well, with Justin’s family in California, and Zach’s family leaving to travel the country in their RV, I figured it’s time for me to move to Iowa.” WHAT. My whole life screeched to a halt. Never once did I imagine this could happen. I never even DREAMED it. I screamed like crazy (sorry about your ears, Sister). She had talked to all of her people, and everyone was onboard with it.

Annie Bananie is coming to stay.

When she was here last month, we looked at houses in person (we’d been stalking them on real estate apps for months, and I’d been doing “drive-bys”), and she made an offer on a great house.  It’s exactly one mile from my house. It closed this week. She’ll be here in two weeks.

Annie Bananie is coming to stay.

It’s not that we’ll spend every minute together. I’m still in the workforce, full time. She has interests, things she wants to do. We aren’t joined at the hip. But we can be near each other, spend important times together, enjoy each other’s families, like we did when we were young mothers. We can travel together to see Steve and Jill, and our parents and other family. We can have holiday time. We can help each other when it’s needed. It’s a life-changer.

Annie Bananie is coming to stay.

Who would have thought that wayyyy back, probably close to 50 years ago, when the Cooper family first set foot on the grass of the La Mirada church in California, where I was probably turning cartwheels, and my family was scattered around, that God would lead us here, to a place where two of those little girls would grow up and have families that are related, and would love each other dearly like Sisters do, and would live a mile apart in Iowa. Annie Bananie is coming to stay.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Goodbye, House on the Hill

Today I said a rough goodbye.  I said goodbye to a home I have loved and never intended to leave, as well as a life that I loved, and never intended to leave.

I moved out of the house a few months ago, and I’m happy where I am.  But until today, I hadn’t yet said goodbye.

I sat on the floor of the living room and wrote a letter to the family who will move in tomorrow, the new owners.  I had prayed that a young family would buy the house, and fill it again with love and laughter.  I don’t know much about them, except that they seem to be young, and they love the house.

When we bought the house, our kids were 5, 7, 9 and 10. We’d just moved to Iowa.  We were all adjusting to so many new things.  New church, new job, new schools, new friends, new weather (“seasons,” what??), a new, slower culture and lifestyle.

Hard things happened there, but mostly it was a place of joy and fun and love and laughter.

As I sat in the living room today, listening to the intense quiet that I’ve always loved there, I looked at the front window, and remembered dozens of years of Christmas trees. They needed to go exactly in the center of that window… except that one year when we accidentally chose “Jabba the Tree,” and nearly had to move out of the house to make room for him.  

I remembered hilarious gatherings of teenagers in that living room, playing games like “Catch Phrase” that always turned raucous.  I remembered two marriage proposals (both accepted!) that happened in that living room.  I remembered dozens and dozens of couples standing in front of the big painting, having pictures taken before prom, Homecoming, and other events.  I remembered Halloween costumes, Easter baskets, important conversations, movie nights.  I remembered.

I looked into the dining room, and remembered so many dinners.  Regular dinners, with everyone in their “usual places,” and holiday dinners, where we were joined by others.  I heard whispers of people like my Grandma near the end of her life, confused by the reflection of the Christmas tree lights in the back window.  “Now whose lights are THOSE?”  I heard my mother, sitting at the table playing dominos with the kids.  I saw my dad, snickering and painting a few of his fingernails with my daughters’ polish, in order to horrify and amuse them.

I saw the table, surrounded twice with a young bride and her friends, preparing invitations, favors, even food for their weddings.  I saw countless card games, board games, sewing projects, homework papers, team rosters, spread across that table. 

I walked through the bedrooms, and remembered prayers, tucking in, a set of bunk beds in each room.  I heard sounds of one boy doing a particular high pitched, unstoppable giggle as he read Dilbert books when he was supposed to be sleeping, and the other boy, in the bunk below, calling out his name in a tired, slightly frustrated but slightly amused voice.  I heard peals of laughter from the two girls in the other room.  I heard one tell the other that she couldn’t find something, and the older sister finding it for her.  Always.  I remembered the nights of sleeping with the windows open, listening to the owl outside my window, and the breeze blowing through the big trees.

Downstairs, in the basement family room, I remembered the place where we gathered for family time in the earlier years.  I remembered the old tones of dial-up internet, as I started the journey into online moderation.  I remembered when our only shower was downstairs, and how in the winter it felt so nice to stand in front of the little wall heater to warm up after bathing there.  I remember a teenaged son coming in to tell me he’d just hit a deer with my first new car.  I remembered another son coming home so damaged after a terrible bike accident.  I remember school backpacks, coats, gloves, and hats piled on the floor.  I remember carrying loads of laundry out the door to the clothesline. I remembered a little girl sitting on my lap, begging to look at the Beanie Baby website with me.  I remembered a very scary night when I had a stroke in that basement family room.

I went outside, and remembered four graduation parties, with friends and family gathered under the big tree.  I remembered a preteen boy hitting a golf ball from the back lawn out over two neighbor’s houses and into the road.  I remembered fireworks in the driveway (just kidding, that isn’t legal).  I remembered Baby the Wonder Dog, and Rufus Bighead.  I remembered Bob and Chia, the hedgehogs, and their hoglets Wedgie and Melvin.  I remembered the kitties, Jimmy (who we thought was Jenny), Shirley Goodness, and Mercy. I remembered all the gardens.  I remembered bonfires, rainy slip-and-slides, snowmen, basketball hoops.  I remembered my dad building the steps into the terraced wall, so we could get to the upper yard more easily.  I remembered the many, many times I’d stand behind the shed, under the crabapple tree, gazing out onto tranquil woods and farmland, just to pray in peace and solitude.

I stood again in that spot behind the shed, with recent rain dripping down on me from the tree, and let myself remember more.  I remembered confronting some hard things, long after the time when I should have. I remembered the terrible lonely time of being alone with pain, staying quiet in order to give the hard things a chance to heal without interference. I remembered some final conversations, when I learned that love and commitment was gone, and life was changing totally, completely, and forever. I remembered the most terrible part -- having to share that news with my dearest people, who had been completely in the dark. It was a brutal sucker punch that had to be administered one after another, to the people I love most.

I remembered how God (and His people) had sustained me, and I praised Him for it.

And then I thought… that’s enough looking back.

I thought about my future, which, honestly, is hard to do, but getting easier.  I love my home, the place that one of my grandchildren spontaneously dubbed “Nonny’s happy house.”  There is still a lot of sadness, even some shame -- this isn’t in line with my belief system, after all.  I’ve worked through much of that, and I have hope.  I’ve done things that I never thought I’d do.  Sure, I didn’t want to do those things, but I did them.  I’m abundantly blessed by my four children, their four spouses, and my ever-expanding group of (nearly) perfect grandchildren.  My brother, my sisters-in-love, my church, my friends… I can’t even mention my Dad and stepmom without choking back tears.  Their love has sustained me.

So, it’s goodbye to the house on the hill, the place where cardinals visited often, and deer danced just out back.  The place with the “four season view,” the woodpeckers, and the croaking frogs after a rain.  The place with the tree that held the best fairy house my grandchildren ever saw.  The place where four precious children learned and grew and left, then returned with a beloved spouse, and sweet babies in their arms.  

Goodbye, house on the hill.  You’ve been good to me.

Rules of Peeps: Listen and Obey

I suppose every person has some sort of expertise.  Some have memorized random baseball stats.  Some know every line of every episode of Gilmore Girls.  Some are experts in finding the perfect route around traffic.  I know a man who has memorized the entire Bible, and can start at any point or reference you give him. I’ve had many surgeries, and the people who performed them definitely had skills.  My special expertise, however, surpasses all of those.  I am the World’s Leading Expert and Holder of the Peep Knowledge.

And this is your lucky day, because I intend to share my secrets with you, my peepy peasants.

The Rules of Peepage

A pile of evil.
 We shall start with the most basic, but vitally important of the Peep Rules:  Do not eat the chicks. Only the bunnies are pure and sinless.  The chicks are evil.  They will poop in your stomach. They will cause you to commit unspeakable acts, such as wearing white before Easter, driving the speed limit in the fast lane, forgetting to “spring forward,” and doing the Chicken Dance.  Ward against their spell -- it is a mighty one.  “All who partake of the marshmallow chick will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (I Susiekiel 4:7)  Take heed.

Next Peep rule:  No flavored peeps!  One must only consume the bunnies, and they must never be of any “flavor.”  One may occasionally partake of the new chocolate-covered peep (bunny only), but never, never, never be drawn into consuming a chocolate, strawberry, gingerbread, or any other flavored peep.  This is an abomination.  Thus sayeth’ the Suz.

Rule of Peep Order.  The order of Peep preference, by color, is as follows, with no room for variation:  purple, pink, yellow, blue, green.  Do not partake of the orange peep, as they are a crime against nature, and should be heartily shunned.

There is a proper method or ritual for Peep-eating:
  • Hold the bunny facing you.  Smile at him.
  • Chomp off the ear on the right (his left ear).
  • Whisper a kind word while he can hear, and then chomp off the remaining ear.
  • Eat the top of his head, to just above his eyeballs.
  • Smile at him again; this is the last thing he will see, so make it good.
  • Nibble off the right eye, then the left, in quick succession.  Eat his nose.
  • Eat the rest of his faceless head.
  • Consume his body in three bites.  No more, no less. 
There is to be NO deviation from this routine. Bad things can happen.  Do not doubt me. 

Don’t bother trying to call or email “Mecca,” aka “Holy Ground,” aka the Peeps factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to ask (beg, plead, or grovel) for a tour.  A hideous troll by the name of Martha lives there, and will flat-out turn you down, or try to shuffle you over to a tour of the nearby crayola factory.  No thanks.  NOT COOL, MARTHA, YA FUN-HATER.  There’s really no reason to discuss how I know these things.  No, I’m not still bitter.  I just clench my jaw like this sometimes.

Many enjoy a slightly “cured” texture to their peep. This can be achieved by opening one end of the peeps box, and letting them sit on your desk for a few days (if you can stand the temptation).  Just a day or two, and you’ll have the perfect texture for your favorite crunch.  This takes some practice, so don’t expect to get it just right the first time.  But believe you’ll do it, and your Peepy dreams will come true.

Use the handy arrows to determine that the blue peep is a male.
All peeps sold in the wild are male peeps. You can often discern their little peep genitalia by looking at the front lower section of the bunnies.  You just have to examine the package (pun totally intended) prior to purchase. Some prefer less-endowed bunnies, so choose carefully.  If you are having a rough time believing this one, I assure you it’s true.  I also know you’ll all check.  You may want to purchase a tiny latex glove.

Occasionally on the Interwebs-n-tubes you will see sick and wrong people who are doing terrifying experiments on Peeps.  This is permissible for the chicks, but NEVER the bunnies.  The chicks are asking for it by existing.

Please, let me know if you have any Peeps questions.  I’m here for you, young grasshoppers.

--Susie “The Goddess of Peeps” South

I Get It, Mama

I had a moment of “oneness” with my Mama tonight.

It’s been quite a day.  My precious daughter is hospitalized, and we don’t really know what’s wrong.  I spent part of the day with her, part of the day with my sweet grandchildren, and most of the day worrying and praying about my beloved girl.

Mason and Jubilee, my grandbabies, were at daycare most
of the day, so it’s not like they’re the ones that exhausted me… but wow, I’m beat.  I played with them all evening, fed them dinner, got them ready for bed.  Jubi is getting some new teeth, so she was a little more weepy than usual, but nothing too extreme.  I wanted to get the dishes done and the kitchen tidied.  I was in there working, Jubi was asleep, and Mason was watching some Ninja Turtles when it happened.  He came in and said in a plaintive voice, “Nonny, I need you.”

Well, that was it.  I melted.  When he says that, it doesn't mean, “I need for you to do something for me.”  It means, “I need to be with you, right now.”  He usually says it to his Mom, but she wasn't there, because she was in a hospital bed down the road.  I was there, so he needed me.  I stopped what I was doing, and went and held him and watched some Ninja Turtles, and everything was better.  For both of us, I think.  The dishes still aren't done, but that will happen.

While I sat with him, I thought about another night.  It’s a night that is lost to me, and a night I've really only heard about second hand, for the most part.  Here’s how it went.
It had been quite a day.  I was in the hospital in California, where we had been visiting my parents.  They didn't know for sure what was going on yet, but they knew, at age 33, I’d had a stroke earlier that day.  My mom had spent part of the day with me, part of the day with my four school-aged children, and most of the day worrying and praying about her beloved girl.

My brothers and their families were also in town, and all the kids had been to the beach that day.  My mom had planned a family birthday celebration, so they all had cake and sweets that night.  I’m sure my kids were sugared up, wound up, giddy from fun with their cousins, and out of their element with their mom being gone, and I doubt they’d been told what was really going on.  My mom put them all to bed in one room, an "adventure" even on a good night.  There was giggling and chattering and laughter, and she went in several times to tell them to settle down and go to sleep. 

There’s a reason we have babies when we’re young – we’ve got more energy then.  Mom, that night, was out of energy, exhausted and worried, and she wasn’t in her 20’s any longer.  She’d had it.  And the kids just wouldn’t quit.  She finally went in that room, and said in a sharp voice, “I want you to SHUT UP, and go to sleep.”  And with that, there was dead silence.  She stood outside the door, feeling awful, and she heard Bonnie’s little elf voice say, “Ooooh, Nonny was fussing!”  (Which meant “cussing,” because at our house, “shut up” was as bad as cussing.)  That caused some snickering, and my Mom opened the door, went in, and apologized to them.  There was a lot of loving, and some explanation of how she was a “little worried,” and finally the kids went to sleep, safe and warm and loved.

I didn’t get aggravated with Mason and Jubilee tonight, and I didn’t “fuss,” but I was stressed, and worried, and focused on getting everything done.  I suddenly have new understanding for how my Mama must have felt that night when I was the one in the hospital, and my kids were the ones who were, in their own way, saying, “Nonny, I need you.”  I'm so glad she taught me through example that there's a time to set everything aside, and just love those babies.

Oh, What a Night

This is going to be a good story, I promise. I only hope that I can give it the proper care and verbiage it so deserves.

We had a craft show again today.  I know that no good story begins with those words, so trust me, it will only get better from here. Bonnie and Natalie are my craft show cohorts.  We call ourselves "Velocicrafters."  We find that very funny, but that doesn't really mean other people will.  They work so hard alongside me, and I couldn't do it without them.  They're so awesome.  Today, I really wanted to do something special for them, and had the perfect idea.

In previous blog postings, I have mentioned my email group.  We send multiple emails around daily, keeping up a continuous dialog.  We talk about nearly everything. Sometimes (well, usually) things get out of hand.  We have this weird habit of calling each other rude names, even though we don't mean it -- usually.  There is a twenty year span in our ages, we live in different states, we come from different backgrounds. A few of us have met a few others, but we've never all been in the same room together.  We love each other dearly.  When my brother passed away about six weeks ago, they wanted to do something for me, so they sent a generous gift certificate for a restaurant in Omaha called The Grey Plume.

My big idea for something special for Bonnie and Dawg (oh, by the way, we call Natalie "Dawg") involved taking them to dinner at The Grey Plume.  They were excited, and so was I.  It had all the markings of the perfect post-craft show wind-down and chill session.  We called for a reservation, and found that we could only get in rather early, at 5:15.  Fine with us.

We looked up information about the restaurant.  Their mission statement on the website is intriguing:  "Seasonally-driven, contemporary cuisine from locally-grown produce and livestock. The life-cycle of food begins even before the seed and should always end with an emotional connection. Understanding the journey to the plate evokes a deeper appreciation and respect for the meals we share. We seek to inspire and elevate the way Omaha thinks about food through culinary excellence, the promotion of local foods and growers, and a commitment to community."

Well, this may surprise you, but we can be a bit prone to poking fun. We joked that we should ask really great questions, like "Can you tell me what this chicken's name was?" or "Did someone hug this cow daily?" or "How often did someone sing to my carrots?"  But off we went, excited for our evening.

So there we were.  We were seated at a table in the window, and were assured it was the best table in the house, and they had saved it for us.  (I think she said that to everyone, though.)  There was a small vase on the table, with a sprig of rosemary in it.  We liked that.  They immediately brought us tall, narrow glasses, opened a bottle of water, and poured.  No Omaha tap water for us.  I never did ask if the water was local.  Actually, it seems like Omaha tap water is already pretty local.

We studied our bamboo-encased menus.  There were words there that the three of us, all avid readers, all "word people," really didn't know.  Fortunately, there was a sort of "food glossary" on the table.  Our server told us a little about the restaurant, and we were fascinated. Then the "Wine Director" came over to have a chat with us.  Wow.  There is such a job as a "Wine Director." I had no idea.  I don't even drink wine, but was hanging on her every word. Her descriptions included words like "meaty," "nutty," "earthy," "supple," and "woody."  Many of those words are known to make me snicker, so I had to contain myself. At some point, I said, "Could I just get a Diet Coke?" It was one of those moments you see in movies, where the music stops, all chatter ceases, and everyone in the room gasps and stares at the offender.  I think I may have offended the Wine Director with my question.  She quickly recovered, though, and told me that they didn't serve it, but could make me an Italian soda. Her descriptions again held me enraptured.  She began to suggest a mint and rosemary blend, and I mentioned that I'm allergic to mint.  Oh dear!  She excused herself quickly, grabbed a notebook, and jotted down this important medical information about me.  She then scurried off and apparently alerted the bar, our server, and possibly everyone in the place.  No mint would DARE try to reach our table.  The Wine Manager strictly forbade it. At her suggestion, I had a citrus-infused Italian soda that had a sort of flowery lilt to it. Or something like that.  Either way, it was heaven in a tall, skinny glass.  (But I still got a Diet Coke on the way home.)

While we were still examining the menus, our dear server brought us a complimentary plate of... something.  I have no idea what it was, although she did describe it.  It was sort of a little cream puff, but was filled with cheesy, garlicky heaven.  I nearly wept.  They brought us brioche, which translates to "a really good roll with a fancy name."  So good.  Also, our bread plates were made from colorful repurposed wine bottles.

The moment of truth came, and we made our selections.  I chose the Majinola Farm Wagyu beef tri-tip, which was served with potato, wilted kale, carrots, beef belly (think "bacon," only beef -- oh my) and local oyster mushrooms. I said that I'm not a fan of mushrooms, and she said that they're very good, and "foraged locally."  She gestured toward the window with her hand, as though they were discovered growing near the Mutual of Omaha building.  Bonnie chose the Blue Valley steelhead trout, because it reminded her of being in Africa, served with creme fraiche spatzle (Gesundheit.) and seasonal veggies that had once been rocked to sleep by fairies.  Dawg went with the Bluff Valley Lamb, with potato gnocchi, beets, butternut squash, and jujube (which are NOT the movie candies, as it turns out).  

She suggested an appetizer, which was not called an appetizer.  It was called a "first plate."  We had duck fat fries.  They were pieces of potato (like french fries) cooked in duck fat, which made them very rich.  They were covered with some sort of creamy, light, cheesy goodness, and there was a fried egg over all of it.  I wish I had the vocabulary of a food critic, because these were some incredible fries.  I never thought to ask for details of the duck who supplied his fat, however.

By this time, we had been there for about an hour.  We were just so relaxed, and having such a good time.  We checked out the people around us.  We watched an awkward first date, and listened to other people's conversations, while pretending we weren't.  We had our own conversation, and hopefully no one was listening.

Our food arrived, cradled tenderly in the arms of our servers. They told us about each item on our plates.  Dawg and I had large, white, square plates, but Bonnie's enormous trout came on plate that was the size of a huge 2x4.  No, bigger than that.  It was handcrafted from Nebraska clay.  Cool.  Each dish was a work of art in presentation alone, and there are no words to describe how wonderful they were.  We moaned and groaned, tasted each other's food, made inappropriate commentary, and so enjoyed ourselves.

We ordered French press coffee, and scoops of pear-anise sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate ice cream.  Oh my.  Again, we tasted each other's, and discovered that the combination of the pear-anise sorbet and the chocolate ice cream together was just so wonderful.  

When the check came, I reached for my gift certificate -- and that's when I remembered.  Oh dear.  I remembered what was written on the gift certificate.  Whichever member of my precious email group who actually called and ordered the gift certificate -- and I think I probably know who that was -- she had asked for these words to be written on it:  "For Susie... we love you!  From -- Your whores." It was then that I realized that I was going to have to hand this certificate over to these gentle souls, who are so proud to work at the place that earned the distinction of being the greenest restaurant in the nation.

Oh dear.

I agonized with Bonnie and Dawg.  They thought it was hysterical, of course.  I said, "You realize that one of these sweet people is probably the person who actually wrote this, right?"  And they laughed more. So when our server came over, I said, "My dear, dear friends gave me this gift certificate, and there is something written on it that may be a bit shocking. I am so sorry."  She laughed, said it was fine, and walked away with it.  Phew.

We resumed our coffee and conversation.  Earlier, I had seen a young man emerge from the back, and he made eye contact and smiled at me.  The same young man now approached our table.  I quickly noticed that on his uniform was the name "Clayton Chapman" -- he was the owner and the head chef.  Coming to OUR table.  He said, "I just had to come and meet you... I have been waiting to see who would come in and use this gift certificate!"  If I was a person who blushed, I would have been Husker red.  I laughed and laughed, and he said that HE was the one who took the call, and filled out the gift certificate.  He said he hesitated, but was assured that it was "safe."  He chatted with us a little, we told him how much we had enjoyed everything, and he retreated.  He was a delight.  He was also, I kid you not, 25 years old.  I googled him.

Eventually, we realized we had been there 2 1/2 hours, and decided we should peel ourselves away from this little green slice of heaven, with its recycled steel framing, its vegetable-based to-go boxes, its low-flow faucets, and its reclaimed barnwood furniture.  As we left, Clayton (the owner-chef) met us at the door and sent us off with lovely little pastries to enjoy with our morning coffee.  Bless his heart.

We took a picture in front of the place, because such a memorable evening needed a photo.

I am beyond blessed, to be so well-loved by a group of women who would seek to bring me cheer from afar, by providing me with the gift of this evening.  It is humbling.  I love you, my whores.

Accosting a Candidate... Maybe

I really should be writing a blog post about the Stupendous Grandma Trip of 2012, a tale of two grannies (my sister-in-love, Wynette, and I) trekking across the country.  But I'm afraid that once I tell the story of how we visited the World's Biggest Ball of Twine, everyone will get over-excited, and stop reading completely.  And I really need to tell this pertinent, timely story first.

I feel I must preface this by saying that this will not be a political story, although it will involve a political person.  If you've known me for longer than five minutes, you know I love politics, and certainly don't shrink from discussing it in the right setting. But I don't want to be that obnoxious person who uses Facebook and her blog as a boring platform.  My social media outlets encompass friends from work, church, community, school, etc., so  I usually keep my politics more private, unless I'm asked.  Luckily, I'm asked often. :-)  If you want to know how I feel about something and why, then hit me up privately, and I'll spill.  Oh, I'll spill -- as many of you know, and sadly, encourage.

ANYWAY....  the story.

So there I was, tooling down I-70.  I'd left Wynette's place in Henderson this morning, and was making good time.  I was in Utah, between Salina and Green River.  If you travel that stretch, you know it as "the section where there are no services for over a hundred miles."  It's also the stretch where Bonnie and Natalie and I almost died a few years ago.... but that's a story for another blog posting, right, girls?  I was zipping along at 80 miles per hour. (Yes, 80!!  There were signs up saying they were doing "speed limit testing" or something, so I got to go fast!)  Hmm, I can see I'm going to be quite easily distracted while telling this tale.  I'd best start over.

So there I was, driving in Utah.  I got a text from one of my "work peeps," saying that my assistance was needed quickly.  I was approaching a "scenic overlook" area, which was around a bendy road that curved around a hill.  I whipped in, snaked around and parked, glanced to my left, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Mitt Romney's bus.  It was large and navy blue.  Wow!

Okay, I know it's annoying, but I have to pause again to say something else.  I'm kind of a freak about meeting political candidates, because you just never know which one is going to turn out to be President, and we'd all like to be able to say we've met the President, right?  And because of my unique blend of "living in first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa," "formerly having a super specialized job with CNN," and "being a political junkie," it turns out that I've met or talked on the phone with most of the political candidates since the Clinton era.  So to just happen to get called by work at that minute, and to just happen to whip into a random "scenic overlook" in the middle of butt-nowhere, and happen to see Romney's bus... that's fun.

So in an instant, my razor-sharp (ha) mind noted that there was a small group of people gathered around the steps of the bus, as though they were boarding for departure.  Obviously, there would be no time for planning my approach.  With no regard for my personal dignity (as if I EVER have such regard) I hopped out of my car, which was parked right at the back side of the bus, and called out, "Mister Romney!"  (It probably should have been "Governor" Romney... but that's the least of my embarrassment, I suppose.)  Mind you, I didn't actually see Romney in the group of people... but I assumed he was probably there.

For some reason, the group paused and looked over.  I realized I didn't see him, although I'm not super familiar with his appearance. But they were sort of looking into the bus, and then this head popped out.  I realized I was on the spot to say something, so I called out three words.  Oh dear.  I can't even bring myself to tell you, dear readers, what they were.  You'll have to hit me up in private if you'd like to know.  But let's just say I was pressed to say something quickly, and quickly I said something.

The people sort of chuckled and the head popped back in the bus, turtle-like.  They all quickly boarded, and I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture.  The bus pulled out and was gone.  There were three touristy-type "regular folks" standing there watching, and I called out, "Was that...?" and they nodded real big, and got in their car and left.  I just stood there scratching my head for a minute, then remembered that I had stopped for an actual reason.

I got back in my car, and handled the work situation.  ("Another life saved.")  Side note:  Turns out that I get pretty slow internet when I'm parked at a scenic overlook a quarter mile from the Interstate, at least 50 miles from any sort of town civilized enough to even have fuel or other "services."  Crazy.

So here's the thing... I'm not even sure that was Mitt.  The lateness in the day and the direction of the setting sun made it hard to see that side of the bus, and you can see in my photo.  While I was sitting there with my slow internet, I was googling to find out where he is today.  The best I could find out was that yesterday, when he made a statement about the Colorado shootings, he was in the Northeast. The head was Mitt-shaped, certainly, but that doesn't mean much.  Maybe the people chuckled because they thought I was nuts, and might charge them if they didn't act pleasant.  For all I know, they jotted down my license plate number, and I'm now on (yet another) FBI watch list.  Great.

After I finished my working and googling, I headed back out, and later I caught up to the bus.  I have to tell you that they drive at a very safe speed -- nowhere near 80 miles per hour.  I was careful to not make eye contact with the bus driver (it wasn't Mitt, by the way), or even look too closely at the heavily-tinted windows, in case they really did think I was a loon.

So, I exchanged words with yet another Presidential candidate.  Maybe.  Either way, it was a fun story.

Sometimes my life is surreal, even to me.

UPDATE:  After a few Facebook comments, I realize that I'd better just admit the three moronic words that I called out.  Okay, here we go. I cheerily said, "Go get 'em!"

Of course, I meant a general, "Go take on the democratic process, and show the world the glory of free and fair elections!"  The people who were gazing at me, especially if that wasn't Mitt in the bus, probably thought I said, "Go get him!"  And that will only contribute to my name being added to the FBI watch list.  In fact, don't be surprised if I disappear from this hotel room tonight.  Wish me luck.

Another blog for Metaverse...

Well, it was my turn to write the blog post for my company.  It always stresses me out, because it's hard to pull out just one topic from the scary tangled mess that is my brain.  I got lucky this time, because I wrote some stuff in an email group I'm in (which happens to include the company CEO... who was my friend long before she was a CEO), and after she read it, she said, "Looks like a blog post to me!"  And now it is.  Phew.  Easy-peasy.  So, here's the post:


Offline Advice: Tips for Sports Parents


Yes, we’re all techno-geeks.  We can’t get enough of our electronic gadgets.  But eventually, we all have to pull away from our computers long enough to do something else.  Well, most of us do.  Okay, some of us.  If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you get pulled away fairly often.  Kids have a funny way of expecting to eat a few times a day. And if you’re a parent whose children are involved in sports, there’s even a regular schedule you’re supposed to follow. 

As a sports mom, I’ve got some street cred. Four athletic kids (one’s an All-American!), plus a coach for a husband – that all counts. And while volleyball is my family’s “thing,” we sure aren’t a one-sport bunch.  Oh no. Football, basketball, track, cross country, wrestling, soccer, bowling (yep, that’s a “sport”), baseball, softball… and that doesn’t even include their “fine arts” endeavors.  Oh yes, I’ve put in my time in the bleachers.
So, here is some offline advice for sports parents.  You’re welcome.

First tip:  Go. Your kid wants you there, even if he feigns disinterest in your presence, or acts like you are an embarrassment. (Bonus tip: If you’re sporting a jersey with his picture on it or waving a big foam finger – any finger — you ARE an embarrassment.) Learn the appropriate things to call out. If you don’t know the rules and intricacies of the game, keep your mouth shut until you do, except to be encouraging. Take your cues from the more seasoned parents, but remember…

Second tip:  Most parents are idiots when their kids are playing sports.  Don’t let them drag you into their lunacy.  If it’s more fun to sit somewhere else, then sit somewhere else.  But don’t sit with the other team’s parents, because they’re even bigger idiots.

Third tip:  Be kind to the refs.  They really don’t hate your kids.  They’re probably calling the game the way they actually see it.  Sometimes they get it wrong, but games are almost never lost because of bad calls, even if it seems that way.  Even if a “bad call” happens at the end of the game, there were still plenty of missed opportunities, turnovers, or incidents of poor execution that might have changed the outcome.

Here’s a bonus tip about basketball, when your team is playing:  If your team is on defense, and one kid bumps another, you’ll see it as an offensive foul.  If your team is on offense, you’ll see it as a defensive foul.  You just can’t help it… you see it as the other team’s fault.  Keep that in mind before you stand up and scream about the inequity of it all. And remember: It’s a lot more fun to quietly mock the parents from the other team who are standing and screaming about the inequity of it all if you haven’t already engaged in that behavior.

Tips for immediately after the game:  Ask your child what she felt she did well, and what she thinks she can improve on. Find a skills-related thing to compliment your kid about, and a character-related thing to compliment her about.  Save your skills critique for later, and save your character critique for later.  BUT! Be sure to see my next two paragraphs regarding the critiques.

About the skills critique: Think it over before you choose to discuss skills and technique.  Talk to the coach if you’re not sure about something — they might be teaching a method that you don’t know. It is okay to show your child another way, but do your best to not undermine the coaches, or sabotage their system.

And about saving the character critique for later: Get to it, but not immediately after the game, when emotions may be running high. But don’t make the mistake of never addressing issues you see in their character.  If you’re lucky, the coach might help in that area, but ultimately, it’s your problem.  If you disagree with the coach, talk to him — don’t tell your kid to do something different than the coach tells him to do. (Example:  we taught our kids to put out a hand and help up an opposing player if someone got knocked down — one coach didn’t allow that, because he thought it could start a fight, or put the kids in danger of being punched.) Whatever you’re noticing — back-talking the coach, rolling eyes at the ref, laughing at the other team, not being encouraging to teammates – address it with your child, and work with them to overcome these things.

And my top tip: Remember why you’re doing this. It’s not about building an athlete; it’s about building your child’s character. Except for a few very rare exceptions, our kids are never going to “go pro.” But they are going to have to function in the real world, where there are wins and losses, fairness and inequity, good skills and poor skills. What they learn about managing those things will be far more important than anything they can learn about a sport.

– Susie South | Chief Moderator | Metaverse Mod Squad, Inc.

[Originally posted here.]