Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 24, 2010


Husband Art has thrown a lot of surprises at me this past year. Oh, he's always liked to do little things, like my birthday the year I turned 50. I've always loved Oreo cookies and Twinkies. That year, he made me a "cake" with the numerals "5" and "0" formed from stacks of the dark-brown Oreos. He filled the spaces within and around the numbers with the light-colored Twinkies. I got a good laugh out of it and it certainly satisfied my sweet tooth for a long time.

But this past May, he took surprising me to a whole new level. Knowing how stressed I was about getting ready for the journalism department's centennial in September, he made arrangements for us to go to London for a week. All he said was he had a surprise for me and to make certain I had all my schoolwork finished by a certain date. I assumed we were going to Kansas City or Topeka for a short break. He didn't tell me our actual destination until four days before we left. I hyperventilated for about five minutes, but then the anticipation of getting away set in and I began looking forward to the trip.

At Thanksgiving, he did it again, making arrangements with niece Gabriela to join us for the week. To cover his tracks and get their cooperation for part of the plan, he told our two girls he was planning a little surprise for me. Then to get me to play my role, he told me he was planning a surprise for daughter Katie's 18th birthday, which was the day before Thanksgiving.

Now he's done it again! Last year was Katie's final one in the Gold Orchestra, but she was in the group that auditioned for the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago. When the orchestra was selected, Art thought I'd enjoy both their performance and Chicago, so he secretly made plans for us to be in the Windy City during the clinic dates.

But there was more to it. Earlier this year, he and I planned to surprise our girls by making arrangements for their "adopted siblings" Nadja and Tim to fly from Germany to join us for Christmas. What I didn't know is that Art made arrangements for them to fly to Chicago rather than Kansas City. That way, they would have a chance to see some of the big city as well.

But things don't always go as planned. Instead of spending Friday flying, a bad winter storm forced Nadja and Tim to pass the day in a hotel in D�sseldorf, waiting for better weather conditions and flight openings.

Normally, Art leaves his cell phone on all the time, but he had turned it off so we could sleep in that morning. He forgot to turn it back on the next day, so we learned of the problem when he checked the flight arrival board at the airport and discovered their flight had been cancelled.

First I was upset because I was expecting to see them within minutes. Then I was worried. Where were they? What had happened?

Soon that was sorted out. But I immediately began to fret over work. The final papers for one of my classes were due at noon that same day. I had expected to spend Sunday and Monday evaluating them because final grades were due Tuesday. But there were no available flights until Sunday, so we would be driving home on Monday.

Within minutes, Art had a new scheme. He called daughter Mariya and told her we had car trouble and we wouldn't be able to have it fixed until Monday. That way, he wouldn't ruin the surprise for the girls by having to explain why we were staying longer. Then he asked her to pick up the students' papers at the university, scan them and e-mail them to me so I could grade them in our hotel room.

With the new plan in place, Art and I took advantage of the extra time in Chicago by visiting the Christkindlmarket, the Windy City's version of Nuremberg, Germany's outdoor Christmas market.

Planning is important. But it is just as important to remain open to the changes life presents. I hope our girls also have the flexibility to gracefully accept what is beyond their control. Older daughter Mariya has always been pretty laid back and seems to take changes in stride.

This hasn't always been so easy for Katie, yet she seems to be gaining an appreciation of when to go with the flow. A good example occurred that same Friday. Since we were in Chicago, Mariya and partner Lacey videotaped the high school Christmas concert in which Katie did some directing and featured singing. When she talked with Art the next day, she asked if Mariya told us she had forgotten the words in the middle of a piece sung in Spanish. A year ago, this would have bothered Katie greatly. But when she told him what happened, she chuckled and said, "I just sang a few Spanish-sounding syllables until I could remember where I was and then went on."

Friday night just before we went to sleep, Art commented that so many people need to have things carefully under control to enjoy themselves and, when circumstances change, they go into a funk. Then he surprised me again by adding a nice compliment. He said he really appreciated how quickly I reorient to new situations and, what some might see as a lemon, I see as lemonade-in-waiting.

Thinking back, there have been many times in my life when what seemed like a bad turn of events at the time led to good outcomes. Life is just too short to allow surprises - good or bad - to ruin the opportunities that come our way.

Left, Holding my 50th birthday "cake;" right, Art and I
drinking Gluehwein at Chicago's Christkindlmarket.

Left, Nadja running to greet Art at the airport; right, a surprised Katie greets Tim.

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