Monday, December 1, 2014

December 1, 2014: Brad Lane...gone, but not forgotten

Brad Lane...gone, but not forgotten

Brad died on December 1, 2007.  Although it has been four years, many details from the days following his death feel like yesterday. This is especially true each year as we reflect on the anniversary of his passing.  Somehow that fateful time becomes a raw memory imbedded in the mind with a void that grows bigger in the heart as this day passes.  I see it in the eyes of his family and in their words of encouragement to each other as they cope to get through and rally as a family.  That is the Lane way…cope, love, persevere together.  As this anniversary is now behind us, the memories burn bright again.  And we all know that memories come in many shapes and sizes.  For the Lane’s, memories are carried in the good; that of a lovable brother, uncle, son and in the bad; the painful memories of losing Brad.
What began as a very ordinary Saturday in Nebraska, one that most of us have experienced a hundred times over, turned into a day that changed our lives forever.  A rain hit the ground that early morning and turned into a mild ice storm.  With resolve under the cloudy skies and slippery roads, I ventured out to follow my Saturday gym routine.  My family stayed back at home in different stages of sleep and sleepiness with the beginnings of our seemingly Saturday normalcy.  But this day quickly turned into all but normal.  In between workout reps, I picked up my phone and noticed several missed calls from home.   “Probably the boys wanting me to pick up donuts on my way home,” I thought.  Scott answered my call back with a statement that was so surreal at the time that I couldn’t even comprehend who he was referring to.  “Brad is dead”. After a very confusing conversation that followed, I was aware that the “Brad” Scott was referring to was his younger brother.  Brad Lane had died that morning; just four days shy of his fortieth birthday.
I actually knew Brad before I knew Scott as I was introduced to most of the Lane family in 1986 while a pregnant Robbie’s loyal sidekick and trusted friend.  I remember my first introduction to this crew was a framed family picture that Robbie proudly had on display in her dorm room.  This treasure had the Lane kids sitting stacked one after another up a playground slide with heads peaking out either side.  The parents sat proudly at the top of their brood.  Robbie would recite their names to me and point out their individual differences and similarities.  I was intrigued by these smiling toe heads from the get go and before I had even met them.  The Lane clan was a cross between the “Brady Bunch” and “Eight is Enough” (but with nine kids instead of eight). And Brad was the fun loving brother.  He was always the one to get the first laugh and a charmer with his boyish grin.  He had a sense of genuineness to him that made you instantly feel at ease.  I personally experienced this unconditional acceptance as he immediately received me as “one of them”.  I felt like a Lane girl from day one.  For Brad, being Lane and being Otis (Brad’s family nickname) meant acceptance and putting others before himself.  Brad never knew a stranger.

Brad and I with Jason and Jennifer...visiting my Aunt Joan & friends :)
We buried Brad on a Wednesday.  It was a cold day with overcast skies.  As we were still trying to make sense out of the unthinkable, there was a general feeling among family similar to that of a dull ache.  We didn’t know the answers and couldn’t even begin to put our arms around the reality of this loss.  But the family pulled together as we cared for the many grandchildren, made funeral arrangements, and made many trips to the airport with arms open to mourning out-of-state family.  Just as this large crew came together for the multitude of celebrations over the years, they were now preparing to bury their son and brother as a unified family.
People came to the wake and the funeral in masses.  Devotion and love toward the Lane’s was evidenced by the number of people who had come to pay their respects to a family that had always continuously given of themselves.  As Cookie and Russ unselfishly shared their love of life with those they encountered, these same people were now overwhelmingly supporting them.  All who know the Lane’s know that they are a family who would give you the shirt off their back.  And they would do this knowing there was no spare shirt in their drawer to replace it.  I have had the benefit of being a part of this family for over half of my life and being “raised” Lane during my young adult years.   Through this blessing, I have learned many great lessons of the heart and the value of being a part of a family that continually gives.
 There is a saying that people don’t always remember exact words or actions, but they always remember how they felt.  This best describes Brad’s funeral.  I don’t remember the exact readings nor do I remember who I sat beside, but I do remember holding on to each other as we sobbed with tears that never stopped flowing.  I remember feeling a huge sense of sadness and loss, but also a sense of complete family unity.  I remember all of us watching closely over grandchildren and reaching out to hold them as we saw them struggling during the service.  I remember watching my sons cry not only for a lost uncle they adored, but for their broken father and bereaved grandparents.  There was a hole that was left in the heart of a family that can never be replaced.
Fr. Don left a mark on this mourning family with the most amazing sermon from the heart; a true gift to the Lane’s.  As a long-time family friend, Fr. Don Shane watched the Lane children grow up.  He celebrated mass with the Lane Family filling an entire row at church.  He spent time in their home, baptized their grandchildren, and shared many laughs with this family full of an abundance of family humor.  He spoke from the heart with no focus on the “whys” of Brad’s death.   Although I may not remember the exact words, I can tell you that what he said moved me and brought comfort to a family who knew the words he spoke to be true.  “Many families are wealthy.  Most would think this to be a monetary assessment.  I am here to tell you that the Lane’s are a family of wealth.  Their wealth is in kindness and love.  They have richness in a deep and unconditional love for each other and all who are privileged to be part of their circle. Brad was a part of this love and knew this love.  This family grieving in front of me is the wealthiest family I know.”

The Lane Clan...sometime in the 80's
Brad was buried on his fortieth birthday.  We had finished the funeral luncheon and had invited family to gather at our house.  No one was really ready to part and the Lane way is to be together and share time together…pictures, memories, conversation, and always a lot of great food.  So that is what we did.  We packed up cakes and food that had been dropped off by many friends and traveled to West Omaha as we opened our home to anyone who wanted to join us.
As we sat in unity at our house, strange events were unfolding in Omaha.  There was a random mass shooting by a lone gunman at the Omaha Von Maur department store. There were many dead and wounded with many more questions as to the whys and hows.  We were glued to the television set at my home trying to piece together yet another tragedy in our community after an already emotion-filled day.  The following day when the details on the timeline of shooter entry and killings were depicted in the paper, I was quickly aware of a blessing bestowed on me.
The weekend before Brad died I had purchase a little black Christmas dress at Von Maur.  The day before Brad died I noticed the length of the hanging dress in my closet, tags intact, and deemed it too long for my taste.  I had placed the dress in the back of my vehicle making a mental note that I would return it the next week on my way to an out of town client meeting.  You see, as the forever planner, I had mapped my route to my future client meeting and knew a stop by Von Maur in route would both be multi-tasking at its best and an avoidance of the weekend mall crowds.
The day after the funeral and shootings, I noticed the forgotten bag in the back of my car.  The timeline of my aborted plan quickly surged through me as I compared it to the actual series events that transpired over the previous 24 hours.  My client meeting was canceled as it was on the same day as Brad’s funeral.  Based on my scheduled meeting time, if it wasn’t for Brad’s funeral, I would have been at the customer service counter of Von Maur at the exact time that several people were killed and critically wounded by the young gunman.   Although I haven’t shared this Godwink story with many people, I have always felt in my heart that Brad somehow saved my life on that fateful day.  And although this is a far-fetched thought, it is something that I will always hold in my heart to be true.  Brad was a Lane, tried and true, and that’s what Lane’s do; they give you the shirt off of their back and put their family first.
The reality is that the void of Brad’s loss will never be filled and the hole in the heart of the Lane Family never replaced.  Regardless of his journey; a child, brother, son, uncle was taken from this family.  He was a kind heart that we all so desperately wish would have had one more chance at life.  But that is not a decision of man, but of our God. Our blessing stays with us in our memories and in the smiling loving faces of the many nieces and nephews who each carry on a piece of Uncle Brad in their hearts.  I can picture him now with his boyish grin looking down at all of us from heaven.   The innocent reality in Brad was that he never judged others and gave of himself with all that he could offer.  And we all know that the heart and the love of a family is the most valuable asset of any individual.  It is this wealth that makes us whole.  Although Brad’s life was short and his accomplishments few by the naked eye, his sharing of kindness and love was a big contribution to a great family legacy.  And the Lane family legacy will continue to make a difference in this world one person at a time.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Update on my blog posts...

All of my blog posts are now published daily at I will be posting only to that site going forward.

For those receiving e-mail alerts from this site, you can sign up for the same at the site noted above.

Thanks for humoring me by reading my stories :) 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Paper Doll

Me with my doll, Paper
As I watched people shuffle out of Target today with shopping carts full of purchases, I was reminded of the best Christmas gift I've received. And it wasn't plastic or made in China. I was also reminded that today's version of the last-minute-holiday-rush is a far cry from the days when I was a child. There were no gift cards or Wal-Mart runs for that special loved one. At least, not in my family.

Our annual Christmas tradition was to spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents farm. Our last minute fire drill included my mom frosting her homemade pastry wreaths and then carefully topping them with candied cherries and green sprinkles. Our gifts, mostly homemade or sentimental, were already wrapped and labeled; ready for the five mile drive to the farm.

The farm was always bustling with activity when we arrived. The out-of-town relatives were arranging their gifts as the in-town relatives were working hard behind the stove. As the smell of turkey and potatoes filled the air, there was always a mad rush to clean and make room for both dining and gift opening. We had a relatively small area to work with and many bodies as my mom had eight siblings. None of us minded as we excitedly cleared off space by the piano knowing our aunts would soon entertain us with Christmas carols sang in harmony.

My fifth Christmas was the year of receiving my favorite gift. This year was like most with my aunts working on preparing food for the masses, while others piled boxes into bedrooms revealing new seating spots we had forgotten about. This year was different as my Grandma was missing from the fray and the den was avoided during the cleaning process. My aunts would secretly slip into the den, spiking my curiosity. I was told to stay out, which only spiked it more. I could hear the hum of my Grandma's sewing machine and knew there was some frantic project underway.

Right up until the time for gift opening, my grandma stayed behind the den door. As the gifts were passed out and only when it was my turn did my grandma emerge from the den with much anticipation. In her arms was a doll. It was a stuffed doll, half the size of me, with yellow yarn hair and carefully sewn blue eyes. She was dressed in a calico skirt with suspenders, yellow tights, and black leather shoes. As Grandma handed me the doll, I looked up at her asking the question with my eyes "for me?"

"Yes, for you. Merry Christmas," Grandma responded with a huge smile.

I was fascinated with this beautiful doll my grandma had made just for me. I knew that her efforts behind the den door were for the details that made this doll extra special. My grandma was meticulous in detail when she sewed or cooked. She would research and plan to get the exact product she envisioned. The shoes struck me immediately. The homemade doll had flat feet pointed up that required specially made shoes. My grandma made them using real black leather with riveted shoe holes and white laces.

"What are you going to call her?" Grandma asked beaming with pride on her creation.

"Paper!" I exclaimed.

Sadie is on the left, Matt and Mark to the right
I have no clue where I came up with Paper. It was the first thing that came to mind and I blurted it out. So Paper she was and I loved her. Grandma later made a matching doll for my Aunt Kathy and more coordinating clothes for Paper. Her wardrobe included quilted gingham bib overalls with an embroidered blouse, jammies, and lace dresses.

I played with Paper so much in the years that followed that her neck ripped at the seam. I went to Grandma in tears thinking Paper's days by my side were gone. Grandma saved the day by sewing a sequined thick band around her cloth neck securing it for future fall-outs. Paper looked like a modern day Audrey Hepburn and I was pleased with her transitioned grown-up look.

I still have Paper to this day. She sits in my art room next to Sadie, my homemade dog. Grandma made Sadie for me the following Christmas. Other than a corduroy patch under his hind leg, Sadie has aged nicely as well.

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I am thankful for my grandma and the love that comes with a homemade gift. Although I was never tempted with I-Pods and video games in the 70's, I am quite sure Paper still would have won the battle as all-time favorite.

Sadie and Paper enjoying retirement :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Diary of a Mad Housewife

The Scouts
Below is a guest blog by Mo McAndrews, a dear old friend of mine. Although our paths in life have gone different directions with the move of her family and the end of our scout group, we have recently reconnected. Mo sent me this hilarious story and with her approval, I am posting for all to enjoy... 

Diary of a Mad Housewife

When my dear son was in 5th grade we took him out of Montessori school and moved west to Harvey Oaks. We were invited to join a scout troup from St Wenceslaus. I also became a stay at home mom. I had earned a masters degree and worked as a therapist in an intense hospice job for the past several years.I had worked since the age of 10,so this was a transition. I had trouble channeling my energy and thirst for intellect into my life of making beds, wiping butts, and making pb&j's.

My neighbor was a scout leader and she asked me to host a meeting.I was pretty much psycho at this point in my stay at home mom career. I wanted to be Martha times 10. I decided the boy scout troop would enjoy making elaborate ginger bread houses.

I threw myself into the endeavor. I had purchased a Pampered Chef mold. This was one of my limited social outlets; Pampered Chef, and about everyone else's parties selling stuff. This wonderful mold made two of a four-sided house. This meant that for 10 kids I needed to make 20 batches of gingerbread, bake them perfectly in clay molds, and then glue them together. In order to glue them together I needed the perfect concoction of frosting (requires college level chemistry). This took abundantly more time and effort than anticipated and the house, children, husband, and basic grooming were neglected during his intense period of focused energy.

There were dishes and frosting and dishes and frosting everywhere. There were some 3 a.m. nights. There was a lot riding on the outcome of this project. I was my own boss. Could I live up to myself? My annual evaluation was not looking good. Alas the night before things were seeming hopeful. I needed to purchase 15 lbs of white frosting, candy and stay up until 3 a.m. glueing gingerbread and cleaning my pathetic house, but I felt I could be a presentable suburban housewife. So the night BEFORE the event, I went out to get supplies the moment my husband arrived home. I needed $500 worth of candy and a few other items. I returned home to find there was now 24 inches of snow on the driveway and someone had parked in my spot. I cursed my husband and his friends.

I parked on the street and trudged through the snow in my big sweats and frosting and batter-caked hair. I walked in the door and lights, camera, action; the entire scout troop was there one night earlier than expected. And there was one mom early. Not any MOM. THE PERFECT MOM. The situation was so UN-MARTHA. Nothing was done. The houses lay in pieces. I cannot even remember the rest. It was traumatic and my memory is blocked. TRAUMA with regard to the actual activity of building gingerbread houses with boy scouts.

What I do remember was the chaos-snowbound boys with no organized
activity. Most of all, I recall going into my son's room to find your dear son, Zach Lane, jumping on my son's bed (10 years old), sqautting in a male power stance, and screaming as I walked in "Wherrrrrrrrrre's thththththththe BeeeeeeeeeeeeEER??". I had visualized this night for months and it was just not quite on the Mo PLAN for Christmas memories. But it was a memory I haven't forgotten and it did give me a needed kick in the arse to move on from my want-to-be Martha ways.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Taking Mains

Gwen still liked me in this picture
My Aunt Gwen was born in 1960. She was the youngest of seven by a long shot. My dad, who was second in line, was sixteen when she was born. Being "the baby" Gwen held court as the spoiled one in the family until I came along. I was born when Gwen was seven and I no doubt upset her apple cart.

Although the eldest of the Wagner grand kids were born before me, they lived across the country in sunny Arizona. Following the birth of my brothers, my entry into the world gave me the advantage to the coveted spot as cutest tot dressed in pink. I was the apple of my grandma's eye and she wasn't afraid to say it. This eventually did not sit well with my older family counterpart, Aunt Gwen.

Based on past photos and distant memories, I believe Gwen enjoyed me up until the age of five. I am sure the mixture of her hitting the teen years along with my size grown too big to carry like a doll resulted in her moving on from playing with me to resenting me. There were expectations of her as a growing teen that were not reflective of my adoring grandmother's coddling towards me.

The honeymoon is over.  Gwen is squeezing my cheek
(and laughing about it!)
Here is where Gwen and I started our power struggle and female game playing. To my advantage was a younger age and the perception of my innocence by my grandma. When Gwen knit my younger cousins tie purses and not me, I only needed to give my grandma a forlorn look. A knit bag soon followed.

"Gwen, how could you not include Sandy? The next one you make should be for her in green. Sandy loves green."

I distinctly remember being presented with the cute green bag by it being launched in my face when Grandma's head was turned. As Grandma looked back to admire Gwen's handiwork, she smiled with pride on our purported sharing of this special moment together. I knew better than to tell on Gwen. She gave me a glare and the stink eye to reinforce my decision. I had learned young how not to push the envelope too far; knowing well the result of being pummeled. No doubt my experience with older brothers helped develop this skill.

The games between us continued. I remember purposely making annoying noises by swirling spit in my mouth. On this particular occasion I was holding grandma's hand on a shopping trip. Gwen, too old to hold hands, walked alone and was visibly annoyed with my childish antics. Since Grandma didn't seem to mind and Gwen did, I kept doing it and increased the volume of my swirling sounds as we went about our walk. In the end I won the battle of my baiting by pushing Gwen to the point of blowing her gasket.

"Mom, MAKE HER STOP!!!  She is soooo annoying!"  

Grandma stopped dead in her tracks; appalled at the outburst. As I tightly held on to Grandma's hand with a sheepish look on my face, she reprimanded Gwen for her bullying ways. "Sandy is only being a little girl. Do not talk to her like that!" After a look of death from Gwen and my responding smile back, we silently continued our walk down Main Street.

A favorite story that Gwen likes to tell involves another shopping day with Grandma. On this particular day, the three of us traveled nine miles to LeMars for a Saturday full of shopping. Following our many stops that afternoon with bags filling the back seat, Grandma needed to make a final stop at the Remsen grocery store. The additional grocery purchases were added to our car and left no sitting room in the back. As the three of us prepared to squeeze in the front, a masterful idea came upon me.

"Grandma, can I sit next to the window so I can look out?"  I asked.

"Yous <grandma beams>...always the one to enjoy the scenery. Yes, you sit next to the window and look out."

The look of shock on the delivery of my antics quickly penetrated Gwen's face. "NO!!!  Mom, I am not sitting in the middle!"

"Gwen, yes, you are sitting in the middle! It's just a short ride home and you have to stop being so selfish. Let Sandy sit there and look out the window." We both knew by the tone of her voice that the conversation was over.  I am sure there was a smirk on my face that entire short ride home. Pleased with my spot and enjoying the scenery, I asked grandma if we could go all the way around Main Street so I could see my dad's barber shop on the opposite end of downtown. Grandma willingly complied with a smile on her face as Gwen fumed in the middle.

To give you a little background on Gwen's visible discomfort, note that it was an early Saturday evening in broad daylight. The gathering spot for every teenager in Remsen was Main Street. Taking mains was a means of showing off your new Grand Prix or your latest boyfriend. The universal coming out party for girlfriend/boyfriend units was the girl snuggled in next to her man while taking mains together. Even bucket seats could be bypassed by a creative and determined female mate.

As the teens congregated to discuss the gathering spot of the evening and the whereabouts of the cool kids, Gwen took a Main perched in the middle seat next to her mother. At a mere seven years old, I sat next to the window with my small frame not visible to the onlooker as we drove down Main Street that sunny Saturday. My head barely hit the bottom of the window. Gwen spewed a mix of venom and embarrassment. I was pleased and smugly took in what I could see of the outside.

Don't feel too badly for Gwen, she got me back once I reached my pre-teen years. By this time  she had moved on from taking mains to having gatherings at Grandma's house. My brothers and I would often stay the night. Gwen was left in charge in Grandma and Grandpa's absence. Gwen adored my older brothers and found them funny and charming. As I would be banished to bed early, my brothers were always invited to join Gwen's posse downstairs.  You know what they say about pay backs...

Rest assured that with age and life experiences, Gwen and I are now great friends and have shared much joy together in our adult years. As was the case with Gwen's spot in the birth order, she also had "trail-ender" kids.  Gwen and I gave birth to sons who are thirteen days apart and her youngest is of similar age and great buds with my youngest.  Our family's have spent vacations, holidays and many, many laughs together.

As I have never had a sister, I have come to believe that my relationship with Aunt Gwen best mirrors the sister relationship that never came to be. Our age span is just enough to have the feel of a big sister/little sister rivalry.  With age, our playful jabbing continues with more fun and less rivalry.  In Grandma's final days, we happily shared her affections. I am sure Grandma is now looking down on us with a smile; watching her girls enjoy life and family the way she taught us.

My Grant with Gwen and her youngest, Gabbie enjoying Lake Okoboji together.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Lesson from Junior Achievement

I've been playing sounding board to a friend as he deals with an estranged spouse on financial decision making for their children.  It is painful to watch how philosophical differences in raising children are exasperated by divorce.  Adding to the problem are two homes and two checkbooks.  Different messages are conveyed from each home.  Their opinions on financial need for extracurricular items are about as closely aligned as the moon and Mars.

Now let me explain my friend’s dilemma.  His ex-wife doesn't tell their children “no”.  It is just that simple.  Telling them no might take a life opportunity away from them.  Providing them with every opportunity to succeed, regardless of the amount of money or reliance on debt, is the perceived expectation of parenthood.  Unfortunately this attitude of child-rearing has become the norm and not the exception in today’s society.

It reminds me of a life buffet line. Kids are provided an “all-you-can-eat” buffet of choices with the expectation of unlimited opportunities. Whether it’s select sports, expensive camps, private lessons, costly clothing and incidentals; all are available based on the desire of the child.  The need or associated price tag rarely is weighed.  The adult lesson to be learned is that we are creating an entitlement attitude in our children by sparing no expense or sacrifice in fulfilling their wants.

As I peel back the onion, it has become very apparent to me that the core problem comes right out of the Junior Achievement curriculum that I taught to my son’s fifth grade class; Needs vs. Wants.  Somewhere along the line, this grade school lesson was missed by the parents of today.  The by-product in our “I want it all…I want it now” society is children not being taught the difference between these very important life concepts.

Let me digress a bit with the role-playing exercises I went through with the 5th graders:

Sandy:  Who knows the difference between a need and a want?

Student:  A need is something you need to live and survive.

Sandy:  Can you give me an example?

Student:  Water, school, food, shelter.

Sandy:  Now explain a want.

Student:  A want is something we want that will make us happy.  We don’t need it to live, but we would like to have it. 

Sandy:  Some examples please.

Student:  A video game, a new guitar, my own bedroom, a pet dog.

Sandy:  Nice work class.

As parents, why is this such a difficult concept to grasp?  A friend once told me that we are handicapping our children by making life too easy for them.  There is a lot of truth to that statement.  So why do we do it?  I am of the belief that we are afraid to let our children fail.  We shelter them and coddle them to create what is many times a false sense of happiness.

I would challenge everyone to think back to their biggest life lessons.  Most involve failure and sacrifice.  It’s time to get back to the good old needs vs. wants lesson with our kids.  Failure is not a bad thing.  Making sacrifices and having some skin in the game is a great thing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Project Thomas the Tank Engine

Did I ever mention that I was supposed to be an art major? I was offered a scholarship to an art school and declined for the more reliable accounting major (Sandy's version). My dad's version is that an art school offered me a small scholarship comparatively to their outrageous tuition in an attempt to lure a bright-eyed seventeen year old who was subsequently flattered and enamored with the prospect of having her name listed next to an art school and art scholarship on the commencement program. "What are you going to do with an art major?" was my dad's common question my senior year. How could he not understand that I would draw and paint...duh! Needless to say, after the intervention of a kind-hearted guidance counselor who happened to be a priest, I became an accountant.

My creative outlet was then squelched during my college years by demanding business and accounting classes. Post-college and on to marriage and child-bearing; my hopes of expressing myself artistically hung on the birth of a bouncing bundle of pink. Not only could I envision the amazing tiny girl clothes (fashion was another enjoyed forte), but the colorfully painted baby girl room walls and a girl to share my artsy indulgences filled my pregnant mind. Yet another blow to my creative self with a birth of boy #1 (and <gasp>, later #2 and #3). But regardless of the setbacks, my resourcefulness and desire to fill this artistic void resulted in my finding an outlet to do just that. While there were no fun dresses with funky tights and mini-sized hip boots in my future, I could do many creative things with a Halloween costume. Yes, my creative energy erupted as I proclaimed myself the official Halloween designer and costumer to the Lane boys.

Good puppy :)
Although my Year 1 effort was a bit of testing the waters, it was this design that spurred the initial creativity and future of more elaborate outfits. On his first Halloween at six months old, I turned Zach into an adorable dalmatian. Although my efforts and abilities were amateur at best, the cuteness of Baby Zach helped pull off the look. A simple conversion of a white one-piece fleece with added black spots and floppy ears and a red bow completed Zach's first costume. Year 2 I added myself into the mix by creating mom and son matching pumpkin outfits along with pumpkin lids that tied to top of our heads

By Year 3 and age two, Zach was in awe and wonderment of everything fun and new in his life. I felt challenged to create something phenomenal for the little Zach Man. I started thinking about the proper character and design a month in advance, when a great idea popped into my brain; Thomas the Tank Engine. Zach LOVED everything Thomas and we were smack in the middle of the continual stimulation tapes being constantly played, hours of pushing the magnetic engines around the train track, and wooden trains carefully chosen to accompany us before any adventure out of the house. The Thomas idea felt nothing short of brilliant as I started designing my creation.

I opted to use boxes, felt material, and shiny paint to create a toddler size wearable Thomas the Tank Engine from scratch. After spending an entire day cutting and gluing boxes while carefully reviewing many open board books with the original Thomas dimensions in front of me, I free-handed a completed cardboard model. Next was the cutting and pasting of felt pieces and then careful paint work to mirror the beloved original tank. A hole was left in the top for Zach's head and arm holes on the side. In an effort to make it comfortable for my cute tot, I added a thick blue ribbon to secure the box comfortably around his little body. I was thrilled with my final work of art as I sat on my living room floor covered in glue and paint admiring my work.

I think I must name this photo "pride and ego"
With two weeks until Halloween and the excitement of my creation in front of me, I couldn't resist accessorizing even more. I bought matching engineer bib overalls for Zach and I to wear and made a special trip downtown to the official Union Pacific gift shop to buy hats to match. In retrospect, I now understand Zach's many complaints on how I dressed him up as a toddler. I obviously yearned for an American Girl fix. So equipped with a wooded train whistle for added affect, I was ready for our first costume reveal. The first Halloween party of the year was at my health club, Prairie Life Center. This annual fun fest always hit the calendar a few days before Halloween, so it was perfect timing for Zach and I to strut our stuff along with cousins, Russell and Brynn.

After some pictures at home to memorialize the event, I piled Zach into his car seat and drove with great anticipation to PLC. After a grand entrance and people inquiring on the unique costume I was carrying (no one had seen this replicated at any Target or specialty costume shop), I carefully placed the box over my mini-engineer. And to my complete shock and horror, he burst into tears while screaming "NO!!" So I did what any good mother who spent hours and hours on the costume would do; I took him into a corner and tried gently placing it on him, then tried coaxing, begging, bribing, until finally resorting to threatening. Nothing worked and he only screamed louder, longer, and harder. Exasperated, I temporarily gave up and decided to let him play the games for a while as he would "warm up" to the spectacular costume I had made for him.

As we walked into the decorated gym, I thought the next best step would be to let him hold it and show off his Thomas to others. I was convinced that this would be the trick to get him to comply. Zach didn't cry when I gently handed him the Thomas costume, but instead hesitantly looked me right in the eye as he accepted my treasure. And then without another thought, he grabbed the perfectly placed ribbon and started dragging my beautiful creation across the dirty gym floor. Within minutes he was running around the gym entertaining himself by whipping the box while tugging at the ribbon. He was nothing short of a two year old boy gone wild. At this point, I completely gave up and resorted to picking out my favorite candy from his bag and drowning my misery.

Zach with cousins, Russell and Boo-Boo (someone is not happy!)
We still enjoyed the rest of our Halloween festivities, but with Thomas dragged behind Zach as a prop rather than as the planned costume. Zach was an engineer with Thomas as a sidekick. And Zach was happy; so Mom was happy.

Zach does it his way

Pals, Woody and Buzz
The next year I didn't give up and even took my game up a notch. With a chubby new baby brother in tow and a love for everything Toy Story, I created (no patterns) a Buzz Lightyear and Woody costume for the boys. Ben was an adorable stout version of Woody. This go around, Zach was thrilled to dress up as his new favorite character, Buzz Lightyear. I painstakingly created Buzz by piecing together various superhero patterns while mirroring what I saw in Zach's Toy Story picture books. The final product was so impressive that Zach won the "best costume" award at a kids Halloween run. I was one proud artistic mama. Who needs girls or art school?

This was the start of even grander ideas and Halloween creations in the years to come. The next two years followed with cute matching dinosaurs and fighting ninja's (my Aunt Gwen called them little Elvis'). I was on top of the world, basking in my creative glory, when my costumer days came to a crashing halt. All it takes to stop a mom dead in her tracks is to have her child cry real tears. This is exactly what happened and led to the end of homemade costumes in the Lane house.

Obviously chubby Ben is more interested in the candy on the floor
After a day of school and an enthusiastic sharing of future Halloween costumes with his classmates, six year old Zach came home in tears. As I comforted and coaxed his misery out of him, Zach looked up at me with his big blue eyes and delivered the blow. "Mom, why can't I be like all the other kids and just buy my Halloween costume at the store?" So with those words and a few tears, an era came to an abrupt end. I complied in allowing Zach the accommodation of selecting his specially made costume from Target. We have never looked back. Of note is that I have since added an art room in my basement for an artistic outlet to fill this void. And to my boys' chagrin; none of my projects involve matching outfits or other wearable art.

The last hoorah

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Route 66 Motel

Ann is far left and Gene far right.  Scott and my brother, Matt, posed with us in front of the motel. 

I just turned 45.  That got my attention.  Not so much the getting old part; getting older has never bothered me.  A wise friend once told me after a comment on being yet another year older, “It’s better than the alternative.”  Yes, getting older is much better than the alternative.  What got my attention with this birthday was the “halfway point” in my life.  I am half way to 90; an age I hope to attain.  And by my calculations I am halfway through my career.  I have spent 22 years at Lutz and am sure I have another 20 good working years in me.

I was asked the question recently on which job experience was most valuable to me to date.  At my halfway age of 45, this was a bit of a loaded question.  It caused me to pause and give it some thought.  One would think my answer would clearly be related to my many years at Lutz as a partner in a large CPA firm.  But that wasn't my answer. My most valuable job experience to date was my 1988 summer job in Kingman, Arizona.  Although my initial job description at the Route 66 Motel was cleaning motel rooms, I advanced through the ranks that summer and held many positions as I learned the hospitality industry from the ground up.  It was a lesson in hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, trust, and the value of relationships.  There were lessons learned in the Arizona sun and under the watchful eyes of Midwestern business owners that will stay with me for a lifetime.

The summer of 1988 fell between Scott and my junior and senior years in college.  Being a strict follower of timelines, I knew this was the summer we needed internships in our designated fields.  For Scott this was law enforcement and for me, accounting.  We chose my parents home in Arizona as our summer destination of choice.  My dad’s resourcefulness and connections as a popular barber in Kingman helped Scott land his coveted summer internship with the Mohave County Probation Department.

The use of connections was less fruitful in the accounting world.  Pre-days of Internet searches, I relied on recommendations of my dad and the good-old-fashioned telephone book to write letters to every accounting firm in Kingman.  I soon learned that summer was bad time to find gainful employment in the accounting field and that CPA’s liked to take it easy over the summer.  With the summer quickly approaching and not even a single bite on a job, I turned back to my ever resourceful dad asking for an “in” to a summer job of any kind.  So my dad put out his feelers while going about his daily interactions with customers and pulled through with a lead.

My dad cut the hair of Gene Kramer.  Gene and his wife, Ann, owned the Route 66 Motel in Kingman.  They were North Dakota natives and with my dad’s roots in Iowa, the two men always shared this Midwestern connection.  When Dad explained to Gene that his daughter was having trouble securing a summer job, Gene quickly jumped on the opportunity of employing a Midwestern girl.  Gene had his fill of the less than ambitious work habits of recent help and chalked this up to bad upbringing.  He went on to tell my dad that he had a job for me immediately and that the girl from Iowa should look him up the minute I got to town.  So after a twenty-four hour car ride from Iowa to Arizona, a visit to the Route 66 Motel was my first stop.  I was hired on the spot.  My job was to clean their motel rooms.

A full view of the Route 66 Motel
Ann Kramer was in charge of running the rooms and Gene, the front desk.  They were both in their early sixties and had strong “Nort Dekoda” accents.  Ann was a straight shooter who ran a tight ship.  She wasn't one for small talk or unnecessary pleasantries.  She quickly ran me through the expectations of a room cleaning and the necessities of my cleaning cart.  I shadowed her on day one and she accessed my skills high enough to let me have it on my own on day two.  I was paid per room cleaned which was common in the industry.  They paid me $5 per room and there were twenty-two rooms in total.  Ann would help in the cleaning of the rooms, so earnings based on rate times room was dependent on my speed comparatively to Ann’s abilities.

I quickly learned that I was very good at not only cleaning the rooms, but also streamlining the steps involved in the start to finish room cleaning process.  Within days I was cleaning four rooms in an hour and they were pristine.  This was comparative to their prior help who took thirty-plus minutes to clean each room.  Ann would inspect my work as she couldn't believe my speed didn't equate to shoddy work.  But she couldn't find so much as a flick of dust left behind.  My time management and multi-tasking process skills were in high gear.  And my accounting mind quickly did the math that making $20 an hour and being done by noon was a good gig; especially considering this was in the eighties with minimum wage at $3.35 an hour.  I was earning more than 2.5 times then my counterparts working an eight hour shift.  My first lesson became one of motivation; motivated to work hard and deliver a good product.  In turn I earned a great wage.

Although Ann was initially exasperated with my over-enthusiasm, I quickly convinced her that this was a win-win situation.  Rooms were ready for their customers earlier which resulting in happier customers and a “no vacancy” sign that lit up earlier.  Ann’s time was better spent on the finances and other management duties and I was quietly out of their hair by lunch time.  As Gene and Ann compared this to their less enthusiastic help of the past, they quickly became fond of their Midwestern hire.  Soon they were inviting me to join them for lunch in their personal quarters following our mornings of joint cleaning.  After a couple of weeks, they asked me to watch to front desk and entrusted me with the cash register while they grabbed lunch at Bob Big Boy’s across the street.  I later learned that this was a luxury they rarely enjoyed.  Thus my next lesson; the value of earning one's trust.  As the summer wore on, I also learned the importance our holding this trust in high regard. 

Mom & I ~ check out my tan legs!
So my summer of cleaning motel rooms may sound quite domestic and frankly, quite horrible, when comparing it to a swanky accounting internship.  But it was actually just the opposite.  I learned quickly that I enjoyed a routine.  My routine of that summer included furiously cleaning motel rooms by morning and then after a lunch with or for the Kramers, I would go to the quiet home of my parents.  Scott was busy with his 8-5 internship and my parents; their full time jobs.  I would lay out in the sun for the early afternoon, watch Magnum P.I. reruns at 3:00 and then catch up on my reading until all of my summer housemates returned home.  Scott played on a slow-pitch softball team with other probation officers, so we had a social life with others of our like ages by night.  The summer of 1988 was a dream.

Although Ann did grow fond of me and appreciated my room cleaning abilities, she had a competitive streak of always wanting to outdo me in my room cleaning speed (iron chef hits hotel cleaning??…Perhaps).  Although she could never accomplish this feat, she didn't stop trying.  On one particular hot Arizona morning while the dueling cleaning carts were humming along the outside corridors, Ann needed to stop for a “potty break”.  Stops like these annoyed Ann as she was always aware of how many rooms I was ahead of her count.  After hustling in to do her business, she came out with the speed of light and ran to grab her cart and make up time.  From the top of her shorts, flowing from her jiggling behind floated an errant strip of toilet paper.  It was obvious that in her haste, the purportedly discarded paper stayed with her.  This was clearly evidenced by the unintentional tail following her speedy beeline.

After contemplating what to do and wondering exactly how to tell my boss that she had toilet paper hanging from the back of her shorts, I did what any responsible twenty-year-old would do; I got a severe case of the giggles.  I was laughing so hard that I could barely breathe, let alone talk.  So as I tried to stop Ann and point out her imperfection, she had no sense of my presence and just kept speeding ahead of me.  I can still picture how this had to look from the vantage point of a trucker in the parking lot awaiting a clean room; a tan laughing girl furiously chasing down and trying to grab toilet paper out of the behind of the portly gray-haired speed demon.  Eventually Ann noticed my shadowing her and asked in her North Dakotan drawl, “What da Hell is da matter wit ya??”.  Still unable to speak, I could only point to her tail with tears streaming down my face.  “Well, what da…?” she said with a smile and a pull, “now get ya back to work!”.  This was a moment that neither of us would forget anytime soon.  We laughed together as we retold our follies to Gene over our noon time lunch.

My handwork with the painted signage

By the end of the summer, I was promoted to front desk night detail checking in customers while Ann and Gene enjoyed an occasional dinner and night out together.  Late in the summer they picked up on my artistic skills and I was assigned the job of repainting the signage on their building and the bottom of the emptied swimming pool.  I was earning even more than my room rates with these new added duties and was flattered by their final request to babysit their granddaughters.  I had become their Midwestern Girl Friday of sorts who was up for any task thrown my way.  

Babysitting the Kramer granddaughters

But as with many good things in life, my summer full of life with the Kramer’s and working on my tan came to an end.  I finished my last day as we did most; with some pickled bologna sandwiches, hard cheese, and stale crackers over some noontime talk of the current hotel guests.  So with hugs and wishes of good luck for the college girl who they knew wouldn't be back in Arizona the following summer, I started my journey back to school and back to the Midwest.  I learned much about the importance of relationships that summer; my dad’s relationship with Gene that created the key initial introduction and the relationship I formed that started with a common work ethic, but grew into a sharing of their family with me.

I did have a chance run-in with the Kramer’s the following year.  Scott was wrestling at Nationals in Jameston, North Dakota.  Along with the rest of the team and cheerleaders, we filled a Burger King for an evening meal.  Although I thought about my friends, the Kramer’s, many times that trip; I never dreamt that I would run into them.  But that is exactly what happened as they walked into BK that night.  It was a Godwink by all accounts and a nice surprise full of hugs and welcomed life updates.  I never saw them again, but heard through my parents that they had sold the hotel just a few years after our summer together due to Ann’s health issues.  Their Midwest roots planted them back in North Dakota for their final years.  Both have since passed away; Ann first and then later Gene.

Motel is still open.  Picture taken last year.
So, yes, my short run at the Route 66 Motel was a great work experience, better than any accounting internship I could have taken that summer.  I would classify my final job title as Hospitality Specialist and my ending wage as a lot, but difficult to quantify.  In reference to my hourly rate, I would have to share one of the biggest lessons I learned at the good old Route 66.  The lesson I learned was that to be successful, you don't get paid for the hour; you get paid for the value you bring to the hour.  And you have to be in tune to what the recipient perceives as value.  For the Kramer’s value was not only clean rooms on a timely basis, but a peace of mind in entrusting their motel to another.  In turn, I felt appreciated and valuable to them.  So as I finish off the second half of my professional career, hopefully I can always remember to apply these simple life lessons whether I am cleaning motel rooms or advising on business matters.  And thank-you, Dad, for your resourcefulness in hooking me up with the Kramer's...very much appreciated :)

I went back to visit and got an updated picture in front of the motel.
Not my original painted sign, but the visit sure gave me a smile.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Adventures in Bean Walking

    Bean walking crew of the 70's
    (back - Aunt Kathy, Mom, Dad, Uncle Rich, Uncle Guy)
    (front - me, Mark and Matt)

We all know the feelings of summer. Those small reminders that capture the essence of our youth; the smell of burning charcoal with the faint background odor of lighter fluid, the feel of the warm sun on our face while laying back with closed eyes, or the sound of sprinklers with the lingering smell of freshly cut grass. These are the feelings of my youthful summers that resonate through me each time I encounter them. And although not a feeling I experience frequently, another memory that encompasses my summers as a child is the feel of wet plants rubbing against my exposed legs. Yes, this is the memory of bean walking on those many early June and July Iowa mornings each year. If you grew up in the farm country of the Midwest, you completely understand what I’m talking about.

While my children complain of having to get up early on an occasional summer morning for a camp, job, or sporting event; they haven’t a clue on how the sound of an alarm clock felt to child getting ready to walk beans. For those inexperienced in the former art of bean walking (machines and chemicals have made this trade obsolete), let me explain a bit. In order to receive top dollar for their harvested crops in the fall, farmers would work diligently to produce weed-free fields of soybeans. In the seventies this task was accomplished by use a work force well trained in the art of identifying milk weeds, button weeds, and arrant corn stocks. Each unintended plant visitor had a differing method of removal. My brothers and I were well trained in the use of our hoe versus pulling weeds deep from the root with our gloved hands. In later years, we were given spray bottles filled with Round Up (which I am now thinking probably wasn’t a good idea for our long-term health).

Bean walking was a common job that most all kids from my hometown held at some point in their childhood. With our grandfather a soybean farmer, this was a job my brothers and I held our entire childhood. But our grandparents paid us well; much better than our friends earned at other farms and we never questioned this as our designated annual summer job. We started our summer days waking before the sun rose so we would be ready to take on the rows of beans at the crack of daylight. 

Our grandpa had three parcels of farmland with two that required travel. Our means of transportation was either the back of a covered pick-up truck or the back seat of Grandpa’s dirty sedan. When transported by pick-up, we sat packed in the back with our hoes stacked at the end by the tailgate and our legs dangling together. Our dirty shoes were last year’s models, worn and used for their final walk in the fields. New school shoes would be purchased at the end of summer. Not only did we not question the safety of the back of the truck on the highway, the thought of securing a seat belt in any vehicle was a foreign thought. We lived in a world where these strangely placed attachments were neatly tucked back into the seats and out of our way.

When our Grandpa drove us in his sedan, there was inevitably a cigarette hanging from his mouth and I would describe his driving similar to the phrase “like a bat out of Hell”. We were petrified in the back seat listening to our seemingly mild-mannered grandpa utter profanities and drive closely, too closely, to the behind of every vehicle who had the unfortunate circumstance of driving ahead of us. But we sat quietly without a complaint. As we prayed for him to slow down; this was more to avoid the start of our bean walking than to ensure our safe arrival.
Depending on the height of the beans or the age of the child, we were each assigned a designated number of rows to the left and right of each of us. With keen eyes we would walk through the dew filled bean rows looking for any plant not a soybean. The mud on our legs quickly turned to dry dirt as the sun got hotter and the morning turned to high noon. A hoe rested on each of our shoulders and gloves placed on our hands. Those who finished first would work backward to help out those who pulled the short straw with the “dirtier” rows. Water breaks were provided intermittently and we knew better than to ask repeatedly when the next would occur. Our uncles, although fun and playful back at the farmhouse, were all business in the field.

Uncle Guy and Uncle Rich surveying the bean field
My grandparents lived in one of three homes on the family farm. Uncle Guy and Uncle Rich also farmed the land and raised pigs with grandpa. My brothers and I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of our bachelor uncles and later welcomed the addition of their brides and babies to our large family. During their bachelor years, my uncles shared the upstairs suite of the main farm house that was affectionately called the “pig sty”. Their bachelor pad was filled with stacks of Popular Mechanics, National Geographic, and “other” magazines that I never actually saw, but knew existed based on the conversations I overheard between my curious and pre-adolescent brothers. Our uncles had dirt-filled fingernails with the constant look of cigarettes hanging from their fingers. They smiled their boyish smiles as my brothers and I laughed at all of their jokes and shared in our facade of pretending to be farm kids; albeit only for the summer.

I am pretty sure my gainful employment in bean walking began at the ripe age of six. And although only given a couple of rows, I did my part.  As my brothers and I always worked the fields together, there are countless memories of taking dirt clogs to the head and ensuing fights between us that involved newly sharpened hoes. I don’t remember anyone ever getting hurt, but I do remember the shame in being “caught” by our grandpa or uncles while in the middle of our antics. We were never told twice to not do something or to cease poor behavior. Being mean either in action or by mouth was simply not tolerated. 

Uncle Rich taking a break from chores
Our childhood antics in the bean fields came to a halt as we turned into teens and were joined in the field with the Brennan girls. Along with the addition of my Uncle Rich’s new wife, Ann Brennan, came her large family as well. Ann’s sister, Joan, and I were in the same class at school. With a total of forty-four kids in our sixth grade class, Joan and I were enamored with the fact that we were suddenly “related”. Although her sister marrying my uncle did not, in fact, create a true family association; we sure thought it did. Now we were not only friends in school, but also got to attend many of the same family functions together.

Being a large farm family, Joan and her many sisters joined our bean walking crew as well. They also brought in new elements to our morning routine. They often proudly wore bikini tops with the goal of working on their tans while working in the sun. My adolescent brothers loved this new concept. I just loved having the Brennan girls around as my brothers seemed to behave better around me (i.e. in front of them) and I was educated on what older girls did on weekend nights and the look of their resulting hangovers. I learned many lessons of young adulthood and sisterhood from this fun-loving Brennan crew.

During the peak of the bean walking season, our crew size would increase to include as many as we could recruit and would many times include “three a days”. We would walk beans in the morning, afternoon, and then again in the evening. Our farm dog, Sadie, would keep us company when we were on the home farm. Her frolics over the rolling terraces and playful romping in the fields were welcomed. Our breaks of the day would be for food and a quick nap if we were lucky. The meals were big and naps were in front of commercial size fans as the only other moving air was a small over-worked unit in a window. We prayed for rain and ideally, a lightning storm, as that would ensure a long break or even an afternoon in the house. By evening we were exhausted and would pray for the sun to go down so the choice of how many rounds were left before calling it a night was left up to nature and not our uncles.

My Grandparents' farm home. Sadie and Grandpa's sedan in the driveway.
The pay-off for all of our hard work was felt at the end of the summer when we received our bean walking money. Grandma was the family farm bookkeeper and would keep track of our hours by day in her large leather-bound ledger. At the end of the season, she would carefully tally our final hours and neatly write us each a check. Included on each check in the memo section, in her very immaculate handwriting, would be her careful pay calculations. This check always seemed massive in amount and felt magical in our pockets as we traveled to the bank. Although much of it was put into savings, we were also allowed to have some mad money for a shopping splurge.

Then at the close of each summer, my parents would take us to Omaha for a long weekend full of visiting Aunt Joan, swimming in the hotel pool, and shopping with a portion of our earnings. The picture below is of Matt and me, post-swim, showing off our new purchases. We were thrilled, to say the least. Somehow all of those early mornings and dirt clog wars became a distant memory. And unbeknownst to us, it was also good work ethic in the making. We sure didn’t know it as we began our summer mornings with the way-too-early wake up calls, but there were many adventures to be had and lessons to be learned in those endless fields of beans.     

Matt and I show off our new treasures

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lessons in NYC: Day 5 Homeward Bound

(This entry is part V and the last in a series of my NYC blogs. Initial blog post is

Me + the Utesch clan (partial representation)
Life is such a funny trip, isn’t it? How is it that it takes a trip 1,255 miles from home for friends who live a mere 155 miles apart to reunite?  A similar circumstance happened each year that my family vacationed at Lake Okoboji. A couple that lived in my Omaha neighborhood vacationed the same week as us. Each year we talked about getting together when back in Omaha. It never happened and instead we would grill out and golf together each year 200 miles from our homes that were separated by four city blocks.

Missy and Steve Utesch live in Marcus, Iowa; which is a relatively quick drive straight north of Omaha. But although intentions are good, we let years lapse in between our visits. This is where I can tell you that FaceBook is awesome. It was an easy connection that we didn’t have in the years following our college graduation up until the recent rise of social media in mid-lifers like us. And it was through FB postings that Missy saw that I would be in NYC for this class. After a quick interchange that her family would be visiting son, Nick, at the same time; a “date” was had.

I have always wanted to write a book that would be a compilation of essays on ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary feats. Keep in mind that extraordinary feats don’t necessitate winning the Noble Peace Prize or making a kazillion dollars running a Fortune 500 company. Extraordinary feats come in many shapes and sizes.  Topping my list include overcoming life adversity, making the most of a 2nd chance, going to bed each night knowing one fought off their addiction. As humans we face mountains of adversity and challenges each day. Those who handle these challenges brilliantly and with heart, compassion, and resilience are those whom I idolize and want to emulate. Where others have bucket lists that include jumping off planes and climbing mountains in foreign lands, being a ghost writer of sorts by writing the stories of these extraordinary people tops my list.

Missy and Steve Utesch and their son, Nick, fall into this category. One day I hope to write their entire story, but today I will give you the abridged version. My friendship began with Missy and Steve enrolling at Westmar College. With three young children and a faltering farm economy, they walked away from their farm and started college in the late 80’s. With an age gap of ten years over the typical college student, the term “non-traditional students” was a complete understatement of their situation.

Not only did Missy and Steve go back to college when times were tough for them, but they completely embraced our school and the young population of students. Steve joined the college wrestling program, became an All-American wrestler, and stood on many podiums. Missy sat by my side as a wrestling cheerleader as we traveled the Midwest following and cheering on our favorite wrestlers. Their tiny daughter, Sarah, was our junior cheerleader. Older sons, Nick and Bryan, tagged along to all meets as well. Wrestling and college was a Utesch family affair. And Westmar College embraced the Utesch family as much as they embraced us. Missy was crowned homecoming queen at age 30 which made the Sunday Des Moines Register. A 30 year old college homecoming queen?  Of course!  We students at Westmar never batted an eye.

As education majors with the goal of teaching elementary school, their life plan was a normal extension of their caring and nurturing personalities. Being a business major, I knew from my first meal with the Utesch family that their oldest son, Nick, was wired differently. Missy would share with me that 10 year old Nick asked to balance their checkbook and later inquired about their family home mortgage. Missy and Steve were at a loss on how to even answer his pointed financial questions (in the minds of educators, this language was Greek to them). Knowing this little boy who enjoyed keeping up on the news and asked many questions on my profession of choice, none of this actually surprised me. I would best describe young Nick as a mirror of Michael J Fox’s Alex Keaton from the old family sitcom, Family Ties. So here was this pint-sized business phenom living in small town Iowa being raised by a family of farmers and school teachers.  Just as his parents performed the extraordinary feat of gaining their college education and making a positive impact while raising their young family (the ultimate story of rising above adversity), Nick made his own way in the world. He found a way to capitalize on his strengths and desires through intense determination and hard work.

In his early teens, Nick learned everything about the mortgage industry through an Infomercial and subsequent video purchase. Not only did the 14 year old learn this business inside and out, he also started “making connections” with those in the real estate industry and ran his business in small town Iowa through licensed adults in big city Nebraska. By the time he had his driver’s license and was able to make the drive to Omaha, he would stay with us as he met with the top real estate professionals in town. Dressed in a suit and with briefcase in hand, Nick set appointments and these professionals, in turn, embraced him. While still a minor, Nick was asked to speak at the national real estate conference. The featured speaker, President Bill Clinton, was not only a surprise of a lifetime, but he also shared the head table with them. Nick had brought mom, Missy, on that trip. I will never forget the phone call I received from them after Nick’s speech and surprise meeting with the President. I was up late caring for a sick Baby Zach. I couldn't make out what they were telling me on the phone as they were both giggling in delight. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were both drunk. The reality was that they were intoxicated in the moment.  It couldn’t have happened to a better person and it was frosting on the cake that Missy was with Nick to experience this wonderful moment.

After trying college for a week on a full ride scholarship, Nick simply said it just wasn’t for him. He set up his own business in Oklahoma City; now being old enough to have his own license.  There was no doubt that Nick had more national connections in the industry then most successful professionals twenty years his senior. His ultimate dream was to live in New York and have an office there. Nick is now in his early thirties and has had his office on the Jersey side for over ten years. He loves dividing his time between offices in OKC and NYC. A friend recently made the comment to me “remember that everyone from New York is really from somewhere else”. Nick is the ultimate example of this. To the naked eye, one would think Nick to be a “lifer” in the city, but you now know the rest of the story J

So last night I met my friends at Junior’s restaurant after they finished a bus tour of the city. We sat at the table and chatted like no time had elapsed from our time together. It felt no different than it would have 25 years ago at the kitchen table in their trailer in Iowa. Missy and Steve are still enjoying elementary school teaching and will graduate their youngest (born post-college when Nick was 16) next year. Nick is happy. Listening to him talk with enthusiasm and watch his facial expressions in describing the success of his business reminded me of the importance of loving what you do and chasing your dream.  Well played, Nick.

Nick, Steve and Tanner
You will be happy to know that Missy and I have another “date” on the calendar and this time it is within the next month. The place will be Omaha as this is now Sarah’s home, so no need to fly to New York. I can’t wait. And, Barbara Walters, you have clearly missed your mark in choosing to interview Tom Cruise and J-Lo as two of your chosen ten most fascinating people. Barbara obviously has never met Missy, Steve or Nick.

After my delightful dinner at Junior’s, I blended in with the post-play crowd walking through the rainy Times Square. Plays are certainly a part of NYC that I would want to add to my routine as well. But they didn’t make my short list on this trip. As I made my wayback to the hotel, I noticed another trainee from my day class passing me in the street. Roger is 60+ and from California. By all appearances, Roger seems to be the typical “CPA type”. But tonight he had an addition to his wardrobe that was not a part of his daily training attire. On his head was a knit cap similar to one worn to cover dread locks. Roger pulled on the cap nervously when he saw me. I smiled back hoping he could read my face as saying “You are in New York, Roger. Go for it!!”

It's now Friday morning and I am in my final day of classes in the city. The instructor doesn't appear to be avoiding me, so I must have not offended him last night at happy hour <whew>.  Just for that, I will give him a glowing class review. My bags are safely stored at The Muse waiting for my 3:30 Town Car pick up for the airport. It has been a good run, NYC. Thanks for allowing me to feel twenty-something again and embracing me for these five days.  I would tell you that I am excited to go home, but failed to share that my boys and I take an 8:25 a.m. flight out of Omaha to San Jose tomorrow morning. True story J

California….here we come!!!!