Tag Archives: Family

“Do” Live in the Moment

11 May
Elyse Johnson - Bishop Miege Graduation

Elyse proudly holds her diploma!

So, my youngest niece, and the youngest of my four nephews and nieces, graduated from high school yesterday. I’m so proud of her as she heads off to KU with scholarship in hand! But it’s so bittersweet as with each year she gets older, it’s each year, month, day that I’ll see less and less of her. Just like it has been with Nick, Katie and Ian. When they were all young, I’d get to be with all of them practically every weekend and in some instances more often. Can an Aunt have empty-nest syndrome? Oh most definitely! I know they still love me but there’s only so much time: they have jobs, responsibilities and now with my great-niece Laura, even children of their own.

Ian Elyse and Joanie

My nephew Ian, Elyse and my sister-in-law Joanie.

Elyse is always such a ray of sunshine, always fun to shop with, go out to dinner with. She’s a magnet for energy and happiness. You cannot NOT have fun when Elyse is around. Yesterday her graduation was fun, she was smiling and cutting up, marching in and out of graduation. She lives in the moment and the future, and while the past has happy and certainly sad memories for her, she moves on, keeping all of us in the moment as well.

The picture/poem below is something I put together for the “family ad” in her yearbook. They are all favorite moments I have had with Elyse. From making her that funky puppy dog costume for her kindergarten Christmas pageant, to her beautiful Cotillion photo, they all bring a smile to my face. I’m so proud of her for the young woman she’s become, so proud she’s decided to go to my alma mater and become a Jayhawk and so proud I’m her aunt and she’s my niece. Congratulations Elyse, I love you so much!

Elyse Johnson Yearbook Ad

The yearbook “ad” or tribute for Elyse.

“Do” Embrace Being a Great Aunt

27 Apr
Laura at her 1st Birthday Party.

Laura at her 1st Birthday Party.

I don’t know how I feel about being called “Great Aunt” — it seems so old, like I should be in my late 80’s or early 90’s or something, sitting in a rocking chair and knitting blankets or something.  And hopefully that’s decades and decades off (and hopefully I won’t be knitting blankets)!  But what I do know is what an absolutely precious, adorable, beautiful, smart and happy great niece I have with Laura Elizabeth Smith who turned “1” yesterday.

It seems like only yesterday that I was cutting off Barbie hair with Laura’s mother Katie when Katie was little — or going Easter egg hunting in the rain at Powell Gardens. Since her arrival one year ago, Laura has truly changed our family dynamics.  She arrived at a time when we needed joy and happiness, and she has brought that and so much more! My sister and I now have “great” added to our former title of Aunt.

My mother is not quite comfortable with Great Grandma, so I have been calling her GG. Yesterday when Mom signed her birthday card to Laura, she decided to embrace being a Great Grandma, and signed her card Great Grandma Joan. I still have trouble resigning myself to the fact that my brother Jeff is a Grandfather (since he’s a golf pro, we call him “Grandpro”) and my sister-in-law Lucy is a Grandmother. And they are wonderful grandparents, just the best. But that’s not surprising as they’ve been wonderful parents.

My niece Katie, my great niece Laura & my nephew-in-law Randy

My niece Katie, my great niece Laura & my nephew-in-law Randy

And I’m truly thankful and impressed at my nephew-in-law Randy! He’s a terrific husband to Katie and just an awesome and involved Daddy to Laura. So glad he’s part of our family.

Laura is such a special (and did I say beautiful?) little girl, and I am so proud to be her great aunt. There I said it! Great Aunt Sheree. I really don’t care what she calls me or what my title is, I just know how much I love her and how wonderful she is.

And while I’ll still be posting articles about adventures and life moments of my grown-up nieces and nephews — Nick, Katie, Ian and Elyse, I can now add Laura. And I’m confident I’ll have many stories to tell, as I intend to spoil and love her as much as I can, because after all, that’s the definition of an aunt, regardless of the seniority level.

My brother Jeff (Grandpro to Laura) sitting on the front step. No words are needed to show the love between these two!

They Do Grow Up and Turn 30 One Day

3 Nov

On November 1, the oldest of my four nephews and nieces, Nicholas Michael Johnson, turned 30. Can that be true? It makes me sad for me, happy for him, but where did the time go? When he was born I was living in Chicago and I was so sad that I wasn’t home to see him that very day about 30 years ago. But I came home for Thanksgiving that year and boy did he capture my heart when I held him and looked into his big blue eyes. One of my very first posts on this blog was about coming home thereafter about every six weeks so I could see my nephew. As he started to grow up and began talking, he thought my name was Chicago, because people around him would say, “Sheree’s coming home from Chicago,” or when “Sheree gets here from Chicago…”

So when he saw me, he would run into my arms saying, “Chicago! My Chicago’s home!” It was. Absolutely. Precious.

My oldest nephew Nick turns 30.

Nick turns 30!

There are so many memories of wonderful times with Nick, going to restaurants, doing fun things around Kansas City, Thanksgivings, Christmas Eve’s, other birthdays, a few trips we took together and so much more (you can read about many of them here). Now he’s all grown up and working in a job where he travels to London several times a year. Yes, he’s been grown up for awhile, but something about him turning 30 sort of made it official for me.

He’s become very successful, a “continental traveler” and he’s now a wonderful Uncle himself (with my new great niece Laura, now six months, but that’s another blog post in the making!). I love discussing business with him, he’s like a professional confidant. He’s smart. He’s good looking. He’s sweet. He’s funny.

Last night everyone came over to the house to celebrate his 30th Birthday. Here’s a picture of his cake I had made. On it is a picture of him and my Mom, and a few iconic symbols of some of the things I love about Nick, places he’s been, things he does, places we’ve been together. He’s off again this coming weekend for a couple of weeks to London, with a possible side trip to Dublin or Paris.

They do grow up so fast, time does fly, so do treasure them all you can. Happy 30th Nick, I love you and am so proud of you!

A Quick Update

7 Apr
It's a Girl! My Niece Katie is going to have a baby, so I'm going to be a Great Aunt!

It’s a Girl! My Niece Katie is going to have a baby, so I’m going to be a Great Aunt!

I’m happy to get back to blogging.

Several things have happened in the last two years that slowed me down from writing (job changes, long hours), or kept me from being in the frame of mind to write (my beloved Uncle Mike and Uncle Larry both passed away within six months of each other) or in the big scheme of things writing a blog was just not as important as day-to-day life and living.

The biggest and saddest thing that happened was losing my beloved brother Tim, who passed away on January 15, 2013. He loved my blog, he loved reading about the adventures I wrote about his children (Ian and Elyse) and his nephew and niece (Nick and Katie). He was my first email subscriber. He would make comments on my posts. I didn’t really want to continue without one of my biggest fans.

But I realized today I needed to resume writing this. Because I attended my niece Katie’s baby shower. Yes, I’m going to be a GREAT Aunt!

Katie with a pink blanket I gave her for my new great niece. When Katie was born, I gave  her a similar pink-crocheted blanket which she still has!

Katie with a pink blanket I gave her for my new great niece. When Katie was born, I gave her a similar pink-crocheted blanket which she still has!

Elyse sitting by my side as I was snapping a few pictures of Katie opening her gifts, I promised myself I would come home tonight and write this and commence writing my aunt blog again. Now I have a new little person coming in May to write about, plus I have missed so many stories and accomplishments of my four nephews/nieces I should have been telling.

So I will not only be writing a few new stories but going a little into the past as I  have done with many of my previous posts to play catch-up on a few items which I hope you’ll enjoy reading about. Regardless, they will give me joy writing about them.

Do Remember 9/11 and Give Thanks to the Ones You Love

13 Aug

Sardinia is very hilly, this is a view on a ride we took on the island.

Ten years ago about this time of the year, my Mom and I were planning a trip we would be taking in September to Sardinia and then Rome, Italy and I was so excited. It would be the first time back to Italy after having gone to school there for a semester in 1975, and then having spent a very wonderful 10 days there a couple of years later.

I wanted to show Mom all the places, sites, ruins, churches, museums, restaurants, streets and more that I had experienced in college, and we were eagerly looking forward to shopping for that upcoming Christmas holiday  for the family, especially my nephews and nieces.  As we got closer to leaving early in September, Katie (who was about 16 years old at the time) would kiddingly say to her Grandma and me “will you bring me back a black leather coat?” 

A view of the resort we stayed out in Sardinia

We first went to Sardinia for 4 days, then we were to spend another 6 days in Rome.  We had really been enjoying the trip so far, and we were staying in a lovely place right on the water in an inlet area near a yacht club, restaurant and shopping area.  I was strolling along the dock late on the third afternoon, and as I headed back to our hotel, I saw a woman I had met from New York who was with my tour group. She was frantic and walking rapidly towards me and said, “did you hear the news? A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”  She asked me if I had seen her husband, and I hadn’t, and she said we’d talk later at dinner. 

I tried to comprehend what she meant.  Was it a small plane, how did it happen, was anyone hurt, etc. I went back to our room where my Mom had been reading, and I turned on the TV, flipping the channel to find CNN International or BBC or something that would have the news from New York.  Our hearts sank as we saw what had happened, and as we were watching, shortly afterwards another plane went into the second tower.  We were shocked, horrified, saddened beyond belief, scared and wanted to be at home with the rest of the family as we saw the Twin Towers collapse and cried as the third plane hit the Pentagon, and the fourth crash into the rural Pennsylvania field.

Here's a cute picture of my Mom in Sardinia on 9-10-01, the day before 9-11 happened.

I tried to call home, but the lines were all tied up. The tour group met before dinner and updates were given – no international flights were leaving, so we couldn’t go home, but we could still go on to Rome and continue the planned activities until we could get a flight out.  We flew out the next morning for the hour or so flight to Rome, and then checked into the Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto.

The hotel and the area was on high alert with police and Italian army guarding the hotel as the Excelsior was up the street from/next to the American Embassy.  We finally were able to make a call back home and while everyone in KC wanted us to come back right away, Mom and I were stranded with the tour group until international flights could resume again.   All the plans we had for the trip went out the door as we stayed riveted to the television watching the news.  On the third day I said to Mom that we couldn’t just sit in the hotel room all day again, that we should go on and see and do some of the things we had planned on our itinerary.  But the Roman authorities and the U.S Embassy were telling Americans to not take tour buses and to stay in smaller groups vs. larger. 

I didn't take many photos once we arrived in Rome, but did take one of the replica statue of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in the Piazza Campidoglio. The original is in the nearby Capitoline Museum which we did get to visit as well.

So I hired a driver through the hotel concierge, and outlined all the places we wanted to go to:  Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Imperial Forums, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona (then lunch at Tre Scalini), the Borghese Galleria, the Piazza di Spagna, an espresso at the Antico Caffè Greco, the Trevi Fountain, the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II (aka the “Wedding Cake”) and the statue of Marcus Aurelius at the top of Capitoline Hill. 

We did this over a series of three days and the driver was great – he often pulled up in a restricted parking area, had us wait in the car, he went in and bought museum passes or whatever tickets were needed, then came back and ushered us in via a special entrance. I’m confident he was giving ticket takers a few extra Lire’s for the special treatment, but glad he did. I was able to show Mom a whirlwind view of Rome in three days to take our minds off what was happening at home and the fact we couldn’t get home. But again, we stayed glued to the TV late into the evenings and made quick phone calls back home nightly.

Flights were sill not leaving the airport, but we were told our original flight probably would leave just two or three days later than scheduled. The Italians and people of Rome were so great to Americans, and were just as horrified and saddened as anyone. In our extra days, we went to several churches, not only to see the majesty of these beautiful structures, but primarily to pray for our country and all the lives lost.

As we were walking back to the hotel one afternoon after visiting a church, I said to Mom that we needed to go shop for Katie’s coat. I had a name of a store from the same woman from New York, and it was down a side street on the way back to the hotel. It was an inauspicious little shop, with a few nice looking leather garments in the window.  As we entered, they had just reopened after the afternoon siesta so no one else was in the shop. The clerk had us follow her a few stairs down and it opened up to this huge room of row after row of leather coats and jackets.  Katie had wanted a 3/4 length black coat and we found the perfect one, with the leather so soft and the stitching and craftmanship of very high quality.

Katie at her sixteenth birthday

The next day we left early to finally go back home. International flights were commencing again, and our flight was tentatively scheduled to leave. The Fiumicino Airport was a mad house due to it being the first day of flights leaving and long lines were everywhere. With all the chaos, we were a little concerned about our bags making it on the right flight and getting lost, so Mom decided to take Katie’s coat out of the luggage and carry it on. Lost luggage really didn’t matter given the circumstances, and we just wanted to get home and hug everyone. But we did want to bring one special coat home to one special girl.

Mom held that coat as we stood in the long lines to check the baggage, and the long wait at the gate, and finally throughout the long flight home. She kept it on her lap, and ever now and then I looked down, and she was passing her hand over the leather ever so softly, and kept drawing the coat closer to her as if it would make Katie closer somehow.

It was a very emotional ride home. Rather than the normal hustle and bustle that happens on an international flight, everyone was very quiet, very respectful with each other, very absorbed in their own thoughts about the tragedy and about going home.  As we landed at La Guardia, several people around us, men and women alike, had tears rolling down their face, including the flight attendants who were buckled up in their jump seats looking out the window.

We went through customs and then caught our flight home to Kansas City.  When we pulled up to the house, the family was standing outside, and Ian and Elyse (then 10 and 6 years old) had made signs with American flags on it that said “Welcome Home,” and “God Bless America,” and “We love you Grandma and Aunt Sheree.” 

Katie's leather coat, our touchstone on the way home from Rome.

We put Katie’s coat in my closet to later take out and wrap to give her for Christmas that year. I wanted so much just to give it to her upon our return, but decided to wait so she’d be surprised. And she was, and gave us extra special hugs that Christmas Eve as she knew what had happened while we were in Rome, and wasn’t expecting us to go shopping to find her a leather coat.

It’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in a couple of weeks, and I don’t think anyone will ever forget where they were the day this heinous crime against America happened and the national sorrow it created with such a senseless loss of life.   When I think about that trip to Italy and the tragic events of 9/11, I think about the flight home from Rome and all the heartfelt love but sadness that was on the faces of everyone on the plane. I think of the flight attendant peering out the window, looking down at New York City, with tears running down her eyes. I think of how much Mom and I longed to be home with the family we loved. And I think of Katie’s leather coat, and how it became our touchstone to home, with Mom carrying it so close to her as if she was hugging Katie all the way home.

 

P.S.
One of my favorite quotes is from Marcus Aurelius, and on this upcoming anniversary of 9/11 it seems appropriate to share:

“Understand that your time has a limit set to it.
Use it, then, to advance your enlightenment;
or it will be gone, and never in your power again.”

 

 

Do Rejoice: School’s Out for Summer!

3 Jul

Elyse back in the swing of things a month or so after her surgeries (at the 6/18 McWilliams' family picnic).

Elyse just finished her Freshman year of high school. She did so with honors grade-wise. She did so with grace and a positive attitude. And she did so with remarkable courage.

Shortly after making her high school’s varsity swim team as a Freshman (and posting some of the best times among the team!), one evening in early April she started experiencing intense pain in her upper-right side of her abdomen. After a few h0urs and a few Nuprin, the pain wasn’t going away, so my sister-in-law and brother took her to the emergency room.   
 
The hospital emergency room did their due diligence, ruling various things out, taking blood, taking her temperature and more.  This was on a Wednesday or Thursday. But they found nothing. They told my sister-in-law to take her to a female specialist, since maybe she had a cyst or something, (despite Elyse saying the pain was higher not lower).  But an appointment couldn’t be made until the following Tuesday, so Elyse suffered Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday until she saw this specialist on Tuesday.  But they found nothing. 
 

My sister-in-law then tried to find GI specialists to take Elyse to find the source of the pain. But only one GI specialist in the city had a pediatric license  and he was booked for days. An appointment was made, but that night (Tuesday), the pain was once again so intense that Elyse was taken back to the emergency room.   

Finally it was determined that Elyse had gallstones.  But that one and only pediatric specialist in the city who could remove them only did so on Fridays. (Most GI physicians aren’t licensed to work on children under 16 due to the high cost of malpractice insurance; Elyse is 15.) So she was checked in and stayed in the hospital until then. The diagnosis was a surprise and something unusual for her age and for her health, as she is an athlete and in great physical condition.

So late that Friday afternoon the pediatric GI specialist did laparoscopy, removing four gallstones safely. We were all relieved after so many weeks of Elyse being in pain, and by this point she had missed two weeks of school.  She stayed overnight in the hospital and late Saturday afternoon was released to go home.  The doctor did recommend that Elyse would need to have her gallbladder out since gallstones would/could come back, but suggested doing so during the summer when she was off school since she already had missed so much.

She went back to school on Monday, made it through most of the day, but by the end of the day she was having the same intense pain.  So back to the emergency room she went, and by this time while she didn’t verbalize it, Elyse was getting so frustrated – she was getting tired of nurses poking her, putting her on an IV, taking blood. She was tired of being in pain. And she had good reason. She wanted this to be over!  But the gallstones were back right away and they needed to schedule gallbladder surgery. 

Once again my sister-in-law and brother faced the hospital and healthcare bureaucracy and that there was only one GI pediatric surgeon that could really do this procedure.  And now he was out-of-town.  The hospital wanted to put a feeding tube on Elyse along with a pain IV, and have her stay through the weekend until the following week to do the surgery.  This was ridiculous!  Elyse would have had to wait over seven days to schedule the surgery (as a result, now missing almost four weeks of school).

My sister-in-law had talked to the hospital’s patient advocate, as well as making a few more calls trying to get someone to do emergency surgery within a day or two rather than waiting another weekend, going into the next week.  Apparently pediatric surgeries were primarily done on Friday at the hospital, so that Friday morning the round doctor said they would talk to the general pediatric surgeon on duty to try to work Elyse in so she wouldn’t have to wait over the weekend into the next week. 

The doctor on rounds said late that Friday afternoon that the attending surgeon knew of Elyse’s situation and getting scheduled for surgery would all depend on how the schedule was proceeding since surgeries were completed by 5PM.  The patient’s advocate and the other call pressure must have worked, because at 5PM the doctor on rounds came in and let Elyse know that they were going to do surgery soon. Finally, sometime after 6PM they took Elyse to surgery and she had her gallbladder taken out via a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

During this surgery, a laparoscope (a small, thin tube with a camera on the tip of it) is used to remove the gallbladder. Several small incisions are used instead of one large incision. The laparoscope is put into the body through a tiny cut made just below the navel. The surgeon can then see the gallbladder on a TV screen and do the surgery with tools inserted in three other small cuts made in the right upper part of the abdomen. The gallbladder is then taken out through one of the incisions.

Elyse made it through the surgery with flying colors! Her three incisions and the one in her belly button were her badges of honor. She stayed in the hospital of course on Friday night and again on Saturday, but was able to go home on Sunday afternoon.  On Monday, school was out for a teacher’s conference, but she finally went back on Tuesday (after missing almost five weeks of classes!).

Elyse gave me permission to share this story on my blog. She wants to get the word out that kids can and do get gallstones. She wants to let people know the challenges her Mom and Dad had dealing with emergency room physicians, the rounds’ doctors, the specialists and the surgeons. You would think when a young teen girl suffers with pain that it wouldn’t be so routinely dismissed (until she was finally diagnosed, Elyse believed that many of the doctors thought she was making this up to get out of school or something)! She wants to warn other parents/kids that there are very few pediatric GI specialists in this city, even in the country. She wants to let others know that gallstones are getting more common in teens.

But I wanted to tell the story to show how brave and patient Elyse was. How much courage she had when she went through two surgical procedures on back-to-back Fridays. How strong she was to suffer through weeks and weeks of pain.
She got back to school just in time for finals and had to catch up five weeks of lessons. The school was awesome in developing an action plan for her to do so quickly – they delayed her finals by a few days and gave her some time to finish her Freshman year.

She had to read The Odyssey, and write a report on it as part of finishing her honors English class. (Fitting, since she had been on her own odyssey.) She had to catch up on lost weeks of math formulas and Spanish vocabulary. She had to rapidly catch up on chapters of reading for her Religion and History classes. And as the last bell of the year rang loudly signaling to the kids that “school’s out for summer,” she sat all alone in a classroom making up missed tests and taking her finals as all her friends ran out the doors to begin their summer.

Like I said at the beginning of this story, she made second honors, pretty remarkable for missing about 30% of the semester. And while she didn’t get to complete swimming on the varsity team or be in any tournaments, she’s swimming competitively this summer with a coed team, achieving new personal bests. But Elyse shows her personal best at all times – never complaining, never crying, always keeping her sense of humor and gregarious personality, and always worried about others.

I’m so very proud of my niece and how she handled herself during this ordeal. And I hope she rejoices that her Freshman year is over, and has a wonderful summer!

(Here’s a video from February 2010 when Elyse was in 8th grade and swimming with the Kansas City Blazers Swim Team…just a few shots before the meet started.)

“Do” Think Big When It Comes to Easter Bunnies!

23 Apr

Nick was in high school the last time we captured a picture of him with his namesake Nicholas on the Plaza.

While Easter is one of the holiest of all holidays, it’s also has been another reason to spoil my nephews and nieces with new clothes, stuffed rabbits, chicks and ducks, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, yellow Peeps and lots more!  It’s always been fun to dye eggs for them (I still do it!) and hide them along with some other surprises around the yard or in the house.

Being the first grandchild and first nephew, Nick hit pay dirt the first Easter that he was mobile (walking!).  My mom and sister had found this jumbo sized rabbit in a children’s clothing boutique.

The rabbit was quite elegant looking, stood almost 5 ft. tall, had on a dapper vest and had the softest, plushest fur.  His name was Pierre Bunny (pronounced with a French twist, “Boo-nee”).  He was more than twice the height of Nick, but Nick delighted in trying to carry him which was impossible, so he reverted to dragging poor Pierre around by the arm.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a picture of Pierre Bunny, but we all remember the big rabbit well.

Now 27, we were delighted when Nick called to get us all together for lunch the Saturday prior to this Easter.  When Nick and Katie were growing up, we would often take them to the Plaza to have lunch on that day and to tour the streets looking for the Plaza Easter bunnies.

Nick at lunch the Saturday before Easter, 2011

The Country Club Plaza transforms itself to an Easter Wonderland every year. The tradition brings out colorful, larger-than-life bunnies to the Plaza’s courtyards and street corners each spring.  They each have names, and of course there’s a Peter, but they also have a rabbit named Nicholas.

We would drive around until we spotted Nicholas, the biggest, tallest and coolest of all the Plaza bunnies and  Nick’s namesake.  We then would park the car and get out so Nick could go stand by him.   Nicholas the bunny was usually in the primo location of the beautiful courtyard outside the former, very elegant Swanson’s department store, (it later became a Mark Shale’s, and now it’s XXI Forever),  across from the tennis courts on J.C. Nichols Parkway, just down from the J.C. Nichols Fountain.  The Giralda Tower is on the corner of the building.

Nick about a year old, in a cute little duck jumper

We didn’t make it to the Plaza this Saturday for lunch, but Nick, Katie, my Mom, my sister Debbie and I all had a nice lunch at Town Center Plaza (sort of the Plaza South!).  And while Nick and Katie are all grown up and drinking Bellini’s and wine for lunch, we couldn’t help but bring them a  big chocolate fudge egg for Easter, something that we would always put in their Easter baskets when they were little.

So this Easter, no more big bunnies, no more pictures with Nicholas and the other big Plaza bunnies, but we continue to have a “big” time talking about Easters of the past, and the big chocolate fudge eggs are always good.  I loved Easters when they were all little, but it’s just as much fun now that they are all grown up.

Happy Easter!

P.S.  Check out an earlier blog/story about Easter called “Don’t Hunt for Eggs in the Rain”

A few other Easter pictures of not only Nick and Katie, but also of Ian and Elyse:

Katie also had a namesake Plaza Bunny called Kate!

The tradition continued of big jumbo animals on Easter - Elyse and her "big" duck

Ian on the Plaza with another one of the Plaza bunnies.

Elyse, Katie, Ian and Nick

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