Teddy bear

My son-in-law, Shane, took a picture of the teddy bear with flowers from Ben’s wedding.



Grandma Lois, Teddy Bear Grandma, Grandma Strack

grandma & ollie

Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 91st birthday.  I was afraid of her when I first met her; now I miss her so much.  She was the mother to me my own mother never was.  If anyone says I did too much for my kids, I say I had two examples.  I chose to follow hers.  She loved me as her own child as well.

In 2012, Sara and our niece Lisa decided we should have an 88th birthday party for her.  She used to always reverse the digits in her birthday, and this time she couldn’t.  She wasn’t feeling great, but it was so good for her to see all of her friends and family.  A month later she had surgery for colon cancer.  The prognosis was a year or two, but she would be comfortable.  A week later she developed sepsis and was gone.

When Ben and Tom visited her in the hospital, she told Ben that all of her nurses so far were married, but she was still looking for him.  Within days either way of losing her he met Jen.  Grandma would have loved her.  Each of the grandkids has a bear named for them.  Ben decided that “Gentle Ben” should have a place of honor at the wedding, with some flowers in front of him.  It was mentioned by Pastor Tommy, so everyone would know.  (Sorry, no one took a picture, and the pictures taken by the photographer aren’t available yet.  Here is a picture of the bear, though.)  Grandma was there with us on that beautiful day.


Happy birthday, Grandma.  We miss you.

The Wedding, part 2

The reception began immediately, with guests invited to have beverages and begin games as a few pictures were taken.  The trail mix bar that was meant to be a favor became a pre-meal snack for many, but that was fine.

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The bride and groom started the food line.  Camping food-hamburgers, hotdogs, black bean burgers, potato chips.  (Catering was perfect, courtesy of Donna’s Catering.)  Everyone was able to serve themselves very quickly.  Instead of cake, Ben and Jen chose to have a s’mores bar.  They made their first official s’more as husband and wife.  (The pan on the end of marshmallows were my homemade peanut butter marshmallows.  They didn’t brown well when toasted, but did get soft and warm enough to melt the chocolate.  They were a hit!)

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The gentleman of Phi Mu Alpha serenaded the bride.

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There were the traditional first dances.

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Although music played all evening, guests chose to play games or just chat.

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Ben informed us that the guests didn’t just have to be out by 9:00, but the gates would be locked at 9:00!  So around 8 we started taking down and packing up.  The last table to be taken down was where my family was playing Settlers of Catan.  As Sara said, “They wanted us to play games!”  Of course, she won.

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The Wedding, part 1

Rick Mecklenburg, Ben’s friend and former meteorologist at Fox 17, promised clear skies and 75 degrees over a week before the wedding, even when others were forecasting rain.  Rick was right (actually, I guess it was 76 degrees.)  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

Jen’s family making centerpieces:

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It had been so crazy busy for the last week, it seemed strange to not have much to do.  Sara’s family and Anna and Nick went out for breakfast.  Junior  went to pick up a ladder and help Ben and the guys put up 100 Chinese lanterns in the trees and the pavilion.  Tom and Nick went to get the beer.  Jen’s family and friends decorated the tables.  I decided I actually did have time for a shower.

Anna and I went to River Oaks Park, where the wedding would be.  I wish I had taken pictures then of the venue.  It looked wonderful, and I never had time later.  Thankfully, a few people did.

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The chairs for the ceremony were past the pavilion, up a slight hill, dropping down, I assume to the river, beyond.  I made sure the first batch of sangria was made and ready. We moved a chair to face the audience, off to the side, and placed “Gentle Ben,”  Ben’s bear from Grandma Strack, and flowers.  This was Ben’s idea, to honor his Grandma, who passed away about the time he and Jen met.

Guests began to arrive, many stopping at the pavilion to find their seat for the reception before going to the outside seating for the ceremony.  Of course, there is always something.  Just when Ben arrived it was discovered that there was no power to the sound system.  Cords were found, working outlets were found at the far side of the building.

We were seated, the wedding party was in place, we turned to watch Jennifer, escorted by her mom and dad, walk toward us.  I turned back to look at Ben.  That grin on his face came and never left again that evening.

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The service itself was perfect.  I wish I had written things down sooner, because Pastor Tommy’s homily was so good.  The most moving part, though, was a Celtic handfasting ceremony.  As Tommy read a piece, he would wrap a different colored cord around their clasped hands.  What I remember most, now, is the question he asked each of them, “Will you cause him pain?” “I may.” “Will that be your intent?” “No.”

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Although there were several cameras, still and motion, for the official pictures, very little time was taken for picture taking.  “First look” and wedding party had already been done.  The guests were encouraged to start games and beverages while pictures were taken.  The caterer had arrived , and hot dogs and hamburgers were on the grill.



The rehearsal was at the same park we camped at, since we didn’t need as large a pavilion.  It was chilly and windy, but everyone was pretty geeked up.  Almost there!

Unfortunately, the caterer (Qdoba) was late due to a flat tire, and we didn’t realize that they had forgotten half the rice and the tortillas.  However, Nick Weber made AWESOME cheesecake for our dessert!WedPics Image 103251652WedPics Image 103300552

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After the rehearsal, we had some time for a campfire, one of the best parts of camping!

WedPics Image 103300609 WedPics Image 103300603WedPics Image 103300627 WedPics Image 103300633 WedPics Image 103300636 WedPics Image 103300642 It was a great time, now on to the big day!

Wedding Week

The week started with Ben and Jen arriving from Rochester (NY) around 2am Sunday morning.  They slept while we went to church and we met for breakfast.  I had a meeting and possible potluck for the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture-Blackbird Farm in Coopersville) I had joined, so I made a pasta salad, went to the meeting, and Tom, Ben, and Jen joined me there.  Jen had lots of vegetarian options, I only had to cook one dish, and very little cleanup.  A low key start to a hectic week.

Ben’s suit:  Ben ordered a suit online.  Good quality, but lots of alterations needed.  The pants weren’t hemmed, the vest was too tight to button, and the coat sleeves were too long.  I thought of buying lining and putting a gusset in the back, but that would be obvious.  Then I had the brilliant idea of taking the seven inches I cut off when I hemmed it, cutting it into 3 inch wide bias strips, and inserting a bias panel under the arms of the vest.  The fabric would match, and it would be less obvious.  It turned out well, but left little time for the coat.  Ben said just temporarily hem the sleeves, and do a “proper” job of it later.

Costco:  Our responsibilities were the rehearsal dinner and alcohol for the reception.  Two partial kegs would be ordered, Ben and Jen had bought a sangria in Rochester, and we got a variety of bottles and cans of different beers.  Also, ingredients for trail mix (a trail mix bar was the “favors”) and some candy to complement the s’mores bar, which was to replace the wedding cake.

Marshmallows:  Speaking of the s’mores bar, they also wanted some different marshmallows.  They had bought lime and lemon meringue online, but there is a local handmade marshmallow maker.  However, he was no longer selling at Fulton Street Market, but they were for sale at a store in Downtown Market.  I made a quick trip down and found they were only in 3 ounce bags!  So I made two batches of peanut butter marshmallows.  (Each batch, about 2 pounds!)  I didn’t make vegetarian, as that takes a variety of ingredients to replace the unflavored gelatin.

Camping:  We left on Thursday to camp.  Unfortunately, I had not packed the camper ahead of time, so I spent Thursday morning packing.  I have been writing lists and more lists for the last few months, so nothing (major) was forgotten.

I had told the family that came early to camp that I would provide supper, so I made a big batch of chili when we arrived.  Ben and Jen were with her family, who had also had a lot of arrivals that day.

Ben’s aunts and uncles and sister Anna all arrived Thursday, it gave us a chance to take a deep breath before the rehearsal morning.

Friday morning I made a trip to Meijer to get all the things that weren’t worth trying to transport to the campground.  A Meijer not set up in the usual layout made it a longer trip than it should have been!

Next post:  rehearsal, wedding day, and aftermath.

Wedding plans

A friend said to me last week, “You’re the mother of the groom this time, you don’t have much to do.”  Probably not for a traditional wedding: a rehearsal dinner and alcohol at the reception.  But of course Ben doesn’t do things quite traditionally.  First, it is a CAMPING WEEKEND.  Four days camping for some of us, two for everyone else.  In January I made 12 campsite reservations, in April two more.  I will be coordinating some of the meals that we eat together.  Jen’s family is taking care of everything else for the reception.  Of course, I still worry about everything.  I shouldn’t worry as it isn’t their first either, Jen’s sister got married a few years ago.

I have a list of things to do today: take sleeping bags to the laundromat, pick up handmade marshmallows at Fulton Street Market,  add two nights to Anna’s campsite.  Wednesday I drove to Muskegon to get a beverage dispenser for the Sangria that looks like a Mason jar.  I ordered four shawls and will return three.  Once I pick the shawl, I’ll go to the fabric store to get material to make a band and bow for my hat.  The reception is in a shelter in a different Kalamazoo County park, but the wedding is outside, so sun protection is needed!  I need to shorten Tom’s pants, and when Ben gets here Sunday, hem his pants and shorten his coat sleeves.

In 10 days I’ll post how things went, including pictures.



The perfect proposal

In less than three weeks, my baby boy is getting married.  Before I tell about the happy event, I need to describe the proposal.

Just over a year ago, Ben was still living at home, working as a sat truck engineer and photojournalist at Fox17.  He was leaving for grad school in August, Jen was looking for a job in Rochester, and had even ordered a wedding dress.  But there had been no formal proposal.  Ben can never keep a secret from her.  But she didn’t know that he had gone to a jeweler months before to work on the design of a unique engagement ring.

The first Saturday in May, he told Jen that they were meeting a group of people from Fox for a local news only private screening of “Anchorman 2” at a local movie theater.  She had been doing volunteer work in the morning, and hurried home to shower and get ready.  Ben sat down the street from her apartment for 20 minutes so they would be running late at the theater.  Being a private showing, it wasn’t on the marquee and they didn’t have to stand in line for a ticket.  As they hurried to the correct theater to take their seats, the lights had already gone down, the “previews” were beginning.

For those who don’t know, Ben’s grad school is for an MFA in film.  He had made a short film on how they met, their relationship, and even casting the gold for the ring.  In the upper part of the theater, where she would see them,  were several people from Fox.  Down below was their friends, and much of her family, and his. This is what she saw, as well as her reaction as she watched it.

After this, the house lights went up, Ben got down on one knee, and proposed. Someone didn’t bring the mike, so it stayed a private moment, until he turned around and said, “She said yes.”  Although we did all pop up above our seats to watch, even though we couldn’t hear.



The house lights went back down, so Jen could see the best wishes sent by some friends and both of her grandmas, who couldn’t be there.  It was followed by cake and punch in the theater.  The theater people were great, by the way: Celebration! Cinema at Woodland.

Two things we found out afterwards:

1) Some of Ben’s friends wouldn’t come, they didn’t want their girlfriends to see the “perfect” proposal; and

2) Jen was getting a little ticked off at Ben for not canceling his membership at the dating site.  (He’d used their correspondence for the script!)

Next:  The wedding


Searching deals for Christmas presents, I came across an unbelievable deal on a Kitchenaid stand mixer.  I knew my soon to be daughter-in-law, Jennifer, really wanted one; she was planning on putting it on their bridal registry.  I knew no one would ever find a better price, and wanted to be sure she got one, so I decided to get it for her for Christmas.  Daughter Anna said she would go in with me on it.  I also knew my oldest, Sara, had talked about wanting one.  I didn’t want her to think I had forgotten, so I asked her if she would like one.  Typical Sara, she said, “Only if it is a really, really good deal.”  It was, so I ordered two.

By the time the sale was over, I began to kick myself for not ordering one for me, too.  The week of Thanksgiving there was almost the same sale, so I went for it!  By the way, thank you Kohl’s sales, their card holder discount, rebates, and Kohl’s Cash!


I was telling this to a friend, and she said, “You raised three kids and did all that baking, and never had one?  I used mine all the time!”  Well, I no longer have the three kids at home, and don’t bake near as much as I used to, so I needed the first time I used it to be something I never had made before.  While I was thinking about Ben and Jen’s campground wedding coming up in June, I thought, “S’mores…marshmallows!”  Sara had talked about making homemade marshmallows several years ago, but since they need to be whipped for 12-15 minutes, and I have burned out two hand mixers in the past making divinity, I never wanted to try.  Now I could.

I Googled and searched Pinterest for a recipe, and decided on this one from Alton Brown.Marshmallows 011 Marshmallows 014 Marshmallows 017-001

They came out great, were not nearly as difficult as I thought they would be.  I shipped some off to Anna, Sara, and Ben.  Now, as Ben reminded me, I need to make them again without gelatin, so they are vegetarian.  So I’m researching…