Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Great Memories and Great Stories

As we sat down this year to write our Christmas letter, we felt the itch to keep with tradition and yet “kick it up a notch” as Emeril would say. We started our letter writing 10 years ago when we moved to TX as a way to keep up with folks-- our letters have typically summarized the previous year’s events and happenings; celebrations or learnings. We believe however, that it is also important for families to remember and cherish memories and stories and share them with others.

We approach our 25th wedding anniversary in June 2009, and in keeping with our Christmas tradition to be reflective and thankful for the many blessings we have received, we thought it would be interesting for us and challenging for you, to try and pick the most memorable moments from our 25 years together. Now, here’s your part in this endeavor. After reviewing our top 10 stories, vote on your favorite three stories. We started this process with more than 50 ideas, and the ten stories below are the ones that have the most meaning to us. We’d like to know what you think. So here are our greatest memories in no particular order. We will keep the polls open until January 15, 2009 and then we’ll tell you which three are our most cherished.

1. It’s October 16, 1980 at Suburban Racquetball in Rockville, our friends Dick and Marlene Schroeder (Dick working at the College of St. Benedict with Steve and Marlene working with Anne at the St. Cloud Hospital) arrange a “blind date” for us to play racquetball (after months of trying). Anne plays in blue shorts and t-shirt with a matching headband and Steve has long hair and is quite thinner than today. After the match (which Steve won to Anne’s frustration – she’s sooooo competitive) we talk for hours upstairs over a burger. Steve tells Anne years later that he knew he was going to have a significant relationship with her from this very first meeting.

2. It’s May, 1997, Steve is just finishing ten years at the University of St. Thomas and Anne is finishing her seventh year running her company, Market Strategies. We’ve lived in St. Cloud for 25 years. Anne is recruited for a position at a company called VHA in Dallas, TX. With lighting speed, we reach a decision to uproot our lives in MN and move to Dallas. Anne packs her bags and leaves to start her new job, leaving Steve behind to handle the whole pack and move from our St. Cloud condo.

3. It’s Christmas 1983 and after living together for several years (renting a house), Steve comes into the kitchen one evening and says to Anne, “I think we should get married,” to which Anne inquires, “why?” “Because I love you and I think you love me, and it just feels right. What do you think?” Anne says, “that sounds good but I’m not wearing a long white dress or a veil.” We sold everything each of us owned and started anew.

4. It’s 1980 and Anne and Steve are living in Kutzmann Addition in Sartell, MN. Anne has this brainchild to start a gourmet club with several other couples. For twelve great years, we took turns planning and cooking—and celebrated more than 48 meals together –many of them from around the world, and several combined with winter getaways and always contentious games of Trivial Pursuit and Phase 10.

5. In 1994, good friends Tom Moore and Cindy Faye Johnson (from our gourmet club) purchased land on an island in northern Minnesota and built a log cabin. It’s called Timberlake. We have managed to make an annual pilgrimage to Timberlake almost without exception, (except this year!) – to regroup, reenergize, fish, read, tell stories, fish, play Skip-Bo, cook, fish, cook fish, work on island projects, fish, take naps, cook some more and relax with good friends. To this day, our annual pilgrimage to Timberlake continues to be a special time on our calendar.

6. It’s all about surprises! While Anne has been the “Master of Birthday Surprises,” especially for Steve’s 30th, 40th, 50th, and most recently 55th (she veered from the 10-year program), Steve pulled a good one on her 50th by secretly planning with her boss a fictitious Las Vegas meeting, where unbeknownst to her was a weekend of golf lessons with Tiger Woods’ ex-coach, Butch Harmon. Steve felt the need to do something pretty outrageous to top Anne’s Pebble Beach trip for Steve’s 50th.

7. Our two favorite Caribbean islands are St. Maartin and Aruba, two Dutch islands that have given us some of our best quiet times together. St. Maartin was our honeymoon island, and Aruba has been our more recent escape. Both islands give us our favorite pastimes (other than golf) – great beaches, good food and gambling. We recall getting fresh baguettes, gouda cheese and Diet Coke to make a great lunch break from sunning by the ocean. Our other memory is finding a great restaurant, and then heading to a casino to win back our dinner money. They’ve been one of the few vacations where we don’t golf.

8. We loved playing in our club’s couples golf championships and we were fortunate to have won two of them. It was always a fierce competition between a group of couples, and for many years we were always in the hunt. Our final win was most memorable – Steve hurt his back on one of the first couple of holes and held it together through the round, and Anne came through with her best round ever at the club.

9. It’s April, 1996, and we’re at Augusta National (the Masters for you non-golfers!) for the very first time with friends Tim and Mary Schroer. We fly to Atlanta and drive over four hours to our hotel in Greenwood, SC (still an hour outside Augusta) --just a bit longer than the “quick drive” we had anticipated. Our first view of the course was all the azaleas in bloom on the 13th green. We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Wednesday Par 3 tournament with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and a young (amateur) Tiger Woods playing together. Steve got Tiger’s autograph on his Master’s ticket and Anne shot a whole roll of the pairing; the best photo one is of them coming off the final green--the negative is locked away.

10. Both of us have had hole-in-ones (Steve-1994, and Anne-1998), and we were lucky enough to witness each other’s. They were both at the St. Cloud Country Club, and Anne’s was on the last round of golf we played there before we moved to TX.

Remember, like the recent presidential elections, it is important to vote. So vote early and vote often for your favorites and think about sharing some stories of your own.

We’ve also included some of the other stories in this blog that didn’t make our top 10. Scroll down to read more.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Anne & Steve

Racquetball weekends

We both played in a number of competitive racquetball tournaments over the years. They usually were weekend long events, playing in multiple brackets, singles and doubles, and hanging out watching the other players for a whole weekend. Some were out of town, some local, and most of them in the winter. We enjoyed good camaraderie with fellow athletes and saw some very good competition. Outside of the state level events, one of the biggest regional events was a Valentine's event in Willmar, MN. That club had a court with two glass walls, so viewing of the final events was excellent. You always knew if you got to play in that court that you were in a good match and did well to get that far. Steve used to play doubles with 3 other big guys, and it was fun to watch them all bounce around the court.

Wild game feed

We spent a lot of time in racquetball clubs in our early years. One club, Suburban Racquetball, hosted lots of member events and tournaments. One of our favorites was the Wild Game Feed. Once a year, all the guys at the club who hunted brought the fruits of their labors and cooked a huge meal for the members. Venison, duck, rabbit, pheasant, bear, you name it, they cooked it. Steve was in his glory enjoying all the interesting dishes. Anne just pretended to like the wild game.

The Boston Sea Party

One of our favorite early haunts was a now defunct seafood buffet in MPLS called "The Boston Sea Party." We used to love going there, and eat crab legs until we couldn't even look at them any more. The first time Anne met Steve's sister Sara was over dinner there. Steve still laughs at how much seafood the two women ate. They used to let you eat the raw bar and the hot bar first where we mostly ate shrimp and crab, and then they served you a lobster on top of that. No wonder they went out of business. We liked it so much, it was where we had dinner the night of our wedding.

The old Buick

During Anne's first job at the St. Cloud Hospital, her boss gave her some good-natured grief about her beat up '66 Impala, and offered to sell her (cheap) his used Buick LeSabre, a huge blue tank with brocade seats. Not the hot car a 23-year-old yearns for, but it certainly got the job done. Obviously, it did not have front wheel drive and we had a sharp right turn (around a wood fence) to an uphill gravel driveway to our garage. On icy winter days, Steve and Anne often took turns trying to get enough speed to get around the corner and up the hill. If unsuccessful, the car often slid back down the hill into a snowbank. Anne would cut the corner a little sharply, and often sideswiped the fence. We used to laugh so hard trying to get that heavy car up the icy slope and were afraid we'd go too fast and go through the back of the garage!

Tiger Woods

One of the most difficult autographs in sports is Tiger Woods. Several years ago, when we attended the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Steve was on a mission to get autographs from all 31 of the 32 qualifying players in attendance (Phil was absent). With both Anne and Steve spaced apart and poised in strategic positions near the 18th green, we waited for hours with other spectators for Tiger to walk to the clubhouse. Row of fans were pressed up against the retaining fence, and both Steve and Anne were in the front row. As Tiger finally made his way up the walk, a woman next to Steve screamed that she was being trampled by crowds behind her, and Tiger stopped to sign her memorabilia. Too bad for Steve. Tiger moved further down the fence, and just as he stopped in front of Anne, he was handing a cap back to a young kid. His hand was empty, and Anne set the flag right in his hand. Unbeknownst to Tiger, he was signing a 2000 Pebble Beach US Open Flag of a tournament he won. It was a great coup!

Furnace explosion

During our stay in Sartell, MN, we rented a house in the country that had a wood burning furnace. In one of the final months of our stay, during a particularly cold stretch of winter, when we heard a loud rolling rumble and kind of a large bang. it turns out our furnace had backfired and blew black, greasy soot all over everything in the whole house, including things in cupboards. We had to wash, and dry clean everything in the whole house - curtains, carpets, clothes, furniture --what a mess!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Steve's first Easter with the Theis family

When Steve and Anne were just dating, Anne invited Steve to her house for Easter with her family. Anne was cooking, and Al, Kathie and Terri arrived first. Al didn't feel well, so he went upstairs to lay down. Steve arrived and the other four had Easter dinner without him. Al came down later, looking ashen, and collapsed on the floor. Fortunately Anne lived across the street from the hospital, so the four loaded him into the back seat of the car and drove him to the ER. While loading him in the car, Anne introduced Steve to Al. Al had a bleeding ulcer and could have died. Steve took great care of Kathie and Terri in the ER waiting room while Anne, employed at the hospital, hounded the ER staff for updates. It was the moment when Anne knew Steve "was the one."

Koller family reunion and auction

At a Koller family reunion a number of years ago, they created a family auction, where people could bring treasured items, white elephants or things of importance to the family to auction off to the relatives. Funny money was created, and one of the outgoing cousins served as the auctioneer. People brought really great items, and there were many stories to go along with them. Anne made Steve's late grandma's fudge recipe and put it in a coffee can just like she did. Her older brother snapped up the treasured sweets. Steve made a print of one of our prized golf photos and wrapped it as a surprise item, with the message "anyone who knows us will love this!" Steve's aunt Jane's husband, a golfer, got the item. This worked so well, we replicated the event at a Theis family reunion in St. Cloud several years later, with similar success. I still remember cousin John getting some of grandpa Joe's fishing rods and Aunt Kathy finding an old picture of grandma Tillie's that she had been looking for.

The Triple D

We are fans of the Food Network program, "Diners, Drive Ins and Dives," so when we travel, we make it a point to seek out the local joints featured on the show. We hit several great ones in San Diego while at the US Open at Torrey Pines --a local Mexican restaurant with great authentic dishes and homemade tortillas. We also went to another diner that had humongous breakfast skillets and supposedly the greatest cinnamon rolls (they were out when we got there). We also tried to have breakfast at one in Santa Fe recently, but they were closed for Thankgiving week.

The two-pound lobster

There used to be a little supper club called Portside on the Mississippi River that we enjoyed on special occasions. One time Steve made a reservation for one of our anniversaries (we can't remember which one) and we went out for dinner. The special for the evening was what they called "a two-pound lobster." It was the biggest lobster we had ever seen (or eaten) and it was fabulous! We still laugh about it...

Lee Trevino and the US Open

Following our attendance at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, where we had a wonderful time, we were sitting at the San Diego airport waiting for our flight back to Dallas. As the Dallas flight unloaded, Steve looked up and saw a quiet, unassuming older man walk by us. He looked startled, and said, "I think that is Lee Trevino!" He said, I don't have anything for him to sign. Anne said, "I have your British Open book in my purse." He said, "run, go get him!" Anne tentatively chased him down the terminal and just before he got to security, caught him and got him to autograph the book. He was friendly, gracious and willing to sign the book...

Gordie and Jim Beam

For years, we collected Jim Beam car decanters, after acquiring a large collection of them from Steve' dad, Gordie, who had collected them for years. We got a tip that a Wisconsin auction was going to include a significant number of decanters. We went with Gordie and just had a blast, bidding on a variety of great cars and adding to our collection. We recently divested of the whole collection, but have fond memories of how we acquired it.

The Minnesota Twins and the World Series

We had great fun experiencing the Minnesota Twins winning both the 1987 and 1991 World Series. We had World Series parties for many of the games, complete with all our Homer Hankies and memorabilia displayed. The crowning glory - when Steve's brother-in-law gave him tickets to game 7 of the 1991 series against the Atlanta Braves (on his birthday!) He and brother-in-law Kerry sat down low on the first baseline, just down from Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. How often can you see your team, at home, on your birthday, Game 7 and they win! To top it off, a few months later, we saw a fisheye lens shot of the stadium from that game, and found the two guys in the photo. We of course acquired the print.

The Holly Ball

One year, in the mid 80's we got all decked out for the annual hospital charity event, the Holly Ball. Steve was in a tux, and Anne in a ivory dress and hat. The event also included a silent auction and raffle fundraiser. It was a great event, and at the end of the evening, they announced that Steve and I had won the grand raffle prize - a trip to New York, which we wrangled into a first-time trip to Las Vegas instead.

The Lightning at Hazeltine, and Payne Stewart

While we have great memories of watching one of our favorite golfers, Payne Stewart, win the US Open at Hazeltine, his victory (and his later autographing of a Hazeltine pin flag for us), was marred by our brush with lightning during the tournament. About 50 feet from us, six people were hit by lightning, and one person died, when a sudden thunder storm rolled in over the hill and stranded us and thousands of spectators.

The Invitationals

We loved having guests join us for our country club golf invitational’s. Usually it involved Steve’s sister Sara and husband Kerry, spending a wild weekend with us golfing and partying. The country club set were usually in peak form, and it included a Calcutta and lots of food, drink and entertainment.

Losing our Car Keys at the Tree Farm

Christmas in MN for us always included cutting our own fresh tree. We usually planned our trip for a Saturday, and headed out to find a local tree farm and stomp through the cold and snow searching of the perfect tree. One time, after evaluating acres of trees, and finally sawing down our selection, we got back to our car to discover Steve had lost his car keys somewhere on the farm. We traipsed back through the snow on what we thought was our path to where we had cut the tree, and luckily found the keys down in the snow.

Driving to Captiva

One time, while heading to a meeting on the island of Captiva, our travel agent booked us through the Tampa/St. Petersburg airport and said it was a short drive – not! Our flight landed about 11 at night, and so we headed off to the island. We drove, and drove, and drove for what seemed like forever, across Sanibel, then to the end of Captiva, in the dark, with no cell phone, no signs, and almost no lights until we arrived about 4:30 in the morning. Trip from hell… nice island though.

The Blizzard

We’ll never forget the Christmas trek to Iowa City to visit Anne’s sister Terri, Jeff and Harry. We thought we could brave a little snow in Anne’s Mazda. Ha! A six-hour drive turned into a 24-hour nightmare in blinding snow and ice that ended about halfway when we luckily snagged the last hotel room in the small town of Waverly, IA. We did finally arrive a day later.

Getting Bread

One Christmas in the late 80s, it was about -70 below with the wind chill outside. The only car that started was our old ’66 Chevy Impala that was plugged in out in the snowbank. Anne’s parents loved the homemade bread from the monks at St. John’s University so we decided to brave the cold and pick up bread before heading home for the holidays. Mind you, this was before cell phones, and it was dark, snowy, and there was hardly a car on the road. It was quite a hairy experience.

The Woodpile

We often thought we would live a more bohemian lifestyle when we were younger. That included chopping cord after cord (after cord) of oak and regularly stoking a woodstove, often in the middle of the night. Occasionally that included a hike out to the woodpile in -50 degree weather and knee-deep snow.

A Place in the Woods

One of our favorite getaways, after Anne’s long fall college golf season, was heading up near Bemidji, MN for a long weekend at a private little resort called “A Place In The Woods.” The spectacular fall colors, the quiet lake, and the romantic little cabins with jacuzzi’s were a pleasant break from the action.

Starting over

It’s January, 2008, and Anne wakes up one morning and says: “I’m ready.” With my eyes barely open, I inquire, “ready for what?” “Ready to change my lifestyle, ready to eat differently and exercise more. I roll my eyes and think to myself, “what’s this going to mean?” Anne shares her plan; eating mostly raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and lean protein. Exercising and weightlifting 5-6 times a week. “All the while, I am thinking, this is going to kill me.” I say, “I’m just along for the ride”. Twelve months later and about 90 pounds lighter, we’ve become more focused and committed to being healthier with this one life that we have to live --with our new, improved bodies.

Packer/Viking Monday night football surprise

One other favorite surprise was taking Steve to a Green Bay Packer/Minnesota Viking Monday-night football game in Green Bay for his birthday. He didn’t know where we were going until we got to the gate in Chicago. It was cold, raining like cats and dogs, but thankfully we had box seats so enjoyed the nail biter from inside. His favorite team won! Since it was a last minute trip, we couldn’t get a hotel room less than an hour away. Soaking wet from the rain, we had a long, dark, cold drive to our hotel at 2 in the morning.

Eating seafood in Hartford

One of our favorite golf (tournament) trips was to the Greater Hartford Open. We also spent a hot, steamy day at the Senior Open in Salem, MA. We stayed in a small town on the outskirts of Hartford, CT, and our best memory is finding this seafood restaurant that had the largest and meatiest shrimp cocktail, and these amazing fried shrimp and scallops. Some of the best we've ever had, other than a restaurant in Virginia Beach. We ate there twice and took leftovers so had our fill of seafood all week.