Tag Archives: Aunt

“Do” Keep a Roll of Quarters Handy

26 Sep

At one time or another, I imagine we’ve all tried those exasperating claw machines stuffed full of plush bears, cats and other animals.  Some of them also have toys, prizes, jewelry and more.  They are eye-catching and both children and adults are equally lured to try their luck.  You can find claw machines in many places – grocery stores, Wal-Mart, restaurants, arcades, movie theatres, Dave and Busters, carnivals, theme parks and more.   

Ian at the Disneyland Hotel

 

I remember Ian starting his way to becoming a claw machine champion when he was about 5 or 6 years old.  There was a machine in our local grocery store, and he’d love to go to the store with my Mom (Grandma) or me and try his luck.  At 5o cents a try/claw drop, we would give him about two to three dollars, and he usually never failed to walk out of the store with some cute little stuffed puppy or something else.  Sometimes he would win back-to-back, and would walk out of the store with two prizes, much to the frustration of other kids standing near the machine waiting for their turn.  

For Ian, it was never about winning the toy/prize.  It was about his skill beating the machine.  Often he would turn around and give the plush animal to his sister Elyse or another little girl or boy standing nearby, broken-hearted because they had spent their last quarter and hadn’t won anything.  As his skill grew on this particular machine, he sought out other claw machines in the city, and sometimes we would purposely drive to that place so Ian could try his hand.  I remember going to a Wal-Mart with him (and I really don’t like to shop at Wal-Mart) specifically to try out their claw machine.  After spending just eight quarters, he walked out with a tiny bear, a hot lips pillow and a dalmatian puppy with a fireman hat on its head.  Quite a crowd had gathered after he won the first one (because people are skeptical of these machines and most believe they are rigged), and after we left the area, people and their kids lined up to try their hand, but I doubt if anyone was as “lucky” as Ian.  

However, we soon realized that it wasn’t luck, but skill.  Before putting his quarters in he would study the position of various animals, noting if it was a four- or three-pronged claw.  He would then put his quarters in and quickly get the claw over the top of his target.  He would maneuver the claw so that the four prongs were positioned above and below both arms of the plush animal in his sights, with the central part of the claw close to the neck, or high chest area.   

Ian at Disneyland's Tea Cups

 

So his trick was to grab the chest of the animal, and not the head.  Often he didn’t get it on the first try, but he would use that first try to help get his target into a better position.  He had a different strategy for three-pronged claw machines.  In the period of one to two years, we amassed  bags full of plush toys.  We would eventually donate most, but Ian would keep some (for those claw conquests that had been particularly difficult).   

About 13-14 years ago, I was speaking at an industry trade conference in California, participating on a panel about media trends.  The conference was at the Disneyland Hotel, right on the Disneyland property.  While this trip was noteworthy for many reasons (JFK Jr. had just launched the magazine George the year earlier, and he was the keynote speaker so I was in great company!), it was especially memorable for Ian’s claw machine success.     

Because the conference was in Disneyland, ideally I had wanted to take all four nieces and nephews with me; after all, what fun is Disney without a child with you?  Nick and Katie couldn’t go because of school and a few other reasons, Elyse was too little (she had just turned two), so I took Ian.  Mom/Grandma came with us to watch Ian because I had to speak/go to the conference (which was on  Thursday and Friday, so we planned to stay through Sunday).  It was his first plane ride so he had the double excitement of going to Disneyland and riding on a plane on the same day.    

We checked in on the  Wednesday evening prior to the start of the conference.  I went to a quick committee meeting, then the three of us decided to walk the grounds around the hotel.  Low and  behold outside of the Disney store on the property was a claw machine.  Inside the store were all of the Mickey, Goofy, Pluto and other Disney plush toys a kid could only dream about.  But Ian first had to try his hand at the claw machine. (Which curiously did not have Disney branded plush toys, just your typical claw machine animals and prizes.)   

On his second try, he grabbed a pretty white cat with butterscotch spots on it and brown ears.  It dutifully dropped down the chute, and he picked it up and gave it to me.  “This is for you Aunt Sheree, for bringing me to Disneyland.”  I asked him what we should call it, and he said “let’s call it Rose, because I wanted to get you a rose for bringing me here.”  Oh yes, he was such a charmer, and still is!  

We weren’t planning on going to Disneyland until the conference was over on Saturday morning.  So while I was in attendance at the various sessions, Mom and Ian hung out on the hotel property.  I came back to the room the first day of the conference and they were watching TV, but sitting on my bed with Rose the cat were four more plush animals.  He had won all four that day on his visit back to the claw machine.  He was so excited to show me, and my Mom said he had won all four from the claw machine in less than 10 minutes.  

I secretly wondered if winning at the claw machine was part of the “Disney magic” – but it was in a prominent place on the property (near the Monorail station) and we saw other kids walk away empty-handed.  Ian struck the machine again on Friday while I was at the conference, and came back with another four more plush toys, so he now had a total of nine!   

The infamous Claw Machine at the Disneyland Hotel

 

Saturday came and we were off that morning to Disneyland and we had so much fun going to Main Street, U.S.A.; walking through Cinderella’s Castle; twirling in the Tea Cups; and making our way through the Pirates of the Caribbean.  We also found many characters, including Mickey Mouse and Goofy, and Ian captured all of their signatures.  We spent most of the day there and at about 4PM he was getting a little tuckered so we jumped on the Monorail back to the hotel.   

As we exited the Monorail, the claw machine was just about ten feet ahead, so of course before walking back to our room, Ian looked at me and asked, “just one more time Sheree, before we go back to the room?”   

I had learned to keep quarters in my purse for the kids – for gumball machines as well as for the claw machine.  So I handed him my last 10 quarters and said, “okay this is it, try it one more time.”  Well once again, he won, this time three plush animals.   

He was so excited and a bit proud of his claw machine skills.  A little girl walked by with her Dad, and looked at the machine wistfully, but the Dad said something to his daughter that with Ian having just won three, she wouldn’t be able to win, so despite her asking to try, they kept on walking.  Ian ran after them a few feet, and said, “here, you can have this bear, I already have one like it,” causing a big smile to break out on her face as she said thank you.     

Cinderalla gets a big hug from Ian

 

I went into the store to buy a suitcase or backpack to put all eleven of his plush animals won from the claw machine.  They wouldn’t fit in the suitcases we had, plus there were other Disney items we had purchased at Disneyland.  When we got back to Kansas City and dropped Ian off at home, he was as excited to show all of his claw machine animals to his Mom and Dad as he was to tell them about Disneyland!   

Ian continued to play claw machines as he grew older, but always gave his winning toy/animal to either Elyse or some other kid watching him play.  And by this time, he ceased playing multiple times, if he won, he would be done.  Just a couple of years ago while in high school, we were all going to the show together to see a holiday movie and while waiting in line to enter the theatre, he went over and played the claw machine for old times sake.  On his first try, he won a mini Chiefs football, and he promptly gave it to a little boy standing there watching.     

The little boy said thanks, and said, “if I give you my two quarters, can you get my little brother a football as well?”  Ian told him to keep his change, and said he would try.  There was one more football in the glass case.  Ian looked at its position, looked up at the position of the claw, walked back around to the front and dropped in two quarters.  He quickly twirled the claw apparatus around so it would hit the roundest part of the football, then dropped it down at just the right minute.   

We were all sort of holding our breaths, and the two little brothers were watching in awe.  The claw picked up the football, and barely kept it in its grasp as it made its way to the opening of the chute.  It looked like he would lose it at any minute.  But the football slid down the chute.  Ian had beat the machine again!   Everyone around cheered, and Ian picked up the football and threw a quick pass to the littler brother.   

We were so proud of Ian that evening, not for his claw machine skills, but for using those skills to make two little boys he didn’t even know very, very happy.

“Do” Come Together with the Beatles!

18 Sep

A week ago on Friday night I was sitting drenched in the drizzling rain between my two nephews Nick and Ian.  We were at KC’s Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor theatre) watching the last Broadway Show of the summer, the national tour of “RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles.”  And we were having a blast!  

My two “boys” have been going to Starlight with me since both of them were about six years old, as have my two “girls,” my nieces Katie and Elyse.  Earlier in the summer, all four of my nieces and nephews had called “dibs” on going to RAIN out of the five shows scheduled for the season. Each of them usually goes with my Mom and myself to at least one or two of the shows, but all four wanted to see this show because of the Beatles.   

RAIN print advertisement that ran in the KC Star

 

Katie wanted to bring her husband because he likes the Beatles, but he had to work.  So they went the previous Tuesday night.  Elyse had also wanted to go, but she’s now a freshman in high school, and it was football night, there was an “away game” for her school, and she wanted to ride the “spirit bus.”  So it ended up being Nick, Ian, Ian’s Mom (my sister-in-law) and myself going to the show.  

I’ve always had a special connection with my nephews and music.  Whenever Nick or Ian were with me in the car (or for that matter with my sister) we would find common ground listening to either the Beatles or the Beach Boys on the radio or a CD.  Both of them are good singers, having performed in choirs and/or musicals during school, and despite their respective ages, both have a sincere appreciation of music going back to the 60’s.  

The forecast for the night we went to RAIN was not promising.  It had rained on and off all day, and about 5:30PM it seemed  to have cleared up a bit.  We decided to eat dinner at Starlight and after an enjoyable meal and conversation headed to our seats about 15 minutes before showtime.  

The show was just awesome!  The tribute group performed five sets of live music:  from the early days of The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, through Shea Stadium, the Sgt. Pepper era and on to the Abbey Road years.  RAIN is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…it includes historical footage and really funny  television commercials (a special treat!) from the 1960’s on video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups and occasional shots of the audience.  

However, about three songs into the first set, it started raining.  At first it was just a drizzle.  Then it became a little stronger, then the wind started up.  Miles away, but rapidly approaching, we could see lightning beneath the clouds.  It looked very ominous.  But we weren’t about to leave and as far as I could tell, most everyone at the almost packed show were sticking to their seats as well.  We were just having too much fun singing along to our favorites and watching the fun video clips (including a Flintstones commercial showing Fred and Barney smoking Winston’s!)  

So sometime during the beginning of the third set, the President & Executive Producer of Starlight came out and announced a 30-minute weather delay due to the lightning rapidly approaching the area.  I asked Nick and Ian if they wanted to leave, but no way, everyone wanted to stick it out.  We quickly made our way back to the area where we had dinner, and found a table under cover to sit out the rain.   

Incidentally, Starlight is a client of the ad agency where I work, and I’m very much involved with the account.  I knew that my client/friend was probably upstairs in her office, so I started to send her an e-mail to see if she wanted to come down and visit with us.  At the same time she was calling me and was worried about where we were during the rain delay and told us to come on upstairs to their office.  They had food, wine, etc., and it was fun to visit with all the Starlight marketing team during the break.  Nick and Ian thought having access  behind the scenes (and in all the bad weather) was especially cool.  What a great client!!  

The show started again so Ian and his Mom headed back to our seats, and Nick and I decided to stop at the Starlight store and buy some rain ponchos as none of us had any rain gear (I had brought an umbrella, but you couldn’t use it).  And by that time everyone was soaked and the temperature had dropped so we bought sweatshirts as well.   

The rest of the show started in earnest.  The lightning had stopped, as had the rain, but after just one song, the rain started again, but this time we were prepared!  The show had more of a concert feel to it versus a Broadway Show.  (RAIN is headed to Broadway and opening on October 19!)  The band was very touched and in awe that so many people were still there, standing and singing Beatles’ songs in the rain.  At one point Ian was on his feet and enthusiastically cheering the performance when the band member who is “Paul” (Joey Curatolo) pointed to Ian and yelled out “you’re the man!” (Our season tickets are dead center, about 10 rows back from the stage.)  

The show had started with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and ended with “Let It Be” followed by an encore featuring “Hey Jude.”   They sang many of my favorites including “Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday” and “Revolution” (which brought back memories of my 8th grade CYO dance mixers!).  However, the best performance of the night was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which I hadn’t heard in a long, long time.  It’s an amazing song, and the performance enthralled us all.  I could tell Nick and Ian were especially moved.  

That night, this Baby Boomer sang-along with my Millennial nephews (and my Gen-X sister-in-law!) to more than two hours of songs that crossed our generations and brought us together for an evening filled with fun and love.  We weren’t about to let a little rain destroy what RAIN gave us that night.

“Don’t” (Ever, Ever!) Buy Them A Live Animal!

11 Sep

When Katie was about 8 and Nick 9, we had been in a small neighborhood shopping center (Corinth Square) in Prairie Village, KS having a late lunch.  It was a beautiful Spring day, and both kids were so happy – we had been giggling and listening to Nick’s jokes and stories and as we were walking to the car, we walked by a pet store (it’s no longer there, replaced now by www.thelandofpaws.com, a stylish-type pet boutique!).     

"How much is that kitty in the window?"

 

The kids quickly went to the window to look in, and pleaded, “can we please go in and look at the puppies and kitties?” (Which were in plain view from the window of course).  What’s an aunt to do?    

We are sort of a family of cats.  I’ve always loved them since I was little and we’d go to my Uncle Mac’s farm in Eskridge, KS for Thanksgiving.  He would tell me that I could have all the kittens I could catch in the barn, but of course they were wild, and if and when I would get my hands on one, it would squirm and hiss at me and start scratching, so I’d have to drop it real fast, but I always tried every year.    

We always had at least one cat growing up – with the exception of the years we had an adorable Peke-A-Poo named Luigi Cappuccino (He was black, tan, with white markings as frothy as a fresh steamed cappuccino.)  He also understood commands in Italian (I had just come home from living in Italy when Mom and my little brother gave him to me for my birthday).  But I digress.    

My other brother (Nick and Katie’s dad) always had a cat, usually one that he would find, he’d feed it, and it would stay around.  And my sister-in-law also liked cats, and she had grown up with them as well.  So Nick and Katie had two cute cats in their household, one named D.C. (from the movie “That Darn Cat”) and another named Bandit.     

And at the time, my beloved cat Ashley was alive and well.  However, when Nick and Katie came over, he would give them disdainful glares, and was especially contemptuous when my sister-in-law would drop them off.  He was basically a one-person cat, despite Katie and Nick petting him and trying to pick him up.  He came to KC with me from Chicago, and lived for 23 years!     

I also had an outdoor cat named Watson, who I named after the golfer Tom Watson, as he was found on my brother’s golf-course (he’s the Master PGA Club Pro at Sunflower Hills).  My sister-in-law rescued Watson along with his three tabby sisters.  I took them home to my house and found homes for the three little tabby cats (who I named Birdie, Bogey and Putt-Putt) and decided to keep the all-gray cat as company for Ashley, but I could never get Watson to stay inside.  He would come and go a couple of days at a time.    

Maggie curls up in a little ball to sleep

 

Many years later, Maggie, who is the daughter of Ian and Elyse’s cat Sadie, joined my household after Watson had departed.  She overlapped with Ashley by a year before he died.  So Maggie took over the chore of being disdainful and contemptuous to the nieces and nephews.  (Oh by the way, you can follow Maggie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TheCatMaggie)     

So we had lots of cats around, plenty of cats!  Many cats!  But as soon as Katie saw all the cute kittens, one in particular gravitated towards her.  It was a little yellow striped cat, who was all furry and sweet, and just adorable.  “Please Aunt Sheree, can we get this kitty?  Mom said I could have a kitty, ’cause I want one that will be all my own.”     

“Are you sure your Mom wants another cat?” I said, “You already have D.C. and Bandit, you don’t need another cat.”    

“But it needs us, it needs me, and Mom will just love this cat, she really, really does want another cat.  She’ll be soooo happy to have this cat.  We’ve talked about it.”  Katie was just emphatic that my sister-in-law would want a third cat.    

“Nick, what do you think?” I naïvely asked my 9-year old nephew for his blessing in purchasing something that I knew probably wasn’t going to be received well by my brother and sister-in-law.       

“Well Mom loves cats, and why wouldn’t she love this one,” he replied, giving me the green light to go over the edge with the decision.     

I guess I could have called my sister-in-law, but at the time (1993) it was before the broad spread use of cell phones, and I had a feeling she would have said no on the phone.  In my mind I rationalized if she got upset, I would just keep the cat at my house for Katie.     

We never did get a picture of "Sunny," but she looked identical to this kitten.

 

So despite the nervous knot in my stomach, I nodded yes to the sales clerk and received the biggest hug of my life at the time from my adorable little niece.  “I’m going to call him ‘Sunny’ because he looks all yellow and orange, bright and happy like sunshine,” Katie said.    

In addition to purchasing Sunny, we also bought Sunny a bed, matching food and water bowls, a collar and a few toys.  I also bought a new litter box and some litter, as I didn’t want my sister-in-law to not be ready for it when she picked up the kids later.  How thoughtful of me!!    

We went back to my house and the kids fed Sunny and then played with him for several hours.  Ashley gave me a panicked look, like why was I  bringing another cat into the house, and quickly scampered upstairs.     

Finally the door bell rang.  My sister-in-law came in and before I could say a word, Katie said with delight, “Mom, look at what Aunt Sheree got me, I’ve named him Sunny, and I’m going to take care of him and love him for the rest of my life.”    

Oops!  Wrong decision!  The blood drained from my sister-in-law’s face.  “Is that so?” she said. “We already have two cats Katie, we really don’t need a third one.”    

“But you said I could have my very own cat.”  Katie replied.    

My sister-in-law countered, “I said we’d talk about it and would do that one day.”     

I stepped in and said, “I’m sorry, the kids said you were looking to get another cat, and he was so sweet, we have everything ready for him – a bed, a box… if you don’t want him, I’ll keep him here for Katie.”    

Katie said, “Oh no, I want him to live with me.”    

Noonan

 

My sister-in-law was such a good Mother at that moment (as she always is) and was such a good sport.  I knew she was mad at me, but she didn’t say a word.  But if looks could kill!  I had put her in a tough place – if she said no to Katie, then she would be the bad guy and cause her daughter heartbreak.    

“Okay,” she sighed, “but Katie, this will be your cat, and you have to take care of it.”    

Sunny went home and Katie enjoyed about a week’s time with him before he accidentally got out and ran off.  They searched for him for days, and my sister-in-law dutifully wiped Katie’s tears and my niece eventually got over her first loss of a pet.    

Lacey

 

I truly felt bad about buying the kitten.  I had crossed the invisible line of what’s acceptable for an aunt to do/buy versus a parent.  I vowed to myself to never do that again.  I vowed to at least have a conversation with their parents on something as significant as purchasing a live animal!     

Katie of course survived her heartbreak.  Now married, she and her husband Randy have two fun cats, Noonan and Lacey.  My brother and sister-in-law still have two cats, now Jake and Sassy (as D.C. and Bandit passed away).  I still have Maggie of course, who right now is giving me a scornful look – as she’s thinking it’s her turn to be blogging, and wants to post a Tweet.    

Maggie likes to be near the laptop, wherever it is, and she has a Twitter following of 850+!

“Do” Risk Taking Them to Movies with Subtitles

30 Aug

One of the movies that was all the buzz in late 2000, early 2001 was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Ian and Elyse were over on a weekend and as they were watching television, a commercial came on for the movie showing the younger heroine Jen Yu leaping between rooftops and bamboo trees.  “I want to see that movie!” Elyse exclaimed.     

She was quite adamant about wanting to see it as she was in her “power girl” phase.  She had just turned five at the time and one of her favorite Disney videos was Mulan.  She would watch Mulan over and over again and was enthralled with the story.  Another Disney favorite was The Rescuers Down Under.  She started dressing like Cody and it was almost impossible for anyone to get her out of the Australian bush adventure jacket, and the brown short boots.  And then there was Peter Pan.  I had made Elyse a Peter Pan costume for Halloween that previous year and no one could convince her to take it off after that, she wore it for weeks  and always stayed in character!  The beloved, thread-bare costume was finally “retired” by my sister-in-law.     

I had also wanted to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — the academy award nominations had just been announced and it was nominated not only for Best Foreign Language film (which it won), but for Best Picture as well, among a whole slew of other nominations.  So I wanted to see it before the Oscars were on and besides, the commercial had hooked me as well, the movie looked fascinating.    

The Rio Theatre in Overland Park, KS (Photo by Nathaniel Paluga ~cc-by-sa)

 

So Mom and I took Ian and Elyse to the matinée the next day.  It was only showing near us at the Rio Theatre, a movie house that had recently been beautifully restored and was known for showing art films.  So just going to the Rio was an adventure itself as none of us had seen a movie there yet.    

We purchased popcorn and sodas, and sat down.  Mom was on the aisle, then Ian, myself then Elyse.  I knew Ian (who was nine) would love the film as he was always game to see and try anything new.  But I wondered a little if Elyse would like it.  Was it too soon for her to make the transition from Disney cartoon characters to a Chinese female action martial arts movie?  I should have never had one doubt.     

Within the first five minutes of the opening we all sat mesmerized and excited, including Elyse.  One word described this movie, WOW!    

The film’s story takes place during nineteenth century China, in a beautiful, mystical setting inhabited by the Wudan, spectral warriors from legend who effortlessly leap among the bamboo trees.  It is hard to describe what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is as it transcends genres:  it is a fantasy, romance, historical epic and thriller all in one.      

Soon after the first five minutes of “wow,” Elyse starts tapping my arm.  I was so mesmerized by the movie I hadn’t noticed.  Suddenly her little hand cupped my chin and she rapidly turned my face towards hers and she whispered, “what’s happening?”    

The movie was in Mandarin with subtitles!  It didn’t dawn on me that this could be a problem.  But Elyse couldn’t read yet, so while she was enthralled with the movie, she couldn’t understand it.  So I whispered in her ear what had happened so far.  However because the film was so engaging and fast-paced, Elyse got up on her knees and leaned next to me, “tell me what’s happening,” she kept whispering.    

I felt so bad that I had brought her to this wonderful movie that she couldn’t understand.  Finally I put her in my lap and whispered in her ear, reading the subtitles to her as they appeared.     

As with all foreign movies with subtitles, someplace during the movie you cease reading the subtitles and you begin understanding the movie without comprehension of the language.  Halfway through the movie that happened to Elyse.  She sat back down in her seat, and she only asked for explanation a couple of more times.     

Elyse (5-years-old), the year of her "Power Girl" phase

 

At the end of the film we sat in our seats just blown away and moved by the ending, stunned at what we had just experienced.  It was very quiet in the theatre as the other people in the Rio were in awe as well.   Elyse suddenly said, “that was the very best movie I’ve seen in my whole entire life,” causing a few heads to turn, and a few people to chuckle.    

A man in front of us turned around and said to her, “so did you understand the movie okay?”       

Thinking he was quizzing her about the plot instead of inquiring about her comprehension of the language and the subtitles,  Elyse replied proudly, “I sure did, it’s about this  stolen magical jade sword and…”      

 The man laughed and said “I guess you did understand.”

“Don’t” Forget to Teach Them the Fine Art of Dining!

22 Aug

Nick eagerly eyes the ham on his plate (Katie is behind him).

 

Nick loves to dine.  Primarily he loves to dine out.  Now that he’s an adult, I love it that we can go out for a leisurely dinner or late lunch on a Saturday together and have cocktails, appetizers, dinner, wine and dessert.  It’s not necessarily that he loves to eat, he simply loves the art of dining.  He likes to chat with the maître d’, converse with the waiters, hear about the specials and engage in discussions about work, school, friends, family, travel or whatever.   

Nick also loves “to dine” during holidays.  On Thanksgiving, he always looks forward to coming over and smelling the aroma in the house, taking a look in the oven at the beautiful browned turkey or the clove-pricked ham, taking a bite of the water chestnut dressing, eyeing the plethora of pies and desserts while putting a finger in the fresh whipped cream.   

He likes to try new restaurants and while there are certain foods Nick doesn’t like (pork chops), he’s fairly adventurous about trying new foods.  I’d like to think that this comes from when he and Katie would spend Saturdays with us.  We would make the day an adventure and if we didn’t have anything particular in mind, my Mom and I would take Nick and Katie out to lunch.  Sometimes my sister would go as well depending on our planned dining destination.  And unlike most kids their age at the time, we wouldn’t go to McDonald’s or Applebee’s, as Nick and Katie’s palettes were far more refined, at least when they were with me.   

Nick loved food, dining and eating so much, my brother Tim gave him a chef's hat for Christmas one year.

 

One Saturday when he was about 9, my sister-in-law dropped them both off, and we made plans to head to the Plaza.  It was a crisp October day, and Mom and I were hungry for the Bookbinder Soup at Harry Starker’s.  It was one of their featured items, a classic soup with steamed fish in a rich sherry broth, served with homemade crisp sourdough bread.  (The original Harry Starker’s is no longer around, but it evolved to Starker’s Restaurant on top of Restoration Hardware at the corner of 47th and Wyandotte and they still serve this classic soup.)     

We sat down in one of the booths, and after the waiter brought over the water and bread, he went over the specials.  Nick asked him what was the “Soup du Jour.”  The waiter was taken aback for a moment, smiled and proceeded to share with Nick that the Soup du Jour was a Steak Soup, and of course, they always were serving the Bookbinder Soup.  Mom and I were surprised as well as we didn’t know he even knew the expression “Soup du Jour” – guess our Saturday dining experiences were starting to take hold.   

But that was just our first surprise.  After the waiter left to get the soups, Nick took out a little pocket-size spiral notebook.  On the cover, in a purple crayon marker he had written “Nick’s Restaurant Reviews.”   He told us he had decided that from now on when he eats out with us, he was going to do a review.  He had decided that by doing a review he would remember which restaurants he liked the best, plus it would just be fun and it would keep waiters or waitresses on “their toes” giving us the best service.    

He had made a rough spreadsheet (by the way, he’s now an accountant!) with restaurant names as columns, and twelve criteria listed as rows.  The criteria included 1) food looks, 2) menu look, 3) food taste, 4) type of food available, 5) waiter attitude, 6) soups 7) appetizers, 8) desserts, 9) comfortable chairs, 10) kids’ menu option, 11) looks/decorations (his version of ambience) and 12)condiments?!  Then there was a 13th row that said “bonus points.”  He planned on giving each criteria a score of 1 through 5, with 5 being the best.  He said he would give bonus points if something was truly awesome.   

As we waited for our soup, we all got into the spirit of Nick’s review and offered a few initial opinions of Harry Starker’s as he wrote their name into the first column of his notebook.  As the soup arrived Mom ordered trout, I had a Caesar salad with chicken, Katie had chicken fingers and Nick ordered a hamburger and fries.  We had to try the desserts, and while I don’t remember what I had, I know that Nick ordered Tiramisu.  He always ordered that or something chocolate like a torte, cake or brownie sundae.    

Lunch at Fedoras

Nick (about 11 years), my Mom, Katie (about 10 years) and Ian (3-4 years) at Fedora's for one of our Saturday lunches.

 

Harry Starker’s received 50 out of 60 points and did very well in Nick’s first review!  Several categories received a “5” including soups, desserts, waiter service, waiter attitude (to Nick there was a difference!) and condiments (he liked that the ketchup was served in a little white bowl).  He also rewarded them a few bonus points for the Tiramisu.    

That year and a year or two after that Nick loaded his little book up with reviews of other restaurants where we would go and have Saturday lunch.  At the time, they typically included restaurants on the Plaza, in Brookside or Crown Center  (about 1992-93).  We went everyplace from Annie’s Santa Fe (now closed) to Fred P. Ott’s; from Winstead’s to Fedora’s (also now closed, but it was a favorite!); from Houlihan’s to the Classic Cup.  We would also venture out and go to places he wanted to try like “V’s” Italian Restaurant  where he would order their really yummy French Fries with spaghetti and meatballs.  They also had a Tiramisu that he loved.  He had seen an ad for it claiming the best Italian food and that it was right next to “Cool Crest” a fun miniature golf course that we went to after lunch.    

Another favorite was Jasper’s Trattoria or the Marco Polo Market on Wornall (before they moved to their current location).  We’d get sausage sandwiches or pasta, and then of course the Tiramisu for Nick!  They always got 5 points in every category in Nick’s  book.  Jasper’s was also a dinner destination for us on the nights we would take the kids to Starlight Theatre and it still is.  JJ serves such wonderful food, the atmosphere is great and it is a family all-time favorite, including Nick, to this day.    

Trezo Vino Lunch

My Mom and Nick, after one of our recent Saturday lunches, in front of Trezo Vino in Park Place (in Leawood)

 

While Nick’s restaurant review notebook has long disappeared, the memories have not, and Nick, Mom and I still try to go to lunch on Saturdays a couple of times a year.  And sometimes Nick and I meet for lunch during the week, usually at Lidia’s (yes another Italian restaurant with a fantastic Tiramisu!) where we order the pasta tasting trio or the Frico.  The Frico is a specialty of the Friuli region of Italy – it is an envelope of golden-brown, crisp Montasio cheese with potato, leek and the filling of your choice – typically either crab, shrimp or sausage are the options available.     

Some of my favorite dining experiences have been with Nick – no matter his age, 10 or 25.  He has impeccable manners, we have wonderful conversations and we have great food at special places.  I’ll always fondly remember the time we went to Starker’s when he brought his review book and ordered the Soup du Jour.  But I especially enjoy the times we have lunch or dinner now, as eating with Nick is not just about dining, but about the time we spend together.

“Do” Give Them Experiences to Last a Lifetime

14 Aug

Ian at a St. Patrick's Day Parade, Age 10

 

Traveling with my nephews and nieces has been so wonderful – we’ve gone with and without parents to Florida, to San Diego, on cruises, short trips to the Ozarks or to Branson, or to Topeka (inside joke), to New York and Chicago, through the Rockies and more.  All of them are excellent traveling companions and we truly have had fantastic adventures together.  

In 2005, I did the first foreign country trip solo with one of my nephews/nieces without their parents – to Ireland with Ian.  My Mom and I had gone in 1998, and had a fabulous time, and Ian has always been our Irishman, appreciating his ancestry so much.  He loved going to St. Patrick’s Day parades, and can sing all the verses from “Danny Boy” a capella.  So on the occasion of his 8th grade graduation, we (Ian, my Mom and myself) went to Ireland for 10 days.     

We flew to Dublin and oh how he instantly flourished as a young man before my eyes!  He loved to read and write fiction, and of course Dublin was a haven for him.  He couldn’t fill his journal fast enough.  The city was beautiful and quite cosmopolitan, and we did all the sites from going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College to visiting the Guinness factory and retracing the streets that inspired James Joyce.  After 4 days, our plan was to take the train west to Limerick, and then we were going to stay at Adare Manor for the rest of our trip.  But we found out hiring a driver to take us there cost the same, and would be far more scenic.  So we drove across the beautiful Irish countryside, while Ian sat in the front talking to the driver the entire way.    

Cliffs of Moher

 

We had an equally wonderful time in Western Ireland, and went to so many awesome places.  And staying at Adare Manor was a dream come true!  But the highlight of the trip was our visit to the Cliffs of Moher.  It’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth.  We spent hours there as Ian couldn’t take it all in fast enough.  We walked up to O’Briens Tower, which stands on a headland at the Cliffs, commanding one of the better views.  Ian climbed to the top to take it all in.  When we walked down the scenic trail, his video camera was hard at work capturing the magnificent vistas.  (Mom stayed at the Puffin’s Nest Cafe having tea and eating locally made cakes with our driver!)  

Ian at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

 

My mom and I have so many wonderful memories of our trip to Ireland with Ian.  I could write on and on about the places we went and the people we met.  During that trip I literally saw Ian grow up from a boy to a young man brimming with wanderlust, ready to start high school, already thinking about college and his life ahead.  We talked about so many things as we walked the trail, watching the Atlantic ocean crashing into the edge of this marvelous country.   

Graham Greene wrote that “there is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”  I believe that door opened for Ian in Ireland, at least a bit or a little further.  Because like what is all of Ireland he experienced the soul’s yearnings, the happiest of hearts, the enchantment of the past and the hope for the future.

“Don’t” Hunt for Eggs in the Rain

9 Aug

Powell Gardens has always been a destination for something fun to do with the nephews and the nieces.  It’s Kansas City’s botanical garden, and is set on more than 900 acres of lush, rolling hills.  It was established in 1983, and my Mother and I started going there a couple of years after that, always with one or more of the four kids with us.   

The egg hunt was held along a trail in the woods at Powell Gardens

 

About a 45-minute drive from Kansas City, we would get in the car and drive out there and make a Saturday of it, doing everything from just walking through the gardens to attending special exhibits, from taking water color painting classes, to going to the annual butterfly festival (which deserves its own story in the weeks ahead!).  The kids especially loved the days we’d go for walks, have lunch in the café (or sometimes we would take a picnic) and then do arts and crafts like painting clay pots.  

In 1991 we decided to take Nick, Katie and Ian to Powell Gardens’ annual egg hunt the Saturday before Easter.  At the time they were age 7, 6, and 2 (Elyse hadn’t been born yet). The day started a little cloudy, but we didn’t let that deter us and off we went to the hunt.  The kids looked so cute – it was spring and Saturday and they were excited and talked about all the eggs they would find and all the fun they would have.   

Katie’s birthday had been in March, and she had on for the first time this really cute outfit my Mom had given her.  It was cream color velour jeans, with a matching cropped cream corduroy jacket.  The jacket had all these gold buttons sewn everywhere on it, there must have been over 50 buttons of all types!   

The Easter Egg Hunt at Powell Gardens consisted of two activities.  Kids 6 and older could go hunt eggs in a wooded area where they had cleared a trail with hundreds of eggs scattered along the route. They said it was about a half hour walk from start to finish.  (Remember that this was Powell Gardens in 1991, not many years after it had opened.  It was a little rough back then, as now the wooded trail is a lot longer, is paved and they have made considerable improvements, built lots of buildings and attractions since then.)  

The littler kids less than 6 years old could go across the field to a hilly area where they were having an Easter egg roll.  To take part in the roll, they had requested that you bring a dozen eggs so the Powell Gardens’ volunteers would have enough to roll down the hill for all the little kids.   

So I decided to take Nick and Katie through the woods hunting eggs, and Mom took Ian to the Easter egg roll with the dozen eggs I had colored the night before.  Off we all went with several baskets in hand to line up for each event.  As we lined up at the designated time, a very light sprinkle started.  But it didn’t deter any of us and when the Powell Gardens’ volunteer blew the whistle about 100 kids followed by many adults scrambled to the entrance of the woods. (There were also about 50 or more smaller kids at the top of the hill ready for the roll.)  

Kids quickly scooped up the brightly colored neon eggs and Nick found a blue one and Katie a sunshine yellow egg.  Right after each of them found these first eggs, the sprinkle then turned to a light drizzle.  I was a little worried about all of us getting wet, so I asked them if they wanted to go back to the car, as we were still near the entrance.   Both Nick and Katie said no, they wanted to keep going until they each got the eight eggs each child was allowed to pick up.  (Powell Gardens’ way of insuring that everyone would get a fair number of eggs.)   

We went further into the woods, and things were really getting wet.  The ground had already been damp from a Spring shower the day before, and very quickly things started getting a little messy.  Both Nick and Katie were worried about getting dirty, afraid that my Mom or myself would be upset for getting their shoes and clothes muddy.  Katie was especially concerned because of her new cream-colored outfit and tiptoed on patches of green to try to avoid mud.    

Because they were being so cautious about avoiding the mud, they were missing out on getting eggs they saw, as more aggressive kids in more appropriate clothing for the weather were splashing around in the mud and greenery getting far more than the allotted eight eggs!   

Katie spotted a purple egg like these before she got stuck in the mud and fell.

 

I was very damp and feeling a little cranky, so as two boys about 9 or 10 years old passed by who had been kind of hogging all the eggs along the trail (their parents weren’t with them in the woods), I stopped them and questioned them about the number of eggs in their baskets.  While both boys shot me guilty looks as if I had caught them red-handed, the one with wet sandy-hair said “you’re not the boss of me!”   And then they ran off.   

Katie, Nick and I trudged along the trail, stepping gingerly to avoid the mud but it was almost impossible.  Suddenly Katie spotted a purple egg hidden in the moss by a tree near a small stream.  She went to step over the stream but her foot got stuck in some silt and suddenly she was sinking fast with mud oozing over her shoes that by this time were already filthy.   

When I reached her, Katie’s damp cream-colored jeans were grey up to the knees and getting darker every minute. Before I could grab her hand to pull her out, she lost her balance and fell back.  She got right back up, but now the backside of her pretty cream velour jeans and the back of her matching cream jacket had mud all over on them.  By this time the drizzle had let up a little and had turned into a steady, gentle rainfall.  

A half hour had passed, and it appeared as if we were almost to the end of the trail.  However, Nick had only collected 5 of his 8 eggs, and Katie only 3 of her 8.  I looked at my poor miserable, wet and muddy niece and nephew and said, “why don’t we head back and find Grandma and Ian?  This isn’t the best day to hunt for eggs.”   

They nodded in agreement and both started saying sweet little things so I wouldn’t feel bad.  Nick grabbed my hand saying, “We found plenty of eggs, Aunt Sheree, we don’t need any more.”  

“This has  been so much fun it’s not your fault that it rained,” said Katie, taking my other hand, “I’m sure Grandma or Mom can get my outfit clean, they’ll just have to use some extra soap.”  

Nick put one of his eggs in Katie’s basket so they each had four eggs.  We finally made it to the clearing and walked over to the parking lot.  But the egg roll was over, and we couldn’t find my Mom and Ian.  Suddenly this door opens to a big white van, and there she is on the passenger side, Ian on her lap, with some strange man on the drivers’ side.   

She explained that the driver of the van had let them take cover from the rain since I had the car keys in my purse.  At least the two of them were dry!  But my painted easter eggs were a bust.  First of all, we weren’t supposed to have brought real eggs, and the dye quickly had washed away with the rain.  The hard-boiled eggs sat in a basket on the ground outside the van with just hints of color left here and there and they weren’t allowed to be rolled down the hill by the powers to be at Powell Gardens.  

I had no pictures from this adventure at Powell Gardens, but Katie still talks about it to this day!

 

Nick wasn’t that muddy except his shoes, or at least it didn’t show on his navy pants and sweater.  But poor Katie was a disaster.  Her long blonde hair was wet and had a little bit of mud in it from the fall, and the cream-colored jeans and the cute little button jacket were wet and covered in mud and green stains from the foliage, ferns and grass.  

The rain had stopped  and we all headed over to the car.  We took off Nick and Katie’s muddy shoes and socks (all soaked) and took off Katie’s jacket and put them all in the car trunk.  Fortunately, I had a couple of blankets in the trunk.  I took one and circled it around her, had her slip off the muddy wet jeans, then I wrapped her up in it.  We put Ian in his car seat, then next to him in the back, we bundled Nick and Katie with the other blanket and we headed back to Kansas City.  

Fortunately, we had a change of clothes for everyone at the house, and had everyone cleaned up by the time Nick and Katie’s mom came over to pick them up.   My sister-in-law had decided to take all of their wet clothes home saying she would wash them, but it was a hopeless cause for the cream jeans and gold button jacket.  The outfit had its one and only “wearing” that day.  

When we talk about our Saturday adventures, Katie especially remembers this escapade at Powell Gardens.  She clearly remembers the cute outfit because of all the buttons.  She remembers hunting for eggs in the rain and getting that cream-colored outfit all muddy.  She remembers her brother giving her some of his eggs.  She remembers finding Grandma and Ian in a car with a stranger.  She remembers riding home barefoot and wrapped in a blanket.   

But what I remember from that day is what good sports both Nick and Katie were.  Especially Katie.  Instead of complaining or crying about how the day turned out, she just giggled and laughed about the fiasco all the way home. And she still laughs about it to this day.  

However, despite her being such a good sport, I have never been able to get her to go to Powell Gardens again.