Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Normal Christmas

Char and I have been home less than twenty-four hours and I have been asked at least a half dozen times, “How was your Christmas?” I always answer, “Normal.” It gets some great reactions. We spent Christmas in Normal with the family.

After landing at O’Hara my most favorite airport in the world. DOR and SILOR drove us down to SOR and FON’s in Normal where the majority of the festivities were held. As you can tell by the Christmas tree, there was no shortage of gifts. Everyone must have been very, very good this year.

But, gifts were meant to be opened. As soon as we arrived, DOR decided she and SOR should open Uncle Ted’s presents. Throughout the years, my Uncle received a meat and cheese package. Except for one year when DOR and SOR decided they should not only open his gift but also eat it. That’s the year my Uncle got a back massager. Since then it seems like we have always opened Uncle Ted’s present for him.

Another tradition surfaced on this trip - pajamas. While a new tradition for me – I have to admit I like the idea. You can read about the tradition on Desiree’s blog. You can also view what I hope becomes another tradition - the annual family portrait.

Here are the ladies sporting their PJ’s (a.k.a. – the uniform). This is a rare photograph – Desiree is laughing. It’s hard to get a picture of her when she is smiling much less laughing (okay, that’s a lie).

Then the guys had their turn. It was time to fashion how uniforms are to be worn – tucked in.

Finally, Christmas morning had arrived. At 6:00, we were awakened and told it was time to grab a cup of coffee and open stocking. That’s when Ralph almost ruined Christmas. See the stocking stuffer Char is opening? We all got one.

They were round coke bottles, shaped like ornaments. It has been a long time since I celebrated with an eight year old so I didn’t think twice before saying, “Where did you guys find these coke bottles?” I turned and looked at Desiree. Her jaw had dropped and she sat there speechless. That’s when I realized Santa, and only Santa, is in charge of stocking stuffers. How quickly we forget.

Then it was on to the gifts. SILOR is about the only guy I know who gets really excited about socks. But, he was excited.

Remote controlled items seemed to be a hit this year. Those items require batteries so Ralph, SOR, and SILOR ventured out on Christmas day (in their uniforms) to find batteries.

More gifts were handed out and that is when FON almost ruined Christmas. She knew I spend a great deal of time with a calculator so she decided to get me a new one. Only problem is she bought me the Colossal big button calculator. I had to point out I might be old and wear glasses but I’m not blind.

Finally, all our differences were settled and we could move on with the day. There were puzzles to put together. Here Char is just showing off. She is multi-tasking putting the puzzle together and talking on the phone at the same time.

Puzzle number one was complete. This lamp has been featured in the movie, ‘The Christmas Story’. One little known fact is – Char modeled for the leg lamp. Yeah, her legs are that cute.

Christmas isn’t just about fun and game. It’s also a time where lessons and skills should be shared. So, time was spent teaching and learning how to knit.

Food and drink also play an important part. FON prepared a feast for Christmas. With the amount of food she made I really thought the entire neighborhood was going to come over. No, it was just us.

After Christmas, we went out to eat at Steak and Shake. We don’t have these in Colorado so getting to go there was a first. The steak burgers were actually quite good and the orange shake reminded me of a orange ice cream bar.

For those of you that don’t know FON is a cleaner. If is a glass, a cup, or a plate is left unattended FON will rinse and place it in the dishwasher. This called for firm and immediate action on my part. My ice tea glass cannot disappear. I created my own coaster. FON would reach for my cup, see the note, and her hand would start to tremble. To her credit, she never once touched my ice tea glass but it did bother her. Next year she might get a pre-paid membership to CA (Cleaners Anonymous) for Christmas.

Back in Chicago, DOR and SILOR took us to Walkers Pancake House for breakfast. This restaurant in Wilmette opened in 1960. Char is somewhat of a crepe snob but this place had her drooling over their crepes. All they serve is breakfast but they are open from early morning to 10:00 PM.

At DOR and SILOR’s, Char and I did a little singing. The video game was similar to karaoke. This must have been a love song as I am down on one knee.

In Chicago, we stayed with our good friend Millie. Millie had family in from California, New York, and Oregon. Yet, somehow, she made room for us. They invited us out dinner with them and let us crash a few other family events. They were all delightful people who made you feel welcome. I’ve said it before but it’s so true, Millie has one of the few homes where I can truly feel comfortable and make myself at home. That is a true gift.

So, was Christmas normal? No!! It was so much better than normal thanks to SOR, FON, the kids, DOR, SILOR, and Millie. We had a GREAT time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sunday Funnies

In the west, a wedding of a man and woman of different faiths was held. A Protestant minister and a Catholic priest performed an ecumenical marriage ceremony. In unison, they proclaimed the couple husband and wife.

Afterward, a neighbor was overheard congratulating the father of the bride. “Fifty years ago this could not have happened.”

“No,” replied the father. “Religion has come a long way.”

“Religion! Who’s talking about religion? I mean a cattleman’s daughter marrying a sheep man’s son.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

The NOT So Perfect Christmas Gift

A few years back, my father in-law, Vic was living with us. On several occasions, I would call home to make sure he was doing all right but the phone would just ring and ring until the answering machine clicked on.

I would rush home, throw open the door to hear the television cranked up as loud it could go and see Vic sitting the recliner. Vic would look up, smile, and say, “Oh, hi Ralph, you’re home kind of early.” My heart would be racing, my blood pressure up, and my hands together as if they wanted to strangle him.

We would talk about why he didn’t answer the phone. The conversation would always end the same way, Vic would say, “I guess I didn’t hear it.” Well, no kidding! His hearing was bad, half the time his hearing aids were turned down or the batteries were dead, and the television was blasting away.

This gave me an idea on what to get him for Christmas. I hate shopping but I shopped and shopped until I found the perfect gift. I bought Vic the grandest of phones. It had every feature I was looking for and more. It had adjustable volume on the earpiece, an adjustable volume on the ringer, a light that would flash when the phone was ringing, a large LED display so you could see who was calling or the number you were dialing, one touch speed dialing, and a speaker phone. As an added bonus, the touch-tone buttons were slightly larger than a quarter for easy dialing. I had found the perfect Christmas gift – the deluxe Big Button phone.

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. DOR (Daughter of Ralph) was home from school, SOR (Son of Ralph) came over and we were ready to open presents. When I handed Vic my present he smiled. He unwrapped it, stared at it for a minute, then uttered those now famous words, “I knew I was hard of hearing but didn’t know I was blind.” He laid the phone down and sat there like a kid waiting and hoping the next present was something he wanted.

After the gifts were open, everyone was going about their business and I started cooking breakfast. Vic took his usual place in the recliner. That’s when I noticed the deluxe big button phone hadn't moved.

Much to her credit, Char stepped in. She took the phone out the box, hooked it up, and started showing Vic all the features the phone had. Occasionally I’d hear Vic say the words “not blind” or “pretty big buttons”.

Vic never used the phone. Sometimes the size of the gift does matter.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday Funnies

A millionaire wanted to take his money to heaven when he died, so he talked to God about it beforehand. He told God that he had lived a good life and all he wanted was to bring a little of his fortune with him. God finally agreed, but told the millionaire he was limited to one suitcase.

The millionaire decided to make the most of it. He compared every kind of currency available to get the largest amount possible into one suitcase. Finally, he decided the best he could do was to exchange his money for gold.

He died and arrived at Heaven's gate where he met St. Peter. St Peter asked him what was in the suitcase. The millionaire told St. Peter that God had given him permission to bring some of his fortune with him, as long as he could fit it into one suitcase.

St. Peter replied this was most unusual and he would have to look inside the suitcase before the man would be allowed into heaven. The millionaire opened the suitcase and St. Peter stared at the contents while saying, "Pavement? You brought pavement!”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Preaching and Hypocrisy

No, this is not a post about the church or religion. It’s a statement about this post. I’m going to get on my soapbox about something I believe in. Then write about why you should not do it. It may be a long post.

Here is the preaching.

The meeting was held at a ladies home. She ran the meeting very effectively and was a good hostess. We wrapped up the meeting and people were starting to leave when our hostess asked if I’d like another cup of coffee. While she was refilling our coffee cups, I walked over to a photo hanging on the wall. It was a family portrait taken many, many years ago. You could tell it was an old photograph – no one was smiling. I guess back then they didn’t ‘smile for the camera’. There were sixteen people in the picture but one man in the back row intrigued me.

When the lady returned with our coffee, I asked her about the picture and the man in the back row. She had found the picture years ago while cleaning out her father’s house. The man in the back row was her great grandfather. I asked what she knew about him. She turned and studied the picture. She then looked at me and relied, “All I know about him is what he looked like.” She smiled but it was one of those smiles that had sadness behind it.

I immediately thought of my father in law, Vic, and others who had some great stories but never wrote them down or recorded them. I tried to get Vic to record some of his stories on a tape recorder but he wouldn’t do it. I can still hear his words, “Nobody is interested in an old man’s stories.” Over the years, Vic had given me a lot of good advice. Some I took, some I didn’t, this is the only statement I never even considered.

I want to encourage you to write your story. Better put - your stories. Everyone has hundreds and hundreds of stories that make up their live. We need to get them written down.

Whether they are kept in a loose-leaf three-ring bind or turned into a book by a published on demand company like cafepress it doesn’t matter just have them PRINTED someway. According to the Discover Channel, we know more about people who lived during Abraham Lincoln’s time than we do about people alive in the last twenty to thirty years ago. The reason is technology. While we all like this blogging thing and using our computers, technology is changing so fast that a lot of information is lost. Back in Lincoln’s day, everything was recorded on paper and a lot of the information about their life and times is still around.

I broke my life into segments. When I leave this old world, I hope to have a number of books done telling my stories. There will be the whole Homespun Headline series which if you think about it are today’s events but tomorrow’s history and stories. There will be other books as well. Growing up Ralph – about my younger years. Raising Ralph – about getting married and raising a family. Alone with Ralph – about the empty nest. Ralph on Retirement – haven’t got there yet, hope to soon. Ralph on Fire – stories about fire fighting. Plus a few more, but you get the idea.

Some of these story are suitable for blog material, some aren't. You don’t have to post everything you write on your blog. Some of my stories will be carefully slipped into the appropriate book.

Okay now the hypocrisy.

Do not do this unless YOU want to. Don’t do it for your spouse, don’t do it for it your kids, and don’t do it for your friends. This has to be something you want to do. And the reason is simple – writing is hard work and it’s a time consuming task. If you do it for any reason besides the fact you want to – it will be become just another chore to scratch off the list. It has to be something you want to do. If it isn’t it won’t matter that much to you or anyone else.

If you think no one is interested in your stories – you might want to rethink that. Most likely there will be people, some whom may not even been born yet, that will be interested in knowing more about your life and times and hearing your stories.

Awhile back Marla put up a post about the dash. You can watch it here. Marla wrote, “I wonder what people will say about me when I am gone.” To modify that a little – I wonder what people will know about me when I am gone?

Don’t end up being a picture on the wall.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sunday Funnies

A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to ‘honor thy father and thy mother,’ she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Without missing a beat one little boy (the oldest in the family) answered, "Thou shall not kill."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Early Arrival

It’s happening again. Every year Santa selects a location he can practice Christmas deliveries. Rumor has it he makes these practice deliveries to work out any kinks so everything goes smooth on Christmas Eve.

Somehow, my cul-de-sac was chosen again. It’s probably because there is plenty of room for the sleigh.

He arrives early every morning and tapes a picture of himself on the screen door, most likely so the neighborhood kids will know he has been there.

Earlier this week Santa started leaving kids small gifts. It might be a few pieces of candy, a small toy, just a little something. This will carry the kids over until Christmas and help Santa streamline the whole delivery process.

Now I’m not going to tell Santa how to do his job but it does look like he can improve the wrapping department.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ralph On Fire - Moose Scat

The section chief I reported to walked over and started a casual conversation, but quickly got to the point. “Ralph, I’d like to ask you a favor,” he said pointing at several locations around the room, “Could you please clean those up? I think they’re revolting.”

Without hesitation I replied, “No sir, I can’t. It’s . . .”

This had been a good fire. While the fire burnt more acres than we had hoped, there were no serious injuries and no homes were lost.

In addition, many of the town’s people dropped by for updates including the man who owned the local bakery. He would show up almost daily with a huge box of pastries telling us they were leftovers. It didn’t take long before you realized he was making them special. No one in the bakery business could possibly have that many ‘leftovers’ all the time. One day it might be a box of donuts, another day cinnamon rolls, etc. He always brought more than we could eat.

After two and half weeks, the fire had been declared contained. Contained is when the spread of the fire has stopped. It would be several more weeks before the fire would be declared controlled. Usually, when a fire is contained overhead teams like the one I was on would be released. But, we were being held for our duration. This is a common practice during bad fire seasons when fire-fighting resources are in short supply. That way if another fire started we were there.

Even with the fire being contained, visits from the town people and treats from the baker continued. One day the baker showed up with a huge box for chocolate crepes filled with chocolate cream. They were great. But, like everything else he brought there were far more than we could eat.

The following afternoon walking into the room to start my shift, I saw one of my team members hanging up a sign. The sign read “Moose Scat” with an arrow pointing down. Looking down you had to laugh as you saw three chocolate filled crepes lying crisscrossed on the floor.

Most people when entering the room read the sign, looked down, and busted out laughing. Everyone except the section chief. He walked in, saw it and demanded it be cleaned up by the time he returned. This caused us to have a brief discussion whether we should clean it up or not. While he was a great guy and easy to work for we decided we needed to stand our ground.

The following afternoon the local baker walked in with his usual large box of goodies. Before we could conceal it he saw the ‘moose scat’ and busted out laughing. After a brief explanation on our part, he said he might be able to help us. He was laughing when he left.

The following day he showed up with two large boxes. One contained a huge assortment of Danish rolls for the team and the other he took to a nearby wall. He gently placed the box on the floor and carefully opened it. After a few seconds, he called us over to inspect his work. There on the wall hung a sign that read, ‘Caution! Cow pies below.’ Looking down you saw two realistic looking cow pies. They were made out of chocolate dough. Once again, the baker was laughing as he left.

When the section chief arrived, he went ballistic. That just strengthened our resolve to stand our ground, the moose scat and cow pies would stay.

Then things took a turn for the worst. Every time you entered the building, you had to look around because new droppings had arrived. Milk Duds were elk droppings. Chocolate covered raisins were transformed into squirrel scat.

Creativity knew no bounds. Within a few days, several variations of the scat theme appeared including that of a mountain lion with a portion of a fire fighters glove in it.

That is when the section chief I reported to walked over and started a casual conversation, “Ralph, I’d like to ask you a favor,” he said pointing at several locations around the room, “Could you please clean that up? I think they’re revolting.”

Without hesitation I replied, “No sir, I can’t. It’s not my . . . crap”

Three days later, our replacement team arrived. Before they took over we straightened up our work areas and each person removed the scat pile(s) they had placed in the room. It wasn’t the replacement teams’ crap either.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sunday Funnies

One afternoon a little Joey was playing outdoors using his mother's broom as a horse. He played and played until it got dark. When he went inside, he left the broom on the back porch.

While cleaning up the kitchen his mother realized her broom was missing and asked Joey if he had seen it. Joey told her he left it on the porch. She asked him to go get it. Joey said it was dark outside and he was afraid of the dark. His mother smiled and said "The Lord is there too, don't be afraid."

Joey opened the back door and said "Lord since you're out there, please hand me the broom."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

First Scoop

It snowed earlier this Fall. Snow covered the grass and melted within a few hours. That’s my kind of snow.

This morning a little before 6:00 I took the 'official' first scoop of the ’08 – ’09 season. The gray stuff is concrete – it is suppose to be there.

It’s going to be a long winter. I’m going to hibernate, see you in the Spring.

Monday, December 01, 2008


If you read Cliff’s blog or his column in the Midwest Producer, you know he has this whole word thing going. He can string words together in humorous, informative and thought provoking articles.

He’s also an accomplished public speaker. I have heard him give formal speeches and impromptu speeches both are good. He has a way of connecting with the audience.

But during our Thanksgiving trip to Tekamah, I learned when it comes to one on one communication he . . . well . . . he has room for improvement - at least with me. More than one conversation started with the words, “Didn’t I tell you that we were. . .”

Fortunately, only one incident was a little embarrassing. Unfortunately, it involved two hundred people and God.

We arrived at Tekamah and met Cliff on the lane to the farm. He was heading to Omaha where his church was helping the Omaha Baptist Church celebrate their 150th anniversary. Cliff was also speaking at the Omaha Baptist Church. I went along for the ride, nine hours in the car getting to the farm wasn’t enough I guess.

At the church, I found a pew and sat at the outside edge. Cliff and the others from Tekamah were a few pews ahead. Shortly after the service started in walked three physically challenged people who asked if I could move in. Not a problem, I moved to the center.

We sang some songs, we had a prayer, and a few announcements were made. Then it was time for Cliff’s talk.

As usual, he did a good job of holding the audiences attention. Then members of the Tekamah choir did a very nice job of singing.

Most of the choir members went back to their pew. Not Cliff, he headed for the door. He spotted me in the church, pointed his finger (index finger) at me, and waved towards the door. He walked out, holding the door open waiting for me.

I weighed my options - they were limited. I could squeeze by two elderly people and walk right through the center of the church or I could ask the three physically challenged people to excuse me. I choose the latter.

I soon realized that given their physical limitations – this might not have been my best decision. Scripture was being read, I was standing up, the three people were doing their best to let me by - things were in motion. One of the three asked in a rather loud voice, “Where are you going?” I whispered back, "I don't know."

I finally cleared the pew and walked through the door where Cliff was waiting. Cliff looked at me said, “Didn’t I tell you that we were leaving right after we sang?” “No” came out of my mouth. However, the words going through my head were more along the lines of, “Yeah Cliff, you told me – that’s why I was sitting right in the center of two hundred people!”

NOTE TO SELF: When attending public events with Cliff – wait for him outside.