Tag Archives: Family

“Don’t” Show Incriminating Pictures!

3 Apr

Elyse and Ian prior to the formal dinner evening - he's such a great big brother!

Three years ago about this time of year it had been another cold, long winter, and my sister and I were anxious to go somewhere warm.  Long story short, we decided at the last-minute to go on a cruise, so we got the ball rolling and in addition to my sister and myself, my Mom, my brother Tim, my sister-in-law Joanie as well as Ian and Elyse, we all went for a seven-day trip on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. Spring break for schools was a little late that year.

My other sister-in-law Lucy, is a cruise agent extraordinaire with Ship-A-Hoy, and does a wonderful job of booking great staterooms, knows all the scoop on the excursions and ports of call,  and is awesome at handling all the in’s and out’s of cruising.  She’s our favorite cruise agent of course and we’ve been on many! She was able to find us a great cruise at the last-minute to the ports we wanted to go with some good amenities for teens.  Ian and Elyse had a blast (they were seventeen and thirteen then).  

Our ship, "Enchantment of the Seas" in port at Key West.

We left from Fort Lauderdale and sailed to Cozumel, Belize and Key West with a couple of days at sea in between before arriving back in Fort Lauderdale.  I won’t go into detail about the cruise, but want to share a specific event that involved Ian, and demonstrates what a good sport he is, and how easy-going and mature he can be, despite the fact that he was totally humiliated (so he says now!).   

Tim, Joanie and I decided to check out Royal Caribbean’s notorious “Quest” game that was scheduled one night, as we had heard chatter that it would be hilarious.  Mom and Deb didn’t want to go, so they kept an eye on Elyse, and finding out that we needed four people to play, we grabbed Ian, even though he was less than 18 years old and it was noted for “mature” audiences.

Elyse and Ian in tropical attire!

We didn’t know what to expect and it started as sort of a combination scavenger hunt with “Let’s Make a Deal” (where you won something if you had it in your purse or pocket) and you were among the fastest to get it to the emcee, with the chance of winning a cheesy Royal Caribbean trinket.  You had to appoint one guy on your team as your runner, and we elected Ian to do it. 

The game got progressively funnier and more challenging for the male runners and audience alike.  It started with innocuous things you’d find in a purse, but quickly took a raucous and embarrassing turn for the assigned runners, poor Ian.  First the team had to find a tube of lipstick (both Joanie and I had some), then Ian had to put some on and run to the emcee.  Ian then had to find a pair of earrings, put those on and race to the front.  Joanie and I both have pierced ears, but I had on a pair of grey pearl leverbacks, that he was able to put and keep on. 

Each task got a little more complicated – the guys had to take off their shoes (and socks for some), then put on a pair of high heels and once again, run to the front.  Seeing these men with lipstick and earrings on, running in high heels was a side-splitting sight!  Again, Ian was having fun, and wasn’t too self-conscious since men of all ages were doing this.  He just happened to be the youngest! 

Ian is somewhere in that crowd, I have close-up pictures, but promised him I'd never share!

But then the emcee announced that one of the women in the team had to figure out a way to take her bra off, without taking her shirt or dress off, then the team runner had to take his shirt off and put on the bra.  Then the runner had to find a purse and run to the front to get a number from the emcee (while still in heels, with earrings and lipstick on).  Once all the guys had a number, the emcee had them do a conga line dance around the room.  The best “dancers” were chosen and announced by number by the cruise staff.

I was laughing so hard I was crying and couldn’t catch my breath watching Joanie rapidly slip off her bra from under her dress and pulling it out of an open armpit.  My brother was laughing so hard as well.  Joanie and I quickly put her bra on Ian, snapping the back in place.  I gave Ian my purse to carry, and once ready, he flew over the chairs/section we were sitting in to go grab his number.  The music started and the guys all danced in a line, holding onto the hips of the guy in front, with the emcee leading the conga line.  Then each guy had to do a 10-15 second solo dance.  It was hilarious. 

All along I was taking pictures of course!  I’ve shared just one here of when all these macho guys rushed in their heels, bras, earrings with purses in hand to get their numbers.  But I also have several of Ian close-up which I “triple” promised him I would never show to anyone outside of the family.  Well I’m keeping my promise (at this time), but have kidded with him that I might pull them out for when he gets married one day.

Hmmm, someone should have color-coordinated this group! Doing the "Macarena" in the dining room one night, LtoR, my brother Tim, my sister Debbie, my nephew Ian and my sister-in-law Joanie.

I’ve heard that on some of the other Royal Caribbean cruises, the guys have to strip down to their skivvies while wearing the bra, heels, purse, earrings, lipstick and dancing the conga.  You’ll find evidence of this on YouTube.  Ian had on a pair of cargo shorts, but he and all the other guys on our cruise kept their pants on!

We caught up with my Mom, my sister and Elyse later, still laughing, showing them the pictures.  Ian lamented to his Grandma, “I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!”  Please don’t tell anyone about this! (He was a senior in high school after all.)  But he still laughs about it today, was such a good sport about it and had as much fun as anyone.

The game also set the tone for the rest of the cruise, where we continued to have a great time – and we continued to enter as either a family team or as solo entrants in the ship’s other contests, from “Name That Tune” (2nd place!) to karaoke.  But nothing was as funny as seeing Joanie slip her bra off through her armpit and then to see Ian put it on and strut around doing the conga in high heels. 

As adults one of the clearest and most positive memories we have of our childhood are of family vacations.  Hopefully this will be one to remember for Ian.  And if he forgets, I have pictures!

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“Do” Embrace March Madness

27 Mar

It’s that time of year again.  March Madness!  First we had the Big 12 Tournament from March 9-12 (KU winning the championship of course!).  And now we are in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, with KU reigning, washing out the Spiders and playing for a place in the Final Four (of course!) against VCU. 

Why do I bring up basketball in this blog about being an aunt?  Well, 1) it allows me to bring up the Jayhawks, my alma mater; basketball powerhouse and America’s basketball team; and 2) March Madness has always caused scheduling issues at this time of the year in terms of the day we celebrate Katie’s birthday.  You see, my family, especially Katie’s dad, my brother Jeff, my sister Debbie and my brother Tim, all put the tournament first in terms of scheduling.  So Katie’s birthday typically gets pre-empted on the actual day, since it is on March 9th, the very first day of the Big 12 Tournament. 

In the past we would celebrate the kids’ birthdays on Sundays, and would all get together as a family.  But Katie’s birthday either was pushed up by a week, or pushed back, depending on when KU was playing.  Or sometimes, we’d still schedule it on the Sunday closest to her birthday, but wedge the dinner/cake before or after a game.  And sometimes, we’d wait to get together (probably to her disappointment) until later in the month.

This scheduling challenge became the norm for Katie.  Sometimes we’d make it really special, and have it on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day, but only when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday.  My Mom and I would make corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and soda bread.  But you’ll note that day was eight days after her birthday, and sort of a long time to make someone wait for her birthday, especially when she was a little girl.  

Katie's 17th birthday, about nine years ago - one of the last times we had her birthday on a game day. (Nick is in the background.)

As Katie grew older (she’s now married!), sometime when she was in college, we quit trying to get the dozen of us together to celebrate near her birthday while avoiding a KU game so we could give her our undivided attention.  We now embrace March Madness and either have it on the day of a key game so we can all cheer KU on together, or we get together with her independently, and she has 3 or 4 birthday events/dinners throughout the month.

That’s what we did this year.  We were the first birthday event.  My Mom, my sister, my nephew Nick (Katie’s brother), Katie and her husband Randy and myself all went out to dinner on March 4 – five days ahead of Katie’s birthday, well before the tournament started. 

We all met at Jasper’s, our go-to restaurant for special family celebrations.  It was a wonderful meal as usual (you must try the Lobster Cappuccino!), with great service from our favorite waiter Tony.  We laughed, told stories, the kids teased Grandma and we sat for hours talking and having fun. 

And while there may have been better birthdays in Katie’s eyes, more fun and/or interesting gifts in the past, (this year she got a Lowe’s gift card to go towards things they need for their new house – how exciting is that?), I liked celebrating this birthday with her the best.  I liked being able to drink a Cosmo with her.  I liked being able to talk about our jobs.  About landscaping.  About our cats.  About the delayed honeymoon cruise she just took.  All without having a basketball game on in the background.

And while I often bemoan the four of them growing up so fast, I’m really enjoying birthdays with Nick and Katie as adults.  They’ve been just as fun as their birthdays from the past, especially for me.

It’s still March – so I can still wish my beautiful niece happy birthday.  And both of us can cheer on KU together. 

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, Happy Birthday Katie!

Back from Hiatus, With New Stories to Tell

27 Mar

I apologize! 

In the front of the house: the vinca vine by the birdbath and my begonia bushes will be popping up again soon!

I was doing so well with my blog, gaining subscribers, getting good comments, keeping posts going and most importantly, receiving positive encouragement and cheers from my nephews and nieces.  Then the holidays hit.  And I was busy at work.  Just life stuff.  Then 2011 came and I made a New Year’s resolution to get this going again.  Well things were just so busy for me, but that’s no excuse.  I miss doing this.  I miss remembering the good times with Nick, Katie, Ian and Elyse.  And I miss sharing those memories. 

I think it was the weather.  It has been so cold, snowy and miserable over the last many months, maybe I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – I think I had many of the symptoms at one time or another from November up until last week.   Maybe it induced writer’s block.   

Whatever the reason, despite today’s cold weather again, we’ve had enough pretty days to know that Spring is just around the corner.  My trees, shrubs and flowers are starting to pop up and bud. 

So I’m picking my blog up where I left off.  I hope you’ll pick back up with me and follow along with my adventures of The Do’s & Don’ts of Aunting!

“Do” Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

25 Nov

Back Row: Grandpa Jeff McWilliams, my Uncle Terry McWilliams with Iggy, Grandma Flo (Florence) McWilliams, my Mom (Joan McWilliams Johnson). Front row: my Aunt Mary Ann McWilliams Suppes, my Uncle Mike McWilliams and my Uncle Larry McWilliams

While this blog is about my adventures and escapades with my nephews and nieces, I have wonderful memories of my own aunts and uncles and how special each of them were to me growing up and how they are still very much-loved and respected.  I could go on and on about my experiences as a niece with each of them, but there are too many special stories with each to cover them all in just one post. 

Suffice to say that on the occasion of this week being Thanksgiving, I’m thinking about them and of all the wonderful times we had over the years on the holidays, especially when Grandma Flo was still alive. 

Mom and I were talking the other day about the Thanksgiving memories we have made for Nick, Katie, Ian and Elyse.  I hope that when they get older and have their own families, and we quit having Thanksgiving day together, they’ll remember the aroma of the freshly basted turkey in the oven, the taste of the cranberry-water chestnut dressing my Mom makes, the elegant table that we set using either Mom’s exquisite Haviland china or my simple but elegant Fitz & Floyd china.  And what’s special is that all four of my nephews and nieces will be here together along with my sister, my brothers, my sister-in-laws and now my nephew-in-law.

One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories when I was a little girl and a niece was when we would go to Eskridge, Kansas to either my Uncle Mac’s (McWilliams) house/farm or my Aunt Pansy’s.  They were the brother and sister of my Grandpa Jeff (McWilliams).  They also had another brother Frank, who was the oldest.  The four of them would alternate having the McWilliams’ Thanksgiving either in Lawrence, KS at my Grandma and Grandpa’s or as I mentioned in Eskridge. 

My Uncle "Mac" McWilliams (my Grandpa Jeff's brother) on Thanksgiving in Eskridge, Kansas (circa 1960ish)

I remember one year when Thanksgiving dinner was at my Uncle Mac’s (probably around 1960-61) and I was six or seven years old.  As we got out of the car, he came out of the house dressed as a pilgrim!  He made it so much fun and created so many memories.  He and his wife Aunt Jessie lived on this sweet little farm.  I believe they had 100 or more acres of corn, but they also had an enormous vegetable garden, and beautiful fruit trees – apple, apricot and plums.

Before dinner. all the cousins would go outside and play – either touch football for the older kids, hide n’ seek for the little kids.  I would drift away from both groups and head for the barn because I would see kittens scampering around the entrance chasing each other and chasing their own tails.  Uncle Mac saw me watching the kittens and he teased that “you can have as many as you can catch!”

Of course that was impossible as they were wild barnyard cats there to keep the mice out of the barn.  I would wait and wait until they would tucker out and fall asleep, then I would tip-toe up to the littlest grey one and quickly pick it up.  I was greeted with a horrifying hiss from the ungrateful little demon of a cat who also stuck its razor-sharp claws into my hand. 

I would quickly drop it and run back into the house where either my Mom, my Grandma or Aunt Jessie would wash the scratch, apply the orange mercurochrome antiseptic (no longer sold in the U.S. due to its high mercury content!) and put a band-aid on it.  I did this each time Thanksgiving was at Uncle Mac’s and never did catch one of those barn cats!

When  Thanksgiving was at Aunt Pansy’s it was a feast to end all feasts!  She was an awesome cook and always roasted several turkeys, her dressing was just plain yummy, she had pickled her own beets for the relish tray, had made home-made corn relish, had several bowls of different kinds of vegetables cooked to perfection.  And the pies!  Pumpkin, pecan, chocolate meringue, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, apple and more.  And of course she had fresh cream which she let me help her whip to perfection right before serving with the pie.

I remember that when everyone sat down to eat, I’d get to sit in the living room versus out in the kitchen with the rest of the kids.  Most of the adults were around the dining room table, and Aunt Pansy, my Grandma, Aunt Mary Ann and my Mom and several of my Mom’s cousins sat around the living room on the couch or in easy chairs holding their plates on their laps.   I’d sit on the piano bench next to the chair where my Grandma sat and felt very special as the only kid in the room with the adults.  Aunt Pansy and Grandma reminded me of two beautiful and charming matriarchs holding court and I enjoyed listening to the conversation, jokes, gossip and more.

These Thanksgiving trips to Eskridge ended in the late ’60s after my Grandpa Jeff died and then later when my Uncle Mac passed away.  But I still think of them fondly and the memories inspire me to create Thanksgiving memories for my nephews and nieces.  

To this day, we continue to say the McWilliams Family Grace on Thanksgiving Day that we said together back then, and which goes way back when my Grandpa Jeff was a little boy:

The McWilliams Family Grace

Oh God!
We ask thy divine blessing,
for all those gathered around this table.
And for the food which is now before us.
May we partake of it in a manner acceptable to thy sight,
May you go with us through the journey of life,
And in the end save us in Heaven.
Amen!

Happy Thanksgiving – create some memories with your family on this day!

“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.

“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.