The following entries are based upon true events, sometimes mingled with a "little" fiction.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Nebraska Reunion

If it involves quirky games, Runzas, explosions, parks, visits to urgent care, cheese puffs, hot humid weather, cute little kids, and food-lots of food; then it must be the Smith Family Reunion II!

Yup, this year we brought it all to the heartland, Lincoln Nebraska- home of cornhuskers and huskerettes.  We figured this was as close to the middle of the country we could get.  There were 10 kids under 10, supervised by 9 adults (well at times some adults could be included in the kids catagory) all neatly tucked into Kevin and Nicole’s gracious living arrangements. For a week we shared rides, food, fun, conversation, counsel, and viruses. 

It had been so long since Jordan from Wilmington Delaware had seen and tasted a maple bar that we took, not one, but two trips to The Donut Hole downtown. These weren’t just maple bars, but bars with meat- strips of bacon curled on top of a bed of frosting and fried dough. Their other donuts weren’t bad either.  It was amazing to me how far those donuts went. Cut into fourths we sampled everything and the grandkids energy exploded while the adult’s metabolisms caused our bodies to slough onto the couches. 

We visited several stores-  Rocket Fizz where they had a store filled with candy brands that covered a generation and soda pop that ranged from flavors like Banana Nut, Cotton Candy, Bacon with Chocolate, and of course, Sweet Corn. We enjoyed it so much we went back a second time before we left.  We also went to Licorice International where they sell, you guessed it, Licorice! Had some great samples of licorice from all over the world.  We also had some great ice cream from Ivanna Cone. They hand make their ice cream right on site and the flavors vary each day. My Cream de Menthe was smooth, creamy and refreshing.
We finally made the trip to the world famous Omaha Zoo, recently voted the best zoo in the world.  At the Omaha Zoo we go into the animal’s world to see them-such as desert domes, underground caves, into darkness for the nocturns, tropics and savannahs. We were there for hours and probably still only covered half the exhibits. But with tired, wilty kids and grandpas we needed to leave.

In that same Omaha visit we visited the Winter Quarters visitor’s center where some of our pioneer ancestors camped before crossing the plains to Utah. There the kids, and a few adults, dressed up in pioneer garb, posed while pushing a hand cart, and learned about what it took to get ready for the several thousand mile journey across the wilderness in the mid 1800’s. With several photos taken in front of the Omaha Temple we were reminded of our quest to be an eternal family.

Some of us made the trip to the University of Nebraska campus where we wandered through the bookstore, bought Nebraska gear, wore obnoxious looking corn cobs on our heads, and paid a visit to the most sacred shrine in Lincoln- Memorial Stadium where the Cornhuskers play a few football games each year. They even have a gate worshippers could go through that gets you into a part of the stadium overlooking the field. We also went into their training facility and a hall where all their Bowl game trophies and photos and gear from some of Nebraska’s football folk heroes. I even told a receptionist there that I had taken off my Oregon Ducks cap while walking through the hall. She appreciated the respect.   She didn’t see the “GO DUCKS AND BYU COUGARS” graffiti I penned in some very obscure places.  Just kidding. I didn’t really do that. Well, just under the drinking fountain maybe…

We also took a walk from campus to the state capital building. The capital tower rises over 300 feet and visitors can take an elevator almost to the top and walk around the observation deck. This gives a great view of the surrounding Lincoln area. The noon sun was hot and the humidity made us feel as if we were still in the tropical exhibit at the zoo. When we finally arrived to the capital we noticed Jan was pale and sweating. We had her sit for awhile but then a tour guide burst into the room telling us that if we wanted to tour the building we best be getting over there. We stayed to be polite but we really only wanted to learn how to go up into the tower. We learned a few things though. 

Over the 4th of July we learned that Nebraskans are firework freaks. All fireworks are legal and people begin the afternoon of the 3rd to launch their explosive devices. I’d noticed on an earlier visit that Nebraskans use their garages and driveways for tailgate parties before football games. Any football games. They do the same for the firework displays. They pull out the chairs, the grill, the cooler, grandma and their individual treasure trove of fireworks and spend the 3rd and 4th of July just talking and eating. Then there’s lots of screaming, running, ducking, dodging, and hiding from the chaos caused by errant explosives. Such fun!

And finally, where there are Smith’s gathered, there are Smith Olympics! Started many years ago as a Family Home Evening activity we’ve kept this multi- event game competition alive each time we get together. There are no prizes, just winner’s pride-for about a minute. Each family had one or two events we competed in. There was plastic cup stacking, water balloon tossing, hula hoop body weaving and blowing cups across the table with balloon air etc… However, I have to say, my favorite was one I didn’t even participate in. Because it was my game. We teamed up and one team member put on a shower cap which we then sprayed with shaving cream. The other team member stood about five feet away with a bowl of Cheetos Puffs. One by one they tossed the puff and tried to land it on the head of the other team member. It was not an easy task and a few of the children were horrified that we were ruining cheese puffs but it was lots of fun. The boys with Cheetos sticking out of their heads looked like they were at a Little Orphan Annie audition. That was so much fun that Jan and I now spread dip on our shower capped heads with chips poking out. This keeps our hands free to carry our plate or drink around. 

We loved being with everyone. But the times I cherished most were actually the quieter moments, talking one on one, playing a few board games, watching World Cup Soccer on TV, and everyone randomly joining in singing  a rather raucous version of “Let it Go” as we watched the movie Frozen. Oh, and the urgent care visit was for Noah who caught a slip n slide in his eye and required a few stitches. At least, for a few days, Lincoln, Nebraska was “the greatest place on earth.”

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Tender Plant

I was given the assignment- well our High Priest’s Quorum was actually given the assignment- but I took it upon myself to come up with a gift for the women of our Ward on Mother’s Day.  Maybe I figured that if they loved the gift I could take the credit, if they hated it I’d spread the blame to the other men.  I’ve also  made a lot of jokes about getting the “tribute” or paying “ransom” as applied toward getting this gift. I’m sure I even used the words “bribe” and “pay-off”once or twice. 
Last time I did this I bought Harry & David Chocolate Truffles. We put three in a little plastic see thru bag tied a ribbon around it and attached a saying from our prophet about the goodness of women in the world. A couple of High Priests stood by the back doors after sacrament meeting and handed the little bags to each woman as she left. I heard it was well received.

I thought I’d do the same thing this year but then I heard the Relief Society was going to pass out truffles- homemade truffles- to the women. The year before the women received live Basil plants. That made sense to pass out something that would be useful. Being the uncreative gift giver that I am I resorted to giving out flowers.  I didn’t know much about flowers so I felt impressed to talk to Larry Carpenter, who’s a hobby farmer, and knows a lot about flora. As we talked he mentioned he had some little plastic pots I could transfer the plants into. Since I had a budget I needed to keep under my first impression was to buy these four packs of pansies, separate them out and put one flower in a container. This would keep me well under budget. So I stopped off at Home Depot and, after surveying the flower racks, picked out some pansies, violas and a few marigolds. 

It had been raining all week but every morning I would take the flowers out of the garage and put them in the back yard so they could be exposed to whatever sunshine that poked through. I watered them if it didn’t rain enough that day then in the evening I’d carry the trays back into the garage.

Saturday morning I spent several hours in the rain washing out the plastic pots and transferring the flowers from the four packs. I had determined earlier that one flower didn’t seem to be enough which caused a second trip to Home Depot.  I decided to put two in each of the small pots. Some went in easily but others, like the pansies, had large root systems and it took some effort to separate them out of their original pot then twist, turn and pack the two flowers into their new container. I  watered each again and left them outside that afternoon.

I just prayed that they would still be alive  Sunday morning. Frankly, my feeling was these flowers only needed to stay green and healthy looking until 4:00 Sunday afternoon. After that they were out of my hands and it would no longer be my responsibility. 

Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, I got up at sunrise, dressed in my walking sweats and went outside. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud to block the warm sun’s rays. I quickly moved the flowers out of the garage and put them in our driveway so they could soak up as much sunlight as possible before locking them in the trunk to take them to church.

The viola’s were looking  droopy, the pansies’s flowers were folded and bent but the marigolds stood straight and tall. I wished I’d just bought all marigolds. I shifted the plants in the trays then looked at the sun’s position, estimated what area of the driveway would be sunniest longest then moved the trays accordingly. A couple of the trays had three rows of flowers. I was concerned the flowers in the middle row wouldn’t receive as much sun so I pulled each of these out and placed them individually on the cement.

As I began to pull these small plastic pots out I noticed how dirty the outside of each pot had gotten. Repotting the flowers hadn’t been easy and with the cold and rain I’d been in a hurry to get the job done. Now, as I looked upon the gold, orange, yellow, violet blue flowers spaced randomly on the driveway, basking in the sun,  I thought about the women who would be receiving the flowers today  and reflected that none would want to have to carry a dirty pot around. I then went back into the garage and picked up one of our old spare towels we use as rags, took it into the kitchen and placed it in the sink and soaked it with hot water. I rang out the excess water then went back to the flowers.

Picking the first pot up I carefully wiped the dirt from each side and the bottom. It brought back some memories of wiping the faces of my children with a wash rag after they had eaten.  I smiled and paused for a moment, basking in the reflection.  Then, looking closer at each plant more closely,  I noticed a few yellowing or bug bitten leaves which I pulled from the stems. I went through this same process for each potted flower, picking it up and gently wiping the dirt, pulling any yellowing leaves or dead flowers, and making each one as presentable as I could. 

As I did so I began to think of the significance of giving a flower on Mother’s Day. A flower or plant doesn’t need constant watching over and care but it does need help in order to survive. It needs planted in good fertilized soil, in an area that will receive the amount of sunlight and water it needs to survive. It occasionally will need dead flowers and leaves plucked and weeded.

Strangely, as I worked, I became filled with compassion, not only toward the care of these flowers but also to the women who would be receiving them. I didn’t want any woman in the Ward to feel they received an inferior plant. The flowers are different, some in full bloom, some need some time and patience for the plant to come to full flower. They are different colors and have varied needs.  Some have lots of room for roots to take hold while others in the smaller pots are in an area that seems limiting. I even changed one of the pots I noticed had a crack. I didn’t want a sister in the ward to feel they were undeserving or had to settle for an inferior gift. 

I was pleased the flowers were still alive and looking good after the day some were repotted, even though I’d been a little rough on some of them. I remembered that today, I am alive and looking pretty good, even after life had been a little rough lately.  Today, I learned from a flower, about Heavenly Fathers tenderness and compassion for each of us, especially His daughters.  I think these flowers might just be a great tribute.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Damnazon: Secret Shopping

I’m not a huge fan of buying things online. I need to touch, shake, examine, pinch a product before buying. But, this year, my dread of consumer crowd combat overrode my online apprehension.  It was my first venture into the Amazon, meaning  I browsed around and found three items that would make great gifts. One was for Jan, the other two were family presents. OK, the other two were really presents for me but, because I’m unselfish, I will share them with my wife. I still wanted to keep them a secret though. Primarily because if Jan knew I had purchased these she would demand I cancel the order. Once she saw the rapturous joy that beamed from my face as these were unwrapped Christmas dawn it would be difficult for her to ask I send them back.

I felt all stealthy while searching for these items. That was until I left my search for a while then returned in the evening to find that when I went onto Amazon there was a complete view of everything I’d been looking at. At first I thought this was very convenient but then I realized if Jan went into Amazon she would see my entire Christmas shopping list displayed in photographic full color wonder. So much for surprises.  Our marriage relationship is very transparent; we share everything -no secrets. Our checking and saving accounts, though separate, are still accessible to either of us. We don’t have separate email addresses. Shoot, I can even wear her slippers- that’s if she doesn’t notice I’m wearing her slippers.  So for me to set up my own log in account for Amazon was difficult for me. I didn’t want her to think I was hiding something but I also didn’t want her to see that I was hiding something.  Yes, that sentence means what it’s supposed to mean. 

By having my own account I could search and shop freely. I was pleased when I clicked on the check-out button and knew my purchases were on the way. Oh, I felt so sneaky. That was until I began receiving confirmation emails from Amazon. It’s nice to get a receipt and all but in the subject line of the email it states, “Thank you for your purchase of (named the item)”  Other emails soon followed stating “Because you searched for or purchased (name of the item) you might also be interested in…” Then there were emails letting me know that “other people who searched or bought (name of item) also purchased these items,” followed by a list of sometimes totally unrelated products. Then the emails that boldly stated: “JAN, GREG WAS TRYING TO SURPISE YOU WITH THE PURCHASE OF THE FOLLOWING CHRISTMAS GIFTS…”  That last email really wasn’t there but it may as well have been!
Now I had to scurry and cover my tracks. I realized that this email would be appearing on multiple platforms, through our desktops, IPhones and tablets. I raced to delete the message on the devices she usually used to browse our email. Almost daily there’d be an email from Amazon telling me of the progress of the items and when to expect them.  This was much more work than I had bargained for. I couldn’t sleep for fear that I’d missed something- that somewhere a lingering email would be found, spoiling my Christmas surprises. I finally just had to confess I’d purchased some items from Amazon and warned her most sternly not to look at any emails from them.

So, Amazon, I am done with you for secretive purchases. When you squeal on me like the virtual pig that you are how can I trust you?  I’m certainly not going to buy anything that I’d like to keep private- like that hair restorer goop you keep emailing me about.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Road to Xenia

On August 15, 2013, we departed from Medford to Dayton Ohio. We returned on August 24, 2013. This is our report:
My kidneys and bladder shift into overdrive when flying. I don’t know if it’s nerves, altitude or my body knowing that I will never, ever, use a rest room while flying. As soon as I step off the flight I need to find the restroom. Speaking of restrooms Jan told me about automatic toilet seat covers they’ve installed in some of the airports. You can ask her about those but they haven’t worked their way to the men’s toilet yet. Maybe it’s because the seats are never down.
Friday morning I went shopping with Brittany to buy meals for the week. I’m not sure why Brittany wanted me to come with her. I thought it was due to my shopping skills and that perhaps I’d pay for the groceries, which it was my privilege to do. Then I found out that it was because she trusted her mother more than me to watch the kids on her own. She probably had a point there.
Whenever we go to our kid’s homes we find something in their pantry that we like and that we purchase for ourselves when we return. Brittany had several boxes of granola that came in different flavors she had gotten from Target; Coconut Macaroon, French Vanilla Almond Crunch, Chocolate Chunk Cherry, Hazelnut Biscotti and, you know you’re eating health food with a granola named Pecan Sticky Bun.  We are now the proud and slightly heftier owners of several boxes of this goodness.
As I was growing up and relatives were going to come to our house for a visit in San Lorenzo I waited with high anticipation. As the time for their arrival came closer I’d be looking out my bedroom window constantly to see if their car was coming down the street. Or I’d wander in the front yard, scanning the block for any out of state license plates coming our way. I was sort of the same way waiting for Jordan and Christina to show up Friday evening at Brittany and Clay’s home. I kept looking out the door, down the street, searching the horizon for a van with Delaware plates. One time I opened the door and there they were, just getting out of the car. They thought it was great timing but they didn’t know I’d been looking out that door every 2 minutes for the past two hours.
Saturday morning I got up earlier than everyone  so I could make my “I’d probably win an award if ever nominated” pancakes.  They are pretty good and I’m honored that all my children ask me to make these for them whenever we’re together.  Seems like all the grandkids like them too.
One purpose of our visit there was to witness the blessing of little Teagan.  She’s a cutie. I find that with newborns you sort of have to wait until they’re sleeping to see their real features. When they’re awake they make all sorts of funny and unsettling contorted faces.  As they get a little older those faces settle down and their true cuteness arrives. So, whenever I’ve said to one of the kids, “you’re pretty cute, when you’re asleep,” that’s where that comes from.
But back to the blessing. When our families filed into the chapel Clay told the men who were going to help with the blessing that the bishop wanted to see our temple recommends. That’s what a bishop is supposed to do but I’ve never been asked before. However, for the first time ever, I left my wallet back at Brittany’s home, you know, the wallet with my recommend in it.  I think Clay did some fast talking to the bishop on my behalf, probably telling him about the brain injury and early onset of dementia. I did get to participate but I felt oddly like I didn’t really belong there.  I told Clay the bishop kept slapping my hands away whenever I tried to put them underneath Teagan during the blessing.
Also following a Smith family tradition Brittany and Clay have a trampoline. All the grandkids loved it. First thing every morning Ty would get up and say, “Ty Ty jump!”  Jordan showed off that he can still do a back flip. However, I think his body is still trying to recover from the twisting wrenching move.
The Air Force Museum was interesting.  Walking around with little kids you don’t get a chance to read all the exhibits but the museum had planes from the Wright brothers, the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki Japan along with stealth fighters, missiles and space craft. The UFO and mummified remains of aliens exhibit were my favorite. Just kidding. There were no mummified remains, the aliens were all working in the cafeteria.
Whenever I visit my kids in an area I’ve never been before I like to get a sense of what their lives are like. I like to see where they shop, kids go to school, go to church with them. I like to walk around the neighborhood and get a feel for their community. I inhale deeply the Nebraska, Utah, Delaware, and Ohio air trying to catch a wisp of the area’s aroma. I like to taste the uniqueness of the areas foods. I’ve had a Runza, Philidelphia Cheese steak, Water Ice, and in Xenia, Ohio- frozen custard. I thought it was a great alternative to ice cream. But then I learned that frozen custard has the same cream and sugar content as ice cream but with egg yolks thrown in to make it creamier, richer and fatter. It was delicious though.
Probably the highlight of the trip for most was our visit to King’s Island amusement park, just north of Cincinnati.  Clay and Brittany had warned us about the long lines, that they had only gotten to ride a few in one Saturday excursion. Brittany thought Thursday would be a better day to go because most of the kids started school then. We arrived just prior to the park opening and there were just a few cars in the  lot. We got right in and some of the adults ran off to get in line for the most popular coaster. We expected huge snaking lines but they got right on. In fact, that was the story of the day. We never did need to wait for any of the rides. One park attendant told us that the coaster some were getting on had a three hour wait just the day before. Imagine going to Disneyland and there were no lines. There were so few people there I kept looking for the Zombies who must have been somewhere in the park eating the brains of all the other missing visitors. But there were no Zombies, well, towards the end of the day we were like unto the walking dead, but no one was sucking brains, just wind.
My grandchildren all got tattooed. Their dads wrote their cell phone numbers on the inside of their forearms in case one of them got lost. That way whoever found them could  call and demand a ransom.
Jan’s a roller coaster demon. If there was a coaster to ride she was on it. The kids were amazed! Even Jordan and Brittany had to bow out of a few rides but Grandma, she just kept on rollin’.
The other part of this story is that I no longer trust my wife when she coaxes me onto a roller coaster by telling me that she rode it earlier and it doesn’t have any big dips and was pretty smooth. I don’t like roller coasters because they beat me up. I feel like I’ve been mugged. Well, I actually scream in high pitch wails so I’m a little embarrassed.  So I get on this coaster and as it starts to head upwards she apologizes as she explains that this isn’t the coaster she thought it was. Yeah, this was bad.  I told her afterwards I’d never follow her onto another ride. My back, neck, and head hurt. I felt like I had a concussion and every bone had wiggled out of joint.
It was a great time. Just one more lesson to share.
While listening to some music Tia started pounding the carpet with the palms of her hands. Maeli told her to stop- pounding the carpet with your hands wasn’t allowed in their house. Tia and I were a little puzzled. I asked Maeli why. She explained that one time she had poured baby powder onto the floor and was pounding it with her hands. Her mom told her to stop, that wasn’t allowed. I then explained to her that I think it was the fact she added a pile of powder to her pounding was the problem.
There’s some lesson to be learned there but I haven’t figured it out. Let me know if anyone else can draw some analogy here.  Maybe there is no lesson. Maybe there’s just a bunch of cute there. I have to admit, my grandchildren are all extremely cute, especially while they’re asleep.
And that’s the end.