Is it lame to use a column to send holiday greetings and recap our Christmas travels & fun?


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DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 30, 2022 – My husband Chuck Offenburger and I received so many wonderful holiday cards, photos and letters with personal messages that, yes, it seems a bit lame to send holiday greetings and recap our Christmas travels and celebrations in a column.  I’m hoping you’ll indulge me in 2022, since this is my first Christmas, in a very long time, as both a Ms. and a Mrs.

Some quick observations about what I’ve learned about my husband after marrying Chuck almost four months ago:

–His long-term memory is eerily clear about almost every interview he’s conducted for every story or column he’s written about almost every person he knows. 

–The man can write with a flourish and each word seems to be imprinted in his soul. 

–However, his short-term memory needs work. “Which button is it, again, that pre-sets the coffeemaker?”  And his skills to efficiently load our car when we are leaving town need even more work. 

That’s only a fraction of what I’ve learned from him.  Other lessons: The value of naps.  “Three squares a day.”  And getting on the road after a hot breakfast and before 9 a.m. is negotiable only when a blizzard threatens to strand you in Galesburg, IL.  (For the record, I was the one who didn’t want to be stranded in Galesburg; Chuck thought it sounded romantic.) 

Am I complaining?  Not on your life.

All of the above is a backdrop for how we RicheBurgers travel — more than 36 days and overnights on the road since our marriage Sept. 2, and we’re planning many more adventures for next year. 

You readers can now more accurately imagine our pre-travel conversations and picture us loading our gear, including that one absolute necessity — a big bag of snacks.  A family-sized bag of Twizzlers is a must.  (Note to step-daughter Janae Jaynes in Scottsdale, AZ: In November, we finally finished the mega-bag of Twizzlers your provided in July for the Offenburger family reunion trip!)

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Pouch the dog and Audrey Offenburger high-fiving at the Christmas tree. Or maybe it’s low-fiving.

The RicheBurgers’ 2022 Christmas included a bonus celebration for son Andrew Offenburger’s birthday. I’m thinking this is a tradition worth repeating.

We left Des Moines after church on Sunday, Dec. 18, driving about five hours to spend one overnight in Peoria, IL, with a planned arrival in Oxford, OH, on Dec. 19, Andrew’s birthday.

On that Monday, the historian, driver and wanna-be-tour guide (Chuck) drove us on two-lane roads from somewhere in Illinois, briefly through Indiana with a quick detour around the town square in Rushville, IN, Wendell Willkie’s hometown, where my personal driver/tour guide proudly showed me a mural of Willkie covering the side of a downtown building.  A metaphorical tip of Chuck’s hat to the mural where Willkie is tipping his hat. (Chuck thought I would be interested in seeing this mural given my lifelong work in politics.)

The countryside was beautiful to behold, and I was silent for much of this part of the drive because the little rural Iowa farm girl inside me was remembering, perhaps longing, for some of the days gone by.

I believe we were on the same route we’d traveled in October, as part of our honeymoon tour to New England and back, when I realized the now-barren trees had displayed their splendid color only a few weeks prior.  There was also a corridor of stark, stately, and barren oak trees along this two-lane road that would have made a perfect movie set if I were scouting movie locations.  My dream in a previous life.

Adding to the fun of any car trip is the Offenburger tradition of sending clever rhymes back and forth, along the way, between those traveling and those at the destination.

Chuck believes Andrew started this tradition.  Here’s the first one we received from Andrew after we passed through Farmer City, IL, describing his pooch’s anticipation of our arrival: 

There once was a dog named Pouch,
Who cuddled never vexed, nor a grouch.
On one wintry day,
With nose pressed to pane,
He stood sentinel on top of the couch,

 He waited for Chuck and for Mare,
Who ambled through midwinter’s air
Through places so glitzy
Like Normal! Farmer City!
Enroute to Oxford, so fair.

Ours back to AO began:

Grandpa Chuck’s sleigh is loaded so full,
with 40 reindeer needed to pull.
But yikes, one of the Oxford O’Burgers has been left out,
Ouch! We have no gift for cute little Pouch!

We kept writing during our stop for lunch.

Our list was long since the O’Burgers were good
Santa’s elves helped out as much as they could
Now a teaser or two about the gifts we’re bringing
One girl will have a gift of someone singing
Another will shop ‘til she drops.

One will leap through the air
And the newest driver will now make safer starts and stops
The dad who’s a prof will have warmer feet
While mom gets a kick from a gift that’s neat.

But Pouch?
Just ouch!

We arrived mid-afternoon in Oxford on Monday, Dec. 19.  Andrew’s birthday celebration was hosted by his mother, Jeffrie Story, who moved to Oxford this past summer and lives 12 houses away from Andrew and his family. 

I’ve known Jeffrie longer, by a few years, than I’ve known Chuck – because we were sorority sisters at the University of Iowa during our undergrad studies. 

She greeted Chuck and me at the door with warm hugs and this welcoming exclamation, “You two are perfect for each other. A perfect match, and I’m very happy for you.”

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Andrew Offenburger, on his birthday, with part of his family, including daughter Audrey in front, mom Jeffrie Story on the left, step-mom Mary Riche and dad Chuck Offenburger.

It was an evening of delicious food and lively conversation for almost four hours.  Andrew’s two oldest daughters Lindsay and Casey, both swimmers, left the party about 9 p.m., to get some rest from their two-a-day practices that began that morning at 8 a.m., then again at 6 p.m.  Audrey, the youngest daughter, and Pouch hung out with the adults until almost 10:30 pm!

Meanwhile, the weather forecast was getting more ominous by the hour, so we moved up our plan to open Christmas presents to Tuesday, Dec. 20.  We also made the disappointing though wise and appropriate decision to move up our departure from Ohio to Wednesday, Dec. 21, to beat the blizzard heading across the entire Midwest. 

Tuesday morning, Dec. 20, included one of those surprises that still gives me goosebumps. 

As we were touring the campus of Miami University, where Andrew teaches history, my feminist eyes spotted an Ohio Historical Marker – unseen until that very moment by my historian husband in his seven years of visits to Miami U – which noted that Elizabeth Cady Stanton had given a lecture “Our Girls” on that campus!

She spoke in the chapel of Old Main (where Harrison Hall stands today) on November 9, 1870, urging her audience to “enlist fathers, husbands, and brothers” in the “cause of women’s rights as human rights.” Cady Stanton and others had been campaigning for equality since 1848 when they first met in the Seneca Falls (NY) Women’s Rights Convention.  Stanton spoke as the guest of her brother-in-law, Miami University President Robert L. Stanton. 

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Our host family with Andrew, Maria, Lindsay, Casey, Audrey, and Nuria, the exchange student spending this year with the Ohio Offenburgers, gathered at SoHi for lunch in downtown Oxford on Tuesday.

There, Grandpa Chuck learned a new greeting from Casey, his 12-year-old granddaughter, that included folding his arms cradle-like, then rocking them in a rhythmic motion until one arm flips out around the shoulders of a person standing or sitting beside him.  When I returned to the table, Chuck’s new “moves” were a surprise hit with all of us, especially me, as captured in photos by Casey. 

As my mother Verda Riche used to say, some folks “have it” and some folks “will never have it.”  Chuck clearly “has it.”

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That’s a root beer bottle, by the way. (Photos by Casey Offenburger)

By mid-afternoon, we gathered in the family circle to open the Des Moines’ sleigh-full of presents, that included these highlights for me:

–Audrey, 7, demonstrating her new muscle massage roller on her sisters; the delight in her eyes at her holiday earrings after having her ears pierced recently, and her enthusiasm for gymnastics as she held up her new leotard.

–The ear-to-ear grin of 15-year-old Lindsay as she unwrapped Taylor Swift’s vinyl album “Red” as she read with admiration the lyrics on the album cover while lovingly hugging the album to her chest.  (Flashback for me to my love of Barbra Streisand and my first album “Funny Girl.”)

–The shriek of Casey as she opened the “Body Mist” that is the rage on Tik Tok – “Mom, how did you know I wanted this?  I didn’t tell you!  How did you know?”  The story of this purchase will be difficult to top in lotsa years to come.  (Private email me for the details, if you’re interested.)

–The uncontained exuberance of Maria as she learned an official Argentina soccer team t-shirt with her favorite player Lionel Messi’s name and number “10” was on order.  She’s been mightily cheering her home country’s victory in the World Cup.  I also enjoyed her intense study of the directions to the “Warmie” neckwrap, one of “Oprah’s 2022 Favorite Things.”

–The comment by Andrew when he opened his new shearling-lined heavy-tread shoes that may replace his Crocs.  “These will be great for running to Kroger’s.”  (We think he’ll look cool in them when he’s teaching his classes, too.)

–The tears of joy I couldn’t contain when I opened a gift from Chuck that he titled, “The Mary Riche Program to Encourage Women Entrepreneurs in Greene County,” and realized how much work he’d put into it.  It included five gift certificates to women-owned businesses in Jefferson and a “power lunch” that includes all of us at The Centennial, where I’m one of 71 women who share the ownership.

–The loving glow on Chuck’s face when he opened the framed, beautiful, school photos of his three granddaughters.  They are now interacting with him, according to this observing witness (me), with more depth and interest than ever, because they are just beginning to “get” him in ways that will continue to unfold before all of them in the next few, precious years.

And more.  Much more.

We agreed to leave for home in Iowa by 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Dec. 21.  I would drive; Chuck would read the news on his iPhone, and we would “make book,” as my mother used to say.  If you’ve read my earlier columns, you know that I also pass semi-trucks by “haulin’ ass” to get around them.  In my head, I had a plan.  Drive no more than 9 mph over the speed limit; stop only for coffee, gas, and/or bathrooms; stay focused and keep movin’ to beat the blizzard to Des Moines.

The plan worked. Plus, we had more rhymes that kept us “rollin’.”

Chuck wrote this rhyme to Andrew:

Mary Riche is “haulin’ ass”
Keeps her foot down on the gas
Blew right ’round Indianapolass
Then fueled and caffeinated real fas’!

Andrew replied:

Way to go! You’re making book!
Done with Indy, but don’t you look!
Mary’s blazin’ like an Indy racer,
Stock car pilot, or ambulance chaser.Keep on haulin’
It’s getting nippy!
Soon you’ll cross the Mississippi.

We stopped for lunch at the Kersh Café in Farmington, IL, though we didn’t linger.  My poor passenger kept smiling that adorable smile as he practically gulped down his hot beef sandwich, potatoes and gravy.  I feigned empathy, albeit poorly, for his desire to relax a bit. 

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As the driver, I kept thinking each moment we delayed was one more moment the blizzard gained on us!  I was a mad woman determined to get us back home on 28th Street before that blizzard!  (Should I be admitting this in writing since the written word lives forever?)

After lunch and the previous rhyme, Chuck wrote back:

We are in the Illinois town of Tivoli.  Spell it backwards. 

I had played that game on our route to Oxford.  (“I lov it, I lov it, I lov it!” I said, in my best imitation of the late-great Iowa sportscaster Jim Zabel.)

More from Chuck, after 10 hours on the road, at about 4 p.m., Des Moines time:

Speedy Mary has us entering
The east side of the Metro
At the same time the blizzard is
Entering the west side to let-go!

He wasn’t kidding.  We made it to our home with no time to spare.  Home sweet home.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

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We arrived in Des Moines just in time!

We drove in the garage about the same time the snow started falling with an intensity that continued throughout the night.

We hunkered down in Des Moines until Christmas Eve, when we worshipped at the 9 p.m. service at our beloved Plymouth Church. 

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Earlier that day, I made our Christmas meal of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish, hot rolls and our friend Greg Kenyon’s apple pie for dessert.  We said our grace of gratitude and blessings and enjoyed the meal as we talked about past events and future plans. 

When you’re blissed out and blessed, the topics flow easily from one to another.

On Christmas Day, it was the 15th or 16th or 11th – who knows ’cuz I don’t keep count — annual “MMR Christmas Day Film Festival.”  This year’s lineup included Stephen Spielberg’s “The Fabelman’s”, “Glass Onion; Knives Out 2,” and “Walk the Line” (because Chuck had not seen it when it debuted in 2005, and I always like to include a musical in the film festival lineup).

Spielberg’s semi-biographical film is a gem.  Beautifully directed with gorgeous cinematography, Michelle Williams owns the screen whenever she’s on camera.  Her multi-layered portrayal of the mom was heart-wrenching even when I wanted to shake her for the decision she was about to make!  All the acting was superb, especially Gabrielle LaBelle in the role of young “Stephen.”  We both gave it “two thumbs up” and have been recommending it to friends.

“Glass Onion” is like any sequel. It starts out being interesting before it fizzles.  And it fizzled for both us, though I had loved “Knives Out” for its clever story line and the cast of actors playing roles against stereotypes.  But it was a bit predictable, after the initial surprise.  Chuck said he had a difficult time following the storyline; I agreed.

Seeing “Walk the Line” again, for my fifth time (three in the theaters), was a real treat.  I’m a big Reese Witherspoon fan, both for her acting and her impressive business skills with her Sunshine Productions that she sold last year for close to a billion bucks.  Her portrayal of June Carter in this film won me over when I saw it the first time in the theater.  The Academy agreed and awarded her an Oscar for her performance.  Watching the film as “Puddin’,” the other half of our “Darlin’ and Puddin’” duo, I wondered where we would be performing next! 

I’m not a poet, and I know it.  However, this little rhyme found its way here.

Who roasts chestnuts on an open fire?
Where is a partridge in a pear tree?
Who can see Mama kissing Santa Claus?
How do I forget lyrics I learned when I was three? 

Who cares if 10 lords are a-leapin?
What if I want to shout from the trees?
Christmas is about the birth of a child
A story that’s better than all episodes of Glee. 

On Earth as in Heaven
Thy will be done.
Our voices will carry, and
We’ll live as one.

Here’s hoping you and yours are enjoying the holidays.  And here’s to 2023 – Happy New Year!

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11 thoughts on “Is it lame to use a column to send holiday greetings and recap our Christmas travels & fun?

  1. What wonderful adventures you two are having. Thank you for including us in them via script. So very happy for you both. May you both have a happy and healthy New Year!

    Bill and Kathy Mathews, Arizona

  2. Wow, Mary what a story! Have you thought about Writing for the Des Moines Register? I envision a weekly column — called “Iowa Girl!”

    David Bayless, Des Moines

  3. This is soooooooooooooooooo much better than the “Wind Family Saga” (the name she gives to the family holiday letter she writes every year)!

    Sue Wind, Jefferson and Jamaica, IA

  4. Loved reading this. You are talented, Mary! Christmas is best when shared with those you love.❤️

    Karen Lawton, Cooper IA

  5. Mary, I so enjoy hearing about your travels and adventures with Chuck. Glad you had a good Christmas and wishing you both a Happy New Year!

    Beth Jordan, Colorado

  6. Wow, another good one. Sounds like another wonderful trip. Enjoyed Mary’s version of this one, but envious of both of your talents. Wishing you a Happy New Year, with more wonderful years together. Thanks for sharing.

    Lois and Sam Kauffman, Audubon IA

  7. So beautiful and joyful, and the TRAVEL RHYMES! Can’t wait to add this to my family’s traditions. Thank you for sharing every word of this, and way to make it home right on deadline.

    Ann Klein, Des Moines ‍

  8. I feel like I’m getting to know you through your writing, Mary, and am delighted you and Chuck continue having so much fun together. I trust we’ll get to meet each other one day. I enjoyed your warm, sweet column of Christmas travel and get-togethers with dear ones. Wishing you two many more happy, safe excursions, and a very happy, healthy, New Year!

    Carol Kurtz, Athens GA and somewhere in Florida

  9. Mary, delightful! And nope, not lame at all. Right up to the harrowing ending, just beating the blizzard to your family hearth!

    Richard Gilbert, Des Moines

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