Archive for February, 2008

dance costume

About fifteen years ago, Ali wore this costume and bluffed her way through her first ballet recital. Jenna, a more accomplished tap dancer at age 4, was wearing a nearly identical leotard in the same recital.


More Nostalgia:
Ali: Ballet | Tap || Jenna: Ballet

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I was very lucky that all my birthday celebrating overlapped a weekend when everyone could be around. Besides dinner out on Sunday and playing Rock Band, festivities continued on Monday. Joel, Blake and Zoe’s surprise birthday activity had to be postponed until today so a lunch date with most of us at Café Max became our alternative activity for the early part of Monday. In the evening, we gathered again for pizza, cake, and gifts.

Ali woke early Monday to make a chocolate wacky cake. When it cooled, Jenna made a special milk chocolate frosting and set it aside for later. I got lots of cards, flowers, a lovely vase, my favorite tea, a Sara Bareilles CD, and a gorgeous framed painting.

The surprise activity turned out to be a 2-1/2 hour ceramic craft experience, which we enjoyed today. Zoe provided the hand prints and I attempted to paint in the rest of our artwork, which once fired, will be a beautiful, personalized baking dish.

Zoe & Nana art

We also used some of our outing time on Monday to vote early. Three-day birthdays are as awesome as my family. 🙂

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49 and Holding

Since Benihana was closed for renovation, my usual birthday meal couldn’t be had, but I chose an excellent alternative of Macadamia Nut Chicken at Kona Grill, and was thrilled to have the rare privilege of having all of us (plus our daughters’ boyfriends) in attendance, even if it had to be a day early. Oh, darn. 😉

Joel, Blake and Zoe topped off our evening with Rock Band, which none of us except them had ever played before. Drum playing got me booed off the stage, but I was fair at the beginning guitar level. I intentionally avoided the singing experience altogether and let better vocalists belt out the lyrics. Zoe joined in with a few lyrics of her own and finally she and I retreated downstairs to finish off the night cuddling up with a couple of Sesame Street episodes while Steve went to bed and the rest rocked on.

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I saw the following within minutes of posting the above. I don’t mean this to be disrespectful to the man, but the humor of the video amused me and it begged to be added.

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It’s my son’s birthday today, and when I think about a birthday cake for Joel, this is where my mind goes. . . back to 1983, baking a cake with my helpful 2-year-old.

Joel age 2

Loaf of Gold Cake
(Bake at 350° F. for about 65 min.)

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350° F. Get out bowl, spoons and ingredients. Grease and flour 9x5x3-in. loaf pan. Remove 18 blocks, 4 toy cars and plastic hammer from kitchen table. Measure 2 cups of flour. Remove Joel’s hands from flour. Wash Joel’s hands. Measure one more cup of flour to replace the flour on the floor. Measure remainder of ingredients (except eggs) into large mixer bowl. Get the broom and dustpan and brush up pieces of bowl which Joel knocked on the floor. Put the dogs outside. Get another bowl. Answer doorbell. Return to kitchen and remove Joel’s hands from the bowl. Wash Joel. Get out the eggs. Answer phone. Return. Take out loaf pan and remove cup of salt from the pan. Look for Joel. Get another pan and grease it. Answer the phone. Return to kitchen and find Joel. Remove the grimy hands from the bowl. Wash off shortening. Take up greased pan and find a handful of dog food in it. Head for Joel who flees, knocking bowl off the table. Wash the floor. Wash the table. Wash the dishes. Call the bakery. Lie down.


Happy, happy birthday Joel dear
Happy things will come to you all year
If I had one wish then it would be
A happy, happy birthday to you, from me

And happy birthday wishes also to my niece Brandy who was born a year and a day later.


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Joel emailed everyone in our family a few days ago asking if any of us wanted to attend today’s “Stand for Change” Barack Obama rally at Reunion Arena. Jenna’s boyfriend, who is visiting from Germany, has been particularly interested in our Presidential campaign, so I brought up the email and asked if everyone had seen it. Jens and Jenna really wanted to go, but Jenna had class, and of course Ali also had class, and Steve had work. I, on the other hand, had no excuse. Joel, Blake, and Zoe picked the two of us up a little after 9:00 a.m. and we headed to the rally.

We had a little trouble finding the parking ramp entrance, but once there, we found plenty of parking on the 4th level. We were there before 10:30, when the doors were to open, so no problem. However, we descended to the 1st floor to find a line of people snaking around the parking garage, outside, and beyond — and wondered how much earlier those before us had arrived. At first, it was difficult to see the end of the line because it snaked around so much, but we eventually found our spot and in no time there were hundreds of people behind us. We stood nearly 2 hours before moving any substantial distance, and then suddenly we were speed-walking to catch up.

Yeah! We were finally in! — in the nosebleed section, but still with a pretty good view. Later we learned that somewhere in the range of 17,000 people were there.

DMN Photos | WFAA Brady Blog | Speech Excerpts | Speech Replay

Zoe was a real trooper. None of us had ever been to a campaign rally before, and I’m very glad we all got to go.

UPDATE (Feb. 22): From the Dallas Morning News:

The Barack Obama political road show that hit Dallas on Wednesday had the look and feel of a rock concert, right down to the cavernous venue – Reunion Arena – and the 17,000-plus folks he attracted, not to mention the thousands who were turned away.

The Clinton event could easily have been mistaken for a high school pep rally, sans the pompoms. There were no long lines – just a few hundred frozen noses pointed toward a Mariachi band and a table loaded with free coffee and burritos.

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As mentioned previously (and made obvious by recent posts), my family has many February birthdays. Going through the list in my head, I recall that the 19th was my maternal grandfather’s birthday. I’m also reminded that several months ago, as I was rummaging through an old box of photos and memorabilia, I came across a newspaper clipping that inspired me to jot down memories of my grandparents and their home.

Newspaper Article
(Click to read)

The Main Family Homestead — This is the house at 201 Dunning Avenue in Mount Ayr, Iowa that my grandparents Weldon and Elma Main purchased in 1948, and in which they resided until their deaths – a much-loved home with much history, often filled with much-loved people. Shortly after my grandparents moved to this home with the skeleton key locks, the Ringgold County Hospital was built across the street. It was an improved, paved street that I remember once being canopied with elm trees, and filled with the sound of singing birds. The trees submitted to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and the house to fire in 2003.

In its day, it must have been quite an elegant home, which was apparent still in my childhood with its lovely painted porches complete with hanging swings. Built-in “fancy colonnades” with paneled oak columns and etched glass cabinets filled with personal treasures and model replicas of the cars Granddad sold at his dealership divided the living room and front parlor – or “Front Room” and “East Living Room,” as Grandma called them.

The “East Living Room” housed Grandma’s ornate, cherry spinet piano, Uncle John’s chair, a short sofa where I sometimes slept, and the tall Zenith console TV they seldom watched, but John always did – even during mealtime. The TV was a lot like ours at home, with 13-channel VHF and 33-channel UHF dials, but if we could tune in more than a handful of stations and all three major networks we were lucky. Personally, I was happy with any station that showed I Love Lucy, Here’s Lucy, The Lucy and Desi Comedy Comedy Hour, or the Lucy Show, and as far as I was concerned, these could be shown twenty-four hours a day and it would not be too much.

In the “Front Room” were my grandparents’ favorite chairs, a footstool, a large picture of Christ, a wall mirror, end tables, a sofa, my Granddad’s pipe and cigarette stand, and a varying speed stool-shaped-drum-fan-we-could-never-touch-for-fear-of-death whirring quietly near the center of the room. My heavy-set Grandma sat in her chair every morning to roll on her nylons and put on her polished, low-heeled pumps that always matched her purse. Above her hung the little knick-knack shelf filled with inexpensive figurines her grandchildren walked uptown to buy for her at the drug store, and the sofa where my lanky grandfather napped very still with his ankles crossed and his hands crossed on his chest during noontime breaks from work was along the front window. If we were visiting, he made it a special delight to wake him when his meat and potato lunch was ready. As Grandma directed, “Just touch him with one finger in the middle of his chest.” I knew what was coming. I’d tip-toe in, touch his chest, he’d make the expected startled jump, and I’d break into a mischievous giggle of anticipation. “What are you doing?” he’d jokingly bellow, but one of those times his startled reaction made me swallow a starlight mint I had in my mouth, it stuck in my throat choking me, and he had to reach into my mouth, dislodge the mint and save my life!

Great Grandma Addie died before I was born, but I was told that everyone in town called her Grandma, and she often treated her grandchildren and great-grandchildren with bottles of 7-Up soda and lumps of brown sugar. I don’t recall seeing Great Granddad Dwight except in his own home, but if my Grandma’s parents visited, they’d occupy the favorite chairs and sometimes Great Granddad John would entertain us with auctioneer spiel and bribe us with candied orange slices. With lots of grandchildren around, the “Front Room” often had a card table set up for Monopoly, Chinese checkers, card games, or a large, interlocking puzzle. Granddad always finished most of the puzzles.

My mother lived in the house only a few years during her late childhood, but I often visited this home as a child. Before my grandparents owned it, it had been occupied by a doctor, who had purchased it from the original owners. The doctor’s office entrance was at the rear of the house, which Granddad sealed off from the outside, but the concrete steps leading to the old entrance remained. That portion of the house was used by them as utility and storage space and was off limits to me as a child, so I attributed much mystery to this forbidden area, especially the “secret” room behind the freezer, as well as the cellar down the dusty, creaky stairs. Even though I often played on the outside steps to the long-abandoned entrance, the inside door to the closed off portion of the house was out of view, so in later years I forgot the room was even there. As an adult I was reminded in recurring dreams and mentioned once to my brother Tim how odd it was that I kept dreaming of finding secret rooms in Grandma’s house. At first he thought of the upstairs storage room and all the closets, but I’d been in all those many times. “In my dream, there’s a hidden door,” I said, and to my surprise he replied, “Well, there is one!” However, my excitement was dampened when he added, “but there was just a bunch of old junk and it was never as fascinating as you imagined.”

I have always been directionally challenged and was even more so as a child, so Grandma’s names for the rooms frustrated and confused me for some time, as did her directions to someplace in town when I was finally old enough to drive. “Turn south a mile before you get to the old Leason place,” or something similarly nonsensical to me. How on earth was I to know when I was a mile before I got someplace I’d never heard of in a town I wasn’t too familiar with, which way was south, who were these people that didn’t even live there anymore, and why were total strangers waving their index fingers and nodding to me as I passed? In addition to that, I was puzzled by the one-way sign on the town square that pointed both left and right and the dead end sign at the cemetery. The people in this town surely had a way of life foreign to me.

Grandma was forever sending me on a mission to retrieve something from the “South Room,” and I don’t really remember at what age I finally figured out which room that was! The “South Room” upstairs had been my mother’s bedroom. During my childhood this room and its large walk-in closet was also used primarily for storage of family heirlooms like beautiful hurricane lamps, music boxes, old blue glass bottles, and the many games and puzzles the family enjoyed. The closet was oddly shaped because it surrounded what must have been the furnace chimney. Inside was a very old and very large portrait in a wooden frame. Bowed glass encased the sepia-toned head and bust of a young girl with an unsettling gaze. She was most likely a relative. I don’t recall who she was, but I was convinced for a time she haunted that closet. After their marriage, my parents also lived in this “South Room” for about two months until Dad went into the Navy the following March. Mom often expressed how she hated the home’s wallpaper because it reminded her of when she had been ill with scarlet fever during her eighth grade year of school and the large, overwhelming patterns of the paper in her home at that time made her dizzy. (The old house was just south of the town square, probably a block or so before you get to the old whatchamacallit.) Grandma, of course, loved the designs and told of Granddad’s mother, Great Grandma Addie doing most of the papering.

The “North Room” was originally Aunt Barb’s bedroom, but before I was born it had become Uncle John’s room. However, when Aunt Barb and her husband were first married, they lived in a make-shift three-room apartment that included that room. The connected walk-in closet had been converted into a kitchenette large enough for a small table, wall cabinets and a sink. The kitchenette opened on the other side into the room they used as a living room. Later, they lived several years in another large home next door on the same street.

Except for the time it was used as my aunt’s apartment living room, my grandparents’ bedroom was the upstairs “East Room,” which had another huge walk-in closet with a window. While Uncle John was young, his bedroom was a twin bed in their closet and then later in the downstairs room off the kitchen that I only knew as the off-limits “Utility Room,” where Grandma did the laundry and ironing, and behind one of two upright freezers lurked the “hidden door.” Along the hall from the formal rooms to the kitchen was the oak-paneled staircase lined with coat hooks, various coats, off-season garments, and newly sewn creations fresh from my Grandma’s sewing machine. Once upon a time, my mother’s wedding gown probably hung there as this was the staircase my mom descended in her wedding gown to marry my father, January 6, 1951. Later, all the bridesmaids’ dresses for my brother’s wedding were completed and hung there, and for years Grandma’s wind chimes hung in the door frame at the entrance to the stairs and tinkled in the breeze wafting in from the porches and windows.

Clawfoot bathtubs adorned both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms, but the one upstairs had been enclosed and surrounded by a tile ledge. The downstairs bathroom with the tall, old-fashioned commode (almost too high for a child to reach) was where I’d sit and watch Grandma apply her powder and rouge, and then she’d let me sample her makeup and Evening in Paris perfume. This room also stored supplies for making towel dolls and all their washcloth clothes, and the bathroom door was the door to which she once tied my loose tooth with a string and then closed it to yank it out when I hadn’t gotten the tooth pulled out on my own in the allotted time. I remember stories of how the large downstairs bathroom also served for a time as a home brewery when Granddad decided to try his hand at making his own beer, but he wasn’t very accomplished at it, added too much yeast, and greatly embarrassed my grandmother during a visit from her church pastor when all the corks loudly popped off and beer started spewing. Grandma wasn’t fond of smoking or drinking, but she would chuckle and say she did like a thimble full of homemade rhubarb wine now and then. She ruined Granddad’s tobacco pipes when she decided to wash “those nasty things,” and if he’d drink too much for her liking around Easter time back in his heyday, she’d make him a special breakfast of scrambled colored eggs bought from my Dad’s family’s egg hatchery.

Granddad installed all the modern conveniences of the time in their enormous kitchen, including a GE front-loading electric dishwasher, Youngstown steel cupboards, slate counter tops, and a horseshoe shaped booth and table. With all that, there was still room enough for another dining table when the family added generations. At some point, the front-loading dishwasher was replaced with a top-loading one that was so awkward to use that Grandma preferred washing and “scalding” the dishes by hand. She also decided that dishwasher was only good for storing seldom-used dishes, but it stayed in the kitchen for years before they finally got another good one. I remember Grandma fixing bacon and egg breakfasts with instructions not to put the potato bread into the toaster until I saw the whites of Granddad’s eyes. He’d then come into the room with his eyes exaggeratedly open just to be funny. I still shudder at the thought of him smearing his eggs with mustard before eating them. Next to the toaster, a Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar stood for years and years, usually filled with tempting homemade cookies. If it was a Saturday, it was cleaning day before playtime and my cousins and I would argue over who got to dust the piano. Somehow Grandma made cleaning day fun and I remember also occasionally tying rags to our feet to polish the upstairs hardwood floors.

The main floor also included yet another bedroom and a formal dining room. The dining room was only used for special occasions because most of the time the large table was covered with one of my grandma’s numerous sewing projects, as this room with its view to the massive side yard, capped off water well, peony bushes and side porch doubled as her sewing room. This room also housed one of two wall-mounted rotary-dial telephones, the other being in the upstairs hallway, and when I was a child, four digits were all that had to be dialed in Mount Ayr for local calls. In larger Iowa towns like Ottumwa, we dialed five. It hadn’t been long before when the phones there had no dial at all – one just simply lifted the receiver and waited for the operator to ask whom you wished to call. Since it was a small town and everyone knew everyone else (or was related to them) telling them “I want to talk to Grandma” usually sufficed. That was before my time, but I often played with the disconnected old dial-less phone Grandma kept stored in the “South Room.”

When the house was originally built, electricity was a new convenience. This was evident by oddly placed light switches and outlets. In the downstairs bedroom, which was most often used by company instead of immediate family, the light switch was across the room in the middle of a side wall. During my childhood, my grandparents furthered its inconvenience by placing bookshelves around it so finding it in a darkened room was always a challenge.

In later years, the house, and especially that room was associated more and more with convalescence and sadness. Following Great Granddad John’s death at their family home in rural Caledonia, and Great Grandma Pearl’s broken hip, Grandma Pearl moved to town with my grandparents and used the downstairs bedroom until her own death from ovarian cancer. Uncle John passed away in this room in his late twenties after a short teaching career, a brief marriage, and a painful battle with lymphoma. When they were older and Grandma had trouble using the stairs, the room then became my grandparents’ bedroom. Granddad was a hard worker up until the day he suddenly died in the living room, succumbing to a heart attack brought on by heat stroke while shingling the roof of their old garage earlier that same hot day in 1980.

During Grandma’s remaining years, Aunt Barb, who was by then a grandmother herself, took up residence in the family home and Grandma consolidated most of her things into her sewing room. Dining room furniture and her much-used sewing machine were replaced by a bed, chair and color television. Grandma lived for some time in the company of her daughter and an almost constant flow of local and visiting family members before placing herself in a nursing home. She died there shortly after in 1993 of ovarian cancer as her mother had years before, but prior to her death, she was privileged to enjoy a family reunion in her home the summer of 1992, which included all of her living descendants. Looking about at this great group gathered about her, she remarked with a chuckle, “Granddad and I sure did start something!”

When it was my grandparents’ residence, the property also included several out-buildings, a mink house, and fenced-in pasture from the time Granddad raised and showed ponies. Training show ponies was his passion and hitching them up for a fancy turnout or a sleigh ride with grandchildren was also one of his greatest joys. One of my funniest memories involves the mink house. One afternoon while visiting, Grandma went down to the mink house for something, possibly to care for the mink if they still had them at that time, but I don’t remember ever seeing mink so I think by then they may have been long gone and it was basically used as a tool shed. She hurriedly entered the house looking pale and frightened. “Andy! Tim! Go down to the mink house and kill that snake!” she cried. My brother and cousin, about 10 and 11 at the time ran to the mink house, but quickly returned saying, “Grandma, you already killed it. It was just a king snake, but you chopped it into about a hundred pieces already.” Grandma replied, “Make sure it’s dead. Go back and chop it up some more!”

When my aunt’s oldest daughter’s family began to grow, my cousin Brenda Grose bought the home from my aunt, and Aunt Barb moved to a smaller home on the family property. Brenda’s family turned the closet at the head of the staircase into a second, smaller staircase and was in the process of finishing off the attic for more bedrooms, when on March 5, 2003, the house caught fire and suffered severe damage. Unfortunately, the cost for restoring the home was prohibitive and it was eventually demolished. Although many of my cousin’s family and some of their children’s friends were home asleep at the time, thankfully there was no loss of life and their family rebuilt the smaller home that is there today at the same location.

This house and family homestead held lots of wonderful memories for our family. Mom and Dad were married there, my cousin Brenda was born there, and many happy family gatherings were held there. I don’t know what became of the many mementos the family treasured or never bothered to sort through. Did most of it pass from one generation to the next with the ownership of the house? Was much of it lost in the fire or was most dispersed to various family members over the years? What I know is that we each have a few things Grandma and Granddad wanted us to have because they knew they’d be important to us. For me, the most important thing was Grandma’s journal of memories she made especially for me, some old family photos thoughtfully marked with notes, and the candlesticks Granddad gave to her when they were married. I have a few other things I never expected to have, like her wedding ring and watch, and some seemingly insignificant things like a lion-head glass container and a cowbell that had been passed down from even earlier generations in Grandma’s family. There are other things I would have liked, but they were important to others as well and we had to share. The Main family homestead and the many family members who crossed its thresholds before passing from the earth before us, as well as all the love and treasures the house held through the years will be greatly missed by those of us who experienced it and remember – and by those of us who’ve learned of them from others.

At my grandmother’s funeral, her grandchildren paid her the following tribute: “We remember Grandma as a woman whose family meant more to her than anything else on the earth. In her journal, she left us many words of wisdom about family life and life in general. She had a keen sense of humor, especially about herself. Without her wonderful story telling ability, we would not have known about her interesting life, or about the lives of her ancestors. Because of her attention to detail, we will be able to recognize our ancestors immediately when they come to greet us in the hereafter.” I think I’ll first hear a chuckle and notice Grandma’s sparkling blue eyes. She will be wearing her recognizable grin, a blue, silky dress – and most undoubtedly fitting will be the beloved red hat she lost as a child, but remembered affectionately in a poem written by her in her later years. Granddad, with his warm brown eyes, will be smartly dressed wearing polished shoes and a snap-brim fedora hat. He’ll look at us with an exaggerated expression and ask with jovial force, “What are you doing?” Then he’ll probably offer us a thick chocolate malt, a maple crème, or a piece of Grandma’s Applesauce Cake – and of course a ride in a dapper buggy pulled by his favorite trotter.


Happy birthday, Granddad.

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. . . and she’s one year old this Valentine’s Day. Happy birthday, Zoe!

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Looks like you’ve got that crazed, go-for-the-frosting look in your eyes.

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We did it! Wallpapering a bathroom on Sunday was an all-day, mother-daughter bonding adventure for the three of us. We only had one do-over in a tricky corner around a cabinet and the light fixture, and the rest went on with relative ease — as did the border. Steve magically appeared to remove and replace the mirror, tighten resistant hardware screws, bring food, and to unclog the bathtub drain. Otherwise, he was careful to avoid the congestion and filled his time with yard and pool work. The best part of the wallpapering is the satisfaction that it hasn’t (yet) split at the seams or peeled after a few hot showers like the professionally installed paper that preceded it. Go, team! Blake and Joel generously offered to help, but we were tripping over each other as it was. Instead, they put their doggy sanitation expertise to good use in the back yard.

We completed all the deep cleaning we had had planned to do before our guest arrived except for a couple of bedrooms, which can be done as time permits now that the rest is out of the way. The garage — well, that’s another story. It got a last minute clean-out with the electric leaf blower, but the clutter of boxes and miscellanea remains. I’ve found that the leaf blower also works well for “dusting” large artificial plants and hard-to-reach, high places INSIDE the house. Yes, I’ve now confessed publicly that I’ve used my leaf blower for interior spring and fall house cleaning for several years now. I’ve also been known to vacuum the pool table (and occasionally the sofa) with an upright vacuum; however, now Roomba can do that for me, too — at least the pool table.

My daughter’s boyfriend had a good flight and arrived on time yesterday. Jenna had classes today so after breakfast, Jens and I spent the morning discussing Presidential candidates and today’s primaries, the differences between German and American plumbing (specifically showers), the differences in our television advertising, and the various ways to flip through our hundreds of available TV channels on the cable remote. He’s very pleasant company and easy to talk to. Tonight we’ll introduce him to the rest of the family and enjoy some Texas barbecue.

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