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

“Don’t” Show Incriminating Pictures!

3 Apr

Elyse and Ian prior to the formal dinner evening - he's such a great big brother!

Three years ago about this time of year it had been another cold, long winter, and my sister and I were anxious to go somewhere warm.  Long story short, we decided at the last-minute to go on a cruise, so we got the ball rolling and in addition to my sister and myself, my Mom, my brother Tim, my sister-in-law Joanie as well as Ian and Elyse, we all went for a seven-day trip on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. Spring break for schools was a little late that year.

My other sister-in-law Lucy, is a cruise agent extraordinaire with Ship-A-Hoy, and does a wonderful job of booking great staterooms, knows all the scoop on the excursions and ports of call,  and is awesome at handling all the in’s and out’s of cruising.  She’s our favorite cruise agent of course and we’ve been on many! She was able to find us a great cruise at the last-minute to the ports we wanted to go with some good amenities for teens.  Ian and Elyse had a blast (they were seventeen and thirteen then).  

Our ship, "Enchantment of the Seas" in port at Key West.

We left from Fort Lauderdale and sailed to Cozumel, Belize and Key West with a couple of days at sea in between before arriving back in Fort Lauderdale.  I won’t go into detail about the cruise, but want to share a specific event that involved Ian, and demonstrates what a good sport he is, and how easy-going and mature he can be, despite the fact that he was totally humiliated (so he says now!).   

Tim, Joanie and I decided to check out Royal Caribbean’s notorious “Quest” game that was scheduled one night, as we had heard chatter that it would be hilarious.  Mom and Deb didn’t want to go, so they kept an eye on Elyse, and finding out that we needed four people to play, we grabbed Ian, even though he was less than 18 years old and it was noted for “mature” audiences.

Elyse and Ian in tropical attire!

We didn’t know what to expect and it started as sort of a combination scavenger hunt with “Let’s Make a Deal” (where you won something if you had it in your purse or pocket) and you were among the fastest to get it to the emcee, with the chance of winning a cheesy Royal Caribbean trinket.  You had to appoint one guy on your team as your runner, and we elected Ian to do it. 

The game got progressively funnier and more challenging for the male runners and audience alike.  It started with innocuous things you’d find in a purse, but quickly took a raucous and embarrassing turn for the assigned runners, poor Ian.  First the team had to find a tube of lipstick (both Joanie and I had some), then Ian had to put some on and run to the emcee.  Ian then had to find a pair of earrings, put those on and race to the front.  Joanie and I both have pierced ears, but I had on a pair of grey pearl leverbacks, that he was able to put and keep on. 

Each task got a little more complicated – the guys had to take off their shoes (and socks for some), then put on a pair of high heels and once again, run to the front.  Seeing these men with lipstick and earrings on, running in high heels was a side-splitting sight!  Again, Ian was having fun, and wasn’t too self-conscious since men of all ages were doing this.  He just happened to be the youngest! 

Ian is somewhere in that crowd, I have close-up pictures, but promised him I'd never share!

But then the emcee announced that one of the women in the team had to figure out a way to take her bra off, without taking her shirt or dress off, then the team runner had to take his shirt off and put on the bra.  Then the runner had to find a purse and run to the front to get a number from the emcee (while still in heels, with earrings and lipstick on).  Once all the guys had a number, the emcee had them do a conga line dance around the room.  The best “dancers” were chosen and announced by number by the cruise staff.

I was laughing so hard I was crying and couldn’t catch my breath watching Joanie rapidly slip off her bra from under her dress and pulling it out of an open armpit.  My brother was laughing so hard as well.  Joanie and I quickly put her bra on Ian, snapping the back in place.  I gave Ian my purse to carry, and once ready, he flew over the chairs/section we were sitting in to go grab his number.  The music started and the guys all danced in a line, holding onto the hips of the guy in front, with the emcee leading the conga line.  Then each guy had to do a 10-15 second solo dance.  It was hilarious. 

All along I was taking pictures of course!  I’ve shared just one here of when all these macho guys rushed in their heels, bras, earrings with purses in hand to get their numbers.  But I also have several of Ian close-up which I “triple” promised him I would never show to anyone outside of the family.  Well I’m keeping my promise (at this time), but have kidded with him that I might pull them out for when he gets married one day.

Hmmm, someone should have color-coordinated this group! Doing the "Macarena" in the dining room one night, LtoR, my brother Tim, my sister Debbie, my nephew Ian and my sister-in-law Joanie.

I’ve heard that on some of the other Royal Caribbean cruises, the guys have to strip down to their skivvies while wearing the bra, heels, purse, earrings, lipstick and dancing the conga.  You’ll find evidence of this on YouTube.  Ian had on a pair of cargo shorts, but he and all the other guys on our cruise kept their pants on!

We caught up with my Mom, my sister and Elyse later, still laughing, showing them the pictures.  Ian lamented to his Grandma, “I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!”  Please don’t tell anyone about this! (He was a senior in high school after all.)  But he still laughs about it today, was such a good sport about it and had as much fun as anyone.

The game also set the tone for the rest of the cruise, where we continued to have a great time – and we continued to enter as either a family team or as solo entrants in the ship’s other contests, from “Name That Tune” (2nd place!) to karaoke.  But nothing was as funny as seeing Joanie slip her bra off through her armpit and then to see Ian put it on and strut around doing the conga in high heels. 

As adults one of the clearest and most positive memories we have of our childhood are of family vacations.  Hopefully this will be one to remember for Ian.  And if he forgets, I have pictures!

“Do” Embrace March Madness

27 Mar

It’s that time of year again.  March Madness!  First we had the Big 12 Tournament from March 9-12 (KU winning the championship of course!).  And now we are in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, with KU reigning, washing out the Spiders and playing for a place in the Final Four (of course!) against VCU. 

Why do I bring up basketball in this blog about being an aunt?  Well, 1) it allows me to bring up the Jayhawks, my alma mater; basketball powerhouse and America’s basketball team; and 2) March Madness has always caused scheduling issues at this time of the year in terms of the day we celebrate Katie’s birthday.  You see, my family, especially Katie’s dad, my brother Jeff, my sister Debbie and my brother Tim, all put the tournament first in terms of scheduling.  So Katie’s birthday typically gets pre-empted on the actual day, since it is on March 9th, the very first day of the Big 12 Tournament. 

In the past we would celebrate the kids’ birthdays on Sundays, and would all get together as a family.  But Katie’s birthday either was pushed up by a week, or pushed back, depending on when KU was playing.  Or sometimes, we’d still schedule it on the Sunday closest to her birthday, but wedge the dinner/cake before or after a game.  And sometimes, we’d wait to get together (probably to her disappointment) until later in the month.

This scheduling challenge became the norm for Katie.  Sometimes we’d make it really special, and have it on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day, but only when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday.  My Mom and I would make corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and soda bread.  But you’ll note that day was eight days after her birthday, and sort of a long time to make someone wait for her birthday, especially when she was a little girl.  

Katie's 17th birthday, about nine years ago - one of the last times we had her birthday on a game day. (Nick is in the background.)

As Katie grew older (she’s now married!), sometime when she was in college, we quit trying to get the dozen of us together to celebrate near her birthday while avoiding a KU game so we could give her our undivided attention.  We now embrace March Madness and either have it on the day of a key game so we can all cheer KU on together, or we get together with her independently, and she has 3 or 4 birthday events/dinners throughout the month.

That’s what we did this year.  We were the first birthday event.  My Mom, my sister, my nephew Nick (Katie’s brother), Katie and her husband Randy and myself all went out to dinner on March 4 – five days ahead of Katie’s birthday, well before the tournament started. 

We all met at Jasper’s, our go-to restaurant for special family celebrations.  It was a wonderful meal as usual (you must try the Lobster Cappuccino!), with great service from our favorite waiter Tony.  We laughed, told stories, the kids teased Grandma and we sat for hours talking and having fun. 

And while there may have been better birthdays in Katie’s eyes, more fun and/or interesting gifts in the past, (this year she got a Lowe’s gift card to go towards things they need for their new house – how exciting is that?), I liked celebrating this birthday with her the best.  I liked being able to drink a Cosmo with her.  I liked being able to talk about our jobs.  About landscaping.  About our cats.  About the delayed honeymoon cruise she just took.  All without having a basketball game on in the background.

And while I often bemoan the four of them growing up so fast, I’m really enjoying birthdays with Nick and Katie as adults.  They’ve been just as fun as their birthdays from the past, especially for me.

It’s still March – so I can still wish my beautiful niece happy birthday.  And both of us can cheer on KU together. 

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, Happy Birthday Katie!

Back from Hiatus, With New Stories to Tell

27 Mar

I apologize! 

In the front of the house: the vinca vine by the birdbath and my begonia bushes will be popping up again soon!

I was doing so well with my blog, gaining subscribers, getting good comments, keeping posts going and most importantly, receiving positive encouragement and cheers from my nephews and nieces.  Then the holidays hit.  And I was busy at work.  Just life stuff.  Then 2011 came and I made a New Year’s resolution to get this going again.  Well things were just so busy for me, but that’s no excuse.  I miss doing this.  I miss remembering the good times with Nick, Katie, Ian and Elyse.  And I miss sharing those memories. 

I think it was the weather.  It has been so cold, snowy and miserable over the last many months, maybe I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – I think I had many of the symptoms at one time or another from November up until last week.   Maybe it induced writer’s block.   

Whatever the reason, despite today’s cold weather again, we’ve had enough pretty days to know that Spring is just around the corner.  My trees, shrubs and flowers are starting to pop up and bud. 

So I’m picking my blog up where I left off.  I hope you’ll pick back up with me and follow along with my adventures of The Do’s & Don’ts of Aunting!

“Do” Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

25 Nov

Back Row: Grandpa Jeff McWilliams, my Uncle Terry McWilliams with Iggy, Grandma Flo (Florence) McWilliams, my Mom (Joan McWilliams Johnson). Front row: my Aunt Mary Ann McWilliams Suppes, my Uncle Mike McWilliams and my Uncle Larry McWilliams

While this blog is about my adventures and escapades with my nephews and nieces, I have wonderful memories of my own aunts and uncles and how special each of them were to me growing up and how they are still very much-loved and respected.  I could go on and on about my experiences as a niece with each of them, but there are too many special stories with each to cover them all in just one post. 

Suffice to say that on the occasion of this week being Thanksgiving, I’m thinking about them and of all the wonderful times we had over the years on the holidays, especially when Grandma Flo was still alive. 

Mom and I were talking the other day about the Thanksgiving memories we have made for Nick, Katie, Ian and Elyse.  I hope that when they get older and have their own families, and we quit having Thanksgiving day together, they’ll remember the aroma of the freshly basted turkey in the oven, the taste of the cranberry-water chestnut dressing my Mom makes, the elegant table that we set using either Mom’s exquisite Haviland china or my simple but elegant Fitz & Floyd china.  And what’s special is that all four of my nephews and nieces will be here together along with my sister, my brothers, my sister-in-laws and now my nephew-in-law.

One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories when I was a little girl and a niece was when we would go to Eskridge, Kansas to either my Uncle Mac’s (McWilliams) house/farm or my Aunt Pansy’s.  They were the brother and sister of my Grandpa Jeff (McWilliams).  They also had another brother Frank, who was the oldest.  The four of them would alternate having the McWilliams’ Thanksgiving either in Lawrence, KS at my Grandma and Grandpa’s or as I mentioned in Eskridge. 

My Uncle "Mac" McWilliams (my Grandpa Jeff's brother) on Thanksgiving in Eskridge, Kansas (circa 1960ish)

I remember one year when Thanksgiving dinner was at my Uncle Mac’s (probably around 1960-61) and I was six or seven years old.  As we got out of the car, he came out of the house dressed as a pilgrim!  He made it so much fun and created so many memories.  He and his wife Aunt Jessie lived on this sweet little farm.  I believe they had 100 or more acres of corn, but they also had an enormous vegetable garden, and beautiful fruit trees – apple, apricot and plums.

Before dinner. all the cousins would go outside and play – either touch football for the older kids, hide n’ seek for the little kids.  I would drift away from both groups and head for the barn because I would see kittens scampering around the entrance chasing each other and chasing their own tails.  Uncle Mac saw me watching the kittens and he teased that “you can have as many as you can catch!”

Of course that was impossible as they were wild barnyard cats there to keep the mice out of the barn.  I would wait and wait until they would tucker out and fall asleep, then I would tip-toe up to the littlest grey one and quickly pick it up.  I was greeted with a horrifying hiss from the ungrateful little demon of a cat who also stuck its razor-sharp claws into my hand. 

I would quickly drop it and run back into the house where either my Mom, my Grandma or Aunt Jessie would wash the scratch, apply the orange mercurochrome antiseptic (no longer sold in the U.S. due to its high mercury content!) and put a band-aid on it.  I did this each time Thanksgiving was at Uncle Mac’s and never did catch one of those barn cats!

When  Thanksgiving was at Aunt Pansy’s it was a feast to end all feasts!  She was an awesome cook and always roasted several turkeys, her dressing was just plain yummy, she had pickled her own beets for the relish tray, had made home-made corn relish, had several bowls of different kinds of vegetables cooked to perfection.  And the pies!  Pumpkin, pecan, chocolate meringue, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, apple and more.  And of course she had fresh cream which she let me help her whip to perfection right before serving with the pie.

I remember that when everyone sat down to eat, I’d get to sit in the living room versus out in the kitchen with the rest of the kids.  Most of the adults were around the dining room table, and Aunt Pansy, my Grandma, Aunt Mary Ann and my Mom and several of my Mom’s cousins sat around the living room on the couch or in easy chairs holding their plates on their laps.   I’d sit on the piano bench next to the chair where my Grandma sat and felt very special as the only kid in the room with the adults.  Aunt Pansy and Grandma reminded me of two beautiful and charming matriarchs holding court and I enjoyed listening to the conversation, jokes, gossip and more.

These Thanksgiving trips to Eskridge ended in the late ’60s after my Grandpa Jeff died and then later when my Uncle Mac passed away.  But I still think of them fondly and the memories inspire me to create Thanksgiving memories for my nephews and nieces.  

To this day, we continue to say the McWilliams Family Grace on Thanksgiving Day that we said together back then, and which goes way back when my Grandpa Jeff was a little boy:

The McWilliams Family Grace

Oh God!
We ask thy divine blessing,
for all those gathered around this table.
And for the food which is now before us.
May we partake of it in a manner acceptable to thy sight,
May you go with us through the journey of life,
And in the end save us in Heaven.
Amen!

Happy Thanksgiving – create some memories with your family on this day!

“Do” Come Together with the Beatles!

18 Sep

A week ago on Friday night I was sitting drenched in the drizzling rain between my two nephews Nick and Ian.  We were at KC’s Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor theatre) watching the last Broadway Show of the summer, the national tour of “RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles.”  And we were having a blast!  

My two “boys” have been going to Starlight with me since both of them were about six years old, as have my two “girls,” my nieces Katie and Elyse.  Earlier in the summer, all four of my nieces and nephews had called “dibs” on going to RAIN out of the five shows scheduled for the season. Each of them usually goes with my Mom and myself to at least one or two of the shows, but all four wanted to see this show because of the Beatles.   

RAIN print advertisement that ran in the KC Star

 

Katie wanted to bring her husband because he likes the Beatles, but he had to work.  So they went the previous Tuesday night.  Elyse had also wanted to go, but she’s now a freshman in high school, and it was football night, there was an “away game” for her school, and she wanted to ride the “spirit bus.”  So it ended up being Nick, Ian, Ian’s Mom (my sister-in-law) and myself going to the show.  

I’ve always had a special connection with my nephews and music.  Whenever Nick or Ian were with me in the car (or for that matter with my sister) we would find common ground listening to either the Beatles or the Beach Boys on the radio or a CD.  Both of them are good singers, having performed in choirs and/or musicals during school, and despite their respective ages, both have a sincere appreciation of music going back to the 60’s.  

The forecast for the night we went to RAIN was not promising.  It had rained on and off all day, and about 5:30PM it seemed  to have cleared up a bit.  We decided to eat dinner at Starlight and after an enjoyable meal and conversation headed to our seats about 15 minutes before showtime.  

The show was just awesome!  The tribute group performed five sets of live music:  from the early days of The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, through Shea Stadium, the Sgt. Pepper era and on to the Abbey Road years.  RAIN is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…it includes historical footage and really funny  television commercials (a special treat!) from the 1960’s on video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups and occasional shots of the audience.  

However, about three songs into the first set, it started raining.  At first it was just a drizzle.  Then it became a little stronger, then the wind started up.  Miles away, but rapidly approaching, we could see lightning beneath the clouds.  It looked very ominous.  But we weren’t about to leave and as far as I could tell, most everyone at the almost packed show were sticking to their seats as well.  We were just having too much fun singing along to our favorites and watching the fun video clips (including a Flintstones commercial showing Fred and Barney smoking Winston’s!)  

So sometime during the beginning of the third set, the President & Executive Producer of Starlight came out and announced a 30-minute weather delay due to the lightning rapidly approaching the area.  I asked Nick and Ian if they wanted to leave, but no way, everyone wanted to stick it out.  We quickly made our way back to the area where we had dinner, and found a table under cover to sit out the rain.   

Incidentally, Starlight is a client of the ad agency where I work, and I’m very much involved with the account.  I knew that my client/friend was probably upstairs in her office, so I started to send her an e-mail to see if she wanted to come down and visit with us.  At the same time she was calling me and was worried about where we were during the rain delay and told us to come on upstairs to their office.  They had food, wine, etc., and it was fun to visit with all the Starlight marketing team during the break.  Nick and Ian thought having access  behind the scenes (and in all the bad weather) was especially cool.  What a great client!!  

The show started again so Ian and his Mom headed back to our seats, and Nick and I decided to stop at the Starlight store and buy some rain ponchos as none of us had any rain gear (I had brought an umbrella, but you couldn’t use it).  And by that time everyone was soaked and the temperature had dropped so we bought sweatshirts as well.   

The rest of the show started in earnest.  The lightning had stopped, as had the rain, but after just one song, the rain started again, but this time we were prepared!  The show had more of a concert feel to it versus a Broadway Show.  (RAIN is headed to Broadway and opening on October 19!)  The band was very touched and in awe that so many people were still there, standing and singing Beatles’ songs in the rain.  At one point Ian was on his feet and enthusiastically cheering the performance when the band member who is “Paul” (Joey Curatolo) pointed to Ian and yelled out “you’re the man!” (Our season tickets are dead center, about 10 rows back from the stage.)  

The show had started with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and ended with “Let It Be” followed by an encore featuring “Hey Jude.”   They sang many of my favorites including “Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday” and “Revolution” (which brought back memories of my 8th grade CYO dance mixers!).  However, the best performance of the night was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which I hadn’t heard in a long, long time.  It’s an amazing song, and the performance enthralled us all.  I could tell Nick and Ian were especially moved.  

That night, this Baby Boomer sang-along with my Millennial nephews (and my Gen-X sister-in-law!) to more than two hours of songs that crossed our generations and brought us together for an evening filled with fun and love.  We weren’t about to let a little rain destroy what RAIN gave us that night.

“Do” Risk Taking Them to Movies with Subtitles

30 Aug

One of the movies that was all the buzz in late 2000, early 2001 was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Ian and Elyse were over on a weekend and as they were watching television, a commercial came on for the movie showing the younger heroine Jen Yu leaping between rooftops and bamboo trees.  “I want to see that movie!” Elyse exclaimed.     

She was quite adamant about wanting to see it as she was in her “power girl” phase.  She had just turned five at the time and one of her favorite Disney videos was Mulan.  She would watch Mulan over and over again and was enthralled with the story.  Another Disney favorite was The Rescuers Down Under.  She started dressing like Cody and it was almost impossible for anyone to get her out of the Australian bush adventure jacket, and the brown short boots.  And then there was Peter Pan.  I had made Elyse a Peter Pan costume for Halloween that previous year and no one could convince her to take it off after that, she wore it for weeks  and always stayed in character!  The beloved, thread-bare costume was finally “retired” by my sister-in-law.     

I had also wanted to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — the academy award nominations had just been announced and it was nominated not only for Best Foreign Language film (which it won), but for Best Picture as well, among a whole slew of other nominations.  So I wanted to see it before the Oscars were on and besides, the commercial had hooked me as well, the movie looked fascinating.    

The Rio Theatre in Overland Park, KS (Photo by Nathaniel Paluga ~cc-by-sa)

 

So Mom and I took Ian and Elyse to the matinée the next day.  It was only showing near us at the Rio Theatre, a movie house that had recently been beautifully restored and was known for showing art films.  So just going to the Rio was an adventure itself as none of us had seen a movie there yet.    

We purchased popcorn and sodas, and sat down.  Mom was on the aisle, then Ian, myself then Elyse.  I knew Ian (who was nine) would love the film as he was always game to see and try anything new.  But I wondered a little if Elyse would like it.  Was it too soon for her to make the transition from Disney cartoon characters to a Chinese female action martial arts movie?  I should have never had one doubt.     

Within the first five minutes of the opening we all sat mesmerized and excited, including Elyse.  One word described this movie, WOW!    

The film’s story takes place during nineteenth century China, in a beautiful, mystical setting inhabited by the Wudan, spectral warriors from legend who effortlessly leap among the bamboo trees.  It is hard to describe what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is as it transcends genres:  it is a fantasy, romance, historical epic and thriller all in one.      

Soon after the first five minutes of “wow,” Elyse starts tapping my arm.  I was so mesmerized by the movie I hadn’t noticed.  Suddenly her little hand cupped my chin and she rapidly turned my face towards hers and she whispered, “what’s happening?”    

The movie was in Mandarin with subtitles!  It didn’t dawn on me that this could be a problem.  But Elyse couldn’t read yet, so while she was enthralled with the movie, she couldn’t understand it.  So I whispered in her ear what had happened so far.  However because the film was so engaging and fast-paced, Elyse got up on her knees and leaned next to me, “tell me what’s happening,” she kept whispering.    

I felt so bad that I had brought her to this wonderful movie that she couldn’t understand.  Finally I put her in my lap and whispered in her ear, reading the subtitles to her as they appeared.     

As with all foreign movies with subtitles, someplace during the movie you cease reading the subtitles and you begin understanding the movie without comprehension of the language.  Halfway through the movie that happened to Elyse.  She sat back down in her seat, and she only asked for explanation a couple of more times.     

Elyse (5-years-old), the year of her "Power Girl" phase

 

At the end of the film we sat in our seats just blown away and moved by the ending, stunned at what we had just experienced.  It was very quiet in the theatre as the other people in the Rio were in awe as well.   Elyse suddenly said, “that was the very best movie I’ve seen in my whole entire life,” causing a few heads to turn, and a few people to chuckle.    

A man in front of us turned around and said to her, “so did you understand the movie okay?”       

Thinking he was quizzing her about the plot instead of inquiring about her comprehension of the language and the subtitles,  Elyse replied proudly, “I sure did, it’s about this  stolen magical jade sword and…”      

 The man laughed and said “I guess you did understand.”

“Don’t” Forget to Teach Them the Fine Art of Dining!

22 Aug

Nick eagerly eyes the ham on his plate (Katie is behind him).

 

Nick loves to dine.  Primarily he loves to dine out.  Now that he’s an adult, I love it that we can go out for a leisurely dinner or late lunch on a Saturday together and have cocktails, appetizers, dinner, wine and dessert.  It’s not necessarily that he loves to eat, he simply loves the art of dining.  He likes to chat with the maître d’, converse with the waiters, hear about the specials and engage in discussions about work, school, friends, family, travel or whatever.   

Nick also loves “to dine” during holidays.  On Thanksgiving, he always looks forward to coming over and smelling the aroma in the house, taking a look in the oven at the beautiful browned turkey or the clove-pricked ham, taking a bite of the water chestnut dressing, eyeing the plethora of pies and desserts while putting a finger in the fresh whipped cream.   

He likes to try new restaurants and while there are certain foods Nick doesn’t like (pork chops), he’s fairly adventurous about trying new foods.  I’d like to think that this comes from when he and Katie would spend Saturdays with us.  We would make the day an adventure and if we didn’t have anything particular in mind, my Mom and I would take Nick and Katie out to lunch.  Sometimes my sister would go as well depending on our planned dining destination.  And unlike most kids their age at the time, we wouldn’t go to McDonald’s or Applebee’s, as Nick and Katie’s palettes were far more refined, at least when they were with me.   

Nick loved food, dining and eating so much, my brother Tim gave him a chef's hat for Christmas one year.

 

One Saturday when he was about 9, my sister-in-law dropped them both off, and we made plans to head to the Plaza.  It was a crisp October day, and Mom and I were hungry for the Bookbinder Soup at Harry Starker’s.  It was one of their featured items, a classic soup with steamed fish in a rich sherry broth, served with homemade crisp sourdough bread.  (The original Harry Starker’s is no longer around, but it evolved to Starker’s Restaurant on top of Restoration Hardware at the corner of 47th and Wyandotte and they still serve this classic soup.)     

We sat down in one of the booths, and after the waiter brought over the water and bread, he went over the specials.  Nick asked him what was the “Soup du Jour.”  The waiter was taken aback for a moment, smiled and proceeded to share with Nick that the Soup du Jour was a Steak Soup, and of course, they always were serving the Bookbinder Soup.  Mom and I were surprised as well as we didn’t know he even knew the expression “Soup du Jour” – guess our Saturday dining experiences were starting to take hold.   

But that was just our first surprise.  After the waiter left to get the soups, Nick took out a little pocket-size spiral notebook.  On the cover, in a purple crayon marker he had written “Nick’s Restaurant Reviews.”   He told us he had decided that from now on when he eats out with us, he was going to do a review.  He had decided that by doing a review he would remember which restaurants he liked the best, plus it would just be fun and it would keep waiters or waitresses on “their toes” giving us the best service.    

He had made a rough spreadsheet (by the way, he’s now an accountant!) with restaurant names as columns, and twelve criteria listed as rows.  The criteria included 1) food looks, 2) menu look, 3) food taste, 4) type of food available, 5) waiter attitude, 6) soups 7) appetizers, 8) desserts, 9) comfortable chairs, 10) kids’ menu option, 11) looks/decorations (his version of ambience) and 12)condiments?!  Then there was a 13th row that said “bonus points.”  He planned on giving each criteria a score of 1 through 5, with 5 being the best.  He said he would give bonus points if something was truly awesome.   

As we waited for our soup, we all got into the spirit of Nick’s review and offered a few initial opinions of Harry Starker’s as he wrote their name into the first column of his notebook.  As the soup arrived Mom ordered trout, I had a Caesar salad with chicken, Katie had chicken fingers and Nick ordered a hamburger and fries.  We had to try the desserts, and while I don’t remember what I had, I know that Nick ordered Tiramisu.  He always ordered that or something chocolate like a torte, cake or brownie sundae.    

Lunch at Fedoras

Nick (about 11 years), my Mom, Katie (about 10 years) and Ian (3-4 years) at Fedora's for one of our Saturday lunches.

 

Harry Starker’s received 50 out of 60 points and did very well in Nick’s first review!  Several categories received a “5” including soups, desserts, waiter service, waiter attitude (to Nick there was a difference!) and condiments (he liked that the ketchup was served in a little white bowl).  He also rewarded them a few bonus points for the Tiramisu.    

That year and a year or two after that Nick loaded his little book up with reviews of other restaurants where we would go and have Saturday lunch.  At the time, they typically included restaurants on the Plaza, in Brookside or Crown Center  (about 1992-93).  We went everyplace from Annie’s Santa Fe (now closed) to Fred P. Ott’s; from Winstead’s to Fedora’s (also now closed, but it was a favorite!); from Houlihan’s to the Classic Cup.  We would also venture out and go to places he wanted to try like “V’s” Italian Restaurant  where he would order their really yummy French Fries with spaghetti and meatballs.  They also had a Tiramisu that he loved.  He had seen an ad for it claiming the best Italian food and that it was right next to “Cool Crest” a fun miniature golf course that we went to after lunch.    

Another favorite was Jasper’s Trattoria or the Marco Polo Market on Wornall (before they moved to their current location).  We’d get sausage sandwiches or pasta, and then of course the Tiramisu for Nick!  They always got 5 points in every category in Nick’s  book.  Jasper’s was also a dinner destination for us on the nights we would take the kids to Starlight Theatre and it still is.  JJ serves such wonderful food, the atmosphere is great and it is a family all-time favorite, including Nick, to this day.    

Trezo Vino Lunch

My Mom and Nick, after one of our recent Saturday lunches, in front of Trezo Vino in Park Place (in Leawood)

 

While Nick’s restaurant review notebook has long disappeared, the memories have not, and Nick, Mom and I still try to go to lunch on Saturdays a couple of times a year.  And sometimes Nick and I meet for lunch during the week, usually at Lidia’s (yes another Italian restaurant with a fantastic Tiramisu!) where we order the pasta tasting trio or the Frico.  The Frico is a specialty of the Friuli region of Italy – it is an envelope of golden-brown, crisp Montasio cheese with potato, leek and the filling of your choice – typically either crab, shrimp or sausage are the options available.     

Some of my favorite dining experiences have been with Nick – no matter his age, 10 or 25.  He has impeccable manners, we have wonderful conversations and we have great food at special places.  I’ll always fondly remember the time we went to Starker’s when he brought his review book and ordered the Soup du Jour.  But I especially enjoy the times we have lunch or dinner now, as eating with Nick is not just about dining, but about the time we spend together.

“Do” Give Them Experiences to Last a Lifetime

14 Aug

Ian at a St. Patrick's Day Parade, Age 10

 

Traveling with my nephews and nieces has been so wonderful – we’ve gone with and without parents to Florida, to San Diego, on cruises, short trips to the Ozarks or to Branson, or to Topeka (inside joke), to New York and Chicago, through the Rockies and more.  All of them are excellent traveling companions and we truly have had fantastic adventures together.  

In 2005, I did the first foreign country trip solo with one of my nephews/nieces without their parents – to Ireland with Ian.  My Mom and I had gone in 1998, and had a fabulous time, and Ian has always been our Irishman, appreciating his ancestry so much.  He loved going to St. Patrick’s Day parades, and can sing all the verses from “Danny Boy” a capella.  So on the occasion of his 8th grade graduation, we (Ian, my Mom and myself) went to Ireland for 10 days.     

We flew to Dublin and oh how he instantly flourished as a young man before my eyes!  He loved to read and write fiction, and of course Dublin was a haven for him.  He couldn’t fill his journal fast enough.  The city was beautiful and quite cosmopolitan, and we did all the sites from going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College to visiting the Guinness factory and retracing the streets that inspired James Joyce.  After 4 days, our plan was to take the train west to Limerick, and then we were going to stay at Adare Manor for the rest of our trip.  But we found out hiring a driver to take us there cost the same, and would be far more scenic.  So we drove across the beautiful Irish countryside, while Ian sat in the front talking to the driver the entire way.    

Cliffs of Moher

 

We had an equally wonderful time in Western Ireland, and went to so many awesome places.  And staying at Adare Manor was a dream come true!  But the highlight of the trip was our visit to the Cliffs of Moher.  It’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth.  We spent hours there as Ian couldn’t take it all in fast enough.  We walked up to O’Briens Tower, which stands on a headland at the Cliffs, commanding one of the better views.  Ian climbed to the top to take it all in.  When we walked down the scenic trail, his video camera was hard at work capturing the magnificent vistas.  (Mom stayed at the Puffin’s Nest Cafe having tea and eating locally made cakes with our driver!)  

Ian at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

 

My mom and I have so many wonderful memories of our trip to Ireland with Ian.  I could write on and on about the places we went and the people we met.  During that trip I literally saw Ian grow up from a boy to a young man brimming with wanderlust, ready to start high school, already thinking about college and his life ahead.  We talked about so many things as we walked the trail, watching the Atlantic ocean crashing into the edge of this marvelous country.   

Graham Greene wrote that “there is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”  I believe that door opened for Ian in Ireland, at least a bit or a little further.  Because like what is all of Ireland he experienced the soul’s yearnings, the happiest of hearts, the enchantment of the past and the hope for the future.

“Do” Understand Tooth Fairy Economics

31 Jul

 

One of the very first teeth lost

 

It’s amazing how children learn to put two and two together fairly quickly.  Especially when they’re getting ready to go into kindergarten and have an aptitude for math and it involves cash.  One of the rites of passage for any niece or nephew is to lose their teeth for a period of about 5 years when they’re about age 5 through 10.  And then of course the tooth fairy comes and leaves them a monetary surprise for the pain of losing the tooth.   

Elyse lost her first tooth at home and her Mom and Dad gave her the going rate for the first lost tooth of a shiny silver dollar.  She lost her second baby tooth at home as well, and then received a dollar bill for that one.   

She happened to be at my house when she lost her third tooth.  She was really upset that she wasn’t at her house that night, but I explained to her that the tooth fairy was magic, she would find Elyse and come take her baby tooth to someplace special in Ireland (because that’s where fairies are from of course) where all baby teeth were kept.  (Thank goodness she didn’t ask what the fairy would do with millions of baby teeth!) 

Never afraid to smile for the camera!

 

She wrapped her tooth up in some tissue, and put it under her pillow.  Tucked safely in bed, I had a conversation with my Mother about what to have the tooth fairy give her.  We didn’t really know what my brother and sister-in-law were giving at the time, but we had always been generous with the other kids when they lost a tooth with one of us and had given at least $3.00 a tooth or a special silver dollar.  So with consideration to tooth fairy inflation, and the fact we had no silver dollars, we agreed $5 would be appropriate.  

Wiggling a bottom tooth with her tongue to encourage losing it in "Johnson County!"

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have $5 handy.  I had a couple $20 and $10 dollar bills, a dollar bill and two quarters.  So what’s an aunt to do?  Give her adorable, toothless little niece $10 of course!  When she woke  up, she was thrilled with what the very generous tooth fairy had left under her pillow.   The tooth fairy bar had been set high. 

For the fourth tooth, she was at home and the tooth was about ready to come out.  She told her Mom and Dad that she wanted to come over to my house, but she didn’t tell them about the loose tooth.  She came over and she wiggled and fiddled with the tooth all night.  Finally it came out (Elyse just gave it a good yank herself!).   Before she went to sleep she said, “I hope the Johnson County tooth fairy comes here again.” 

Johnson County tooth fairy? Who’s that? Where did she come up with this? 

Elyse went on to explain.  “Well I get far more money from the Johnson County tooth fairy versus the Jackson County tooth fairy.”  

Temporary St. Patrick's Day tatoos on Elyse's cheeks highlight her beautiful toothless smile!

 

Elyse and her family live in a nice neighborhood area of downtown Kansas City, in Jackson County.  My house is located in a suburb of Kansas City, on the Kansas side, in Johnson County. In her mind she had figured there couldn’t just be one tooth fairy, because how could she travel all over the world collecting baby teeth?  She thought that there would be fairies stationed everywhere and that they each handled their jobs differently.  Basically she decided she had hit the jackpot with the “Johnson County” tooth fairy.    

I had decided to back off from the $10 and go down to $5 with this tooth (still higher than the Jackson County tooth fiary), but with Elyse’s establishment and expectation of the Johnson County tooth fairy, how could I?  So I slipped $10 under her pillow in exchange for the sweetest little baby tooth (which I kept and still have).   I figured, how many teeth could she lose at my house?  I figured wrong. 

The next tooth to come out happened at her house.  But several days later, she came to stay all night, and with her, wrapped up in a tissue, sealed in an envelope so she wouldn’t lose it, was the tooth.  “I wanted to bring my tooth to the Johnson County tooth fairy, she’s my tooth fairy and she needs my baby teeth really bad or else she wouldn’t be giving me so much money for them.”  

Elyse missing a whole bunch of teeth, but cashing in!

 

She also told my Mom and me that when comparing income from tooth fairies with her friends, the other girls mentioned getting anywhere from a quarter to a dollar, and Elyse told them they should go to Johnson County to lose their teeth.  My brother and sister-in-law hadn’t been able to convince her that it didn’t matter where she put her tooth, and they thought it was kind of funny – “more power to her” my brother told me.  

From then on, with just a few exceptions, Elyse would bring her teeth over as she lost them, even if she wasn’t coming over for a couple of weeks.  And yes, the Johnson County tooth fairy really needed those baby teeth, and gave Elyse $10 for each and every one.

“Do” Watch Silly Movies and Sing Sappy Songs

20 Jul

Blake Edwards’ movie, The Great Race has always been one of my favorites.  It’s an epic comedy starring Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate (and Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick), Tony Curtis as “The Great Leslie,” and Natalie Wood as Maggie Dubois.  

I remember seeing it at the drive-in theatre when I was 11 or 12, and anytime it comes on cable I’ll watch it again because it’s so fun and silly.  It has a great plot:  a turn-of-the-century automobile race from New York to Paris (westward across America, the Bering Straight and Russia), with a little romance and lots of slapstick.

Ian was over one weekend (he was just a little under 6 years old), and we were watching some TV before he went to bed.  I noticed that The Great Race was on, and he loved movies, so I thought he would enjoy this one.  He thought it was hilarious – he laughed and giggled, and really enjoyed the action and pratfalls, the big pie fight and more. 

There’s a song in the movie called “The Sweetheart Tree.”  Natalie Wood sings it during one scene (actually I think she was dubbed), and it’s played during  the closing credits.  Ian just loved this song.  After the movie was over and I put him to bed, he asked me to sing the song to him.  It has very sweet and charming lyrics, almost like a lullaby.  Fortunately, it is an easy song to remember as it only has eight lines and the last four are repeated:

“The Sweetheart Tree” (Click to listen!)
(Lyrics by Johnny Mercer/Music by Henry Mancini)

They say there’s a tree in the forest
A tree that will give you a sign
Come along with me to the sweetheart tree
Come and carve your name next to mine.

They say if you kiss the right sweetheart
The one you’ve been waiting for
Big blossoms of white will burst into sight
And your love will be true evermore.

I must have sung that song to him three or four times that night, and as I finally kissed Ian goodnight, he put his arms around my neck and hugged me and said, “Aunt Sheree, I’ll always be your sweetie.”

“Do” Have a “Super Summer Saturday!”

17 Jul

The Kazoo and Bubble blowing competition (Nick has the hat on, second from left; Katie is fourth from the left).

 

Nick loves thrill rides, roller coasters, theme parks, Worlds of Fun and Disney World.  As far back as I can remember, he has loved these, and his goal when he grew up was to own a theme park.  He wrote a business plan for it when he was about 8 years old!  He was going to employ everyone in his family in his operation to optimize revenue(!) and told me I would be his Director of Marketing and could handle the advertising.   He designed his featured roller coaster on paper incorporating vertical loops, corkscrews, roll backs and more that would have made any thrill seeker hesitate before getting on the ride.   

He also loved carnivals back then and when he and Katie would come over on Saturday, if there was a carnival in town someplace, he would know about it and want to go.  So one summer he brought together his big dreams of owning a theme park, with the essence of a carnival, but with the best engineering plan an 8-year old could develop and created an event he called “Super Summer Saturday.”  

Katie wins the apple bobbing contest while Nick intently judges!

 

His idea was to turn his backyard into a carnival.  But because he and Katie were usually with my Mom, sister or myself on Saturdays, he turned our backyard into one instead.  In June, he started planning each week that he came over, creating tickets, making signage and formulating his various “rides” or old-fashioned carnival contests.  We went to the toy store and bought primarily water toys like Super Soaker water guns (smaller versions), those dive and wet slide toys (which ended up representing the roller coaster), silly sprinklers and more.    

The big day came and he we got the yard set up with different areas that were the “rides.”  His imagination had no boundaries and the simplest little things took on the essence and charm of his vision.  We had invited some other kids to come over, including my Mom’s friend Pauline and some of her grandchildren.  Everyone had a blast!  It was so much fun for the kids and Nick was so excited and proud of his creation.  They played all Saturday afternoon and delighted in everything Nick had developed.    

Ian and Elyse as water monsters ready to go to the pool on a "Super Summer Saturday"

 

While we never did a backyard carnival/theme park again (Nick moved on to going to the real theme parks), “Super Summer Saturday” became part of our family vocabulary.  After Nick and Katie grew up, Ian and Elyse picked it up.  It reflected the days of summer when the kids would come over and we would do something simple or special.  Someone would say “Let’s have a ‘Super Summer Saturday’ and go to the park!” Or, “let’s have a ‘Super Summer Saturday’ at the pool!”  What made it super is that we would do something silly or fun as part of it.   

“Super Summer Saturday” still exists symbolically for me when I get together with Nick.  In fact last week we had  a super Saturday – we went out to eat at a relatively new restaurant/bistro (Trezo Vino), had wonderful summer food with a white sangria (with the fruit infused in vodka) and did a little window shopping.    

Regardless of age or activity, any Saturday I spend with Nick  in the summer will always be super!

“Don’t” Buy Your Niece Purple Hair Mascara

13 Jul

Just don’t do it.  No matter how she pleads or looks at you with those big blue eyes, or says it’s just for fun, that she just wants to try it.      

Katie and I went to lunch at Nordstrom’s one Saturday, and afterwards, we went down to their cosmetic department to just look around.  On a display case was a new product for “hair mascara.”  It came in three bright colors – purple, pink and red.     

Katie never ever asked me for anything (nor for that matter does my other niece or nephews), and for some reason (maybe it was because she was a Freshman in high school and wanted to see how she would look as a rocker chick!) the hair mascara captured her attention and she wanted to try it.  “Just for fun,” she said, “I can always wash it out.”    

If you ever face the dilemma of your niece wanting to highlight her hair in a bright color, I'd suggest you buy a removable purple hair extension instead!

Something sort of told me that this wasn’t something I should do – I was concerned that the dye in the mascara could ruin her long, pretty blonde hair.  But the cosmetic clerk said it would easily wash out.  So we bought it.  Well it didn’t wash out easily.  According to her Mom, it took about 3 weeks for the purple streaks to completely disappear.   I’m thinking she was a little annoyed with me, but would never have said anything.    

So I learned if I buy cosmetics or hair care products for my nieces, to replenish items that are already acceptable by my sister-in-laws.  However, now and then something frivolous might be purchased just for the fun of it (e.g., silver glitter eyeshadow), as long as it washes off easily.  And if you ever face this dilemma as an aunt, you can always just buy purple hair extensions that clip in and out!   Because afterall, that’s your prerogative as their aunt!
 
 

“Don’t” Just Shop for Them

4 Jul

Nick about 2 years old looking very dapper!

In 1979, I had moved to Chicago to work at one of the world’s largest ad agencies, and I loved my work, my friends, my life there immensely.  While I traveled back to Kansas City for holidays, more often than not, I urged my family to come visit me as Chicago had so much to offer.  

But something very profound happened to me in the latter part of 1983.  On November 1, 1983 I became an Aunt for the first time.   Unfortunately, I was not there when Nicholas Michael arrived in this world.  I had to hear about the news on the phone from my Mom, and I was so disappointed that I couldn’t be there to share in my Mother’s joy about being a grandmother for the first time, or my brother’s and sister-in-law’s elation at becoming parents.   

I held my first nephew for the first time over the Thanksgiving holiday when he was one month old.  I came home loaded with presents from Marshall Field’s - blankets, little outfits, cute bibs, stuffed animals and more.  I brought a whole second suitcase just to carry everything.  He was absolutely, totally adorable.  He had big blue eyes that melted your heart and was a wonderful baby in every way.  

Once Nick arrived, I started coming back to Kansas City more often, about every six weeks.  I would hear about how he was growing, talking, walking and missing it all, so I would come home as often as I could.  And with Nick’s arrival, I found out about the pure pleasure and fun in shopping as an Aunt.   

The Harrod's Bear

I had gone to London in  October of 1984 for business, and shopped at Harrod’s in Knightsbridge buying him a baby blue cotton romper with a matching hat and other cute things and toys for his first birthday.  I also visited Selfridges on Oxford Street and picked up a pair of grey plaid knickers with a matching sweater at a children’s boutique on Piccadilly Street.    

For his second birthday, again at Marshall Field’s, I bought him a camel’s wool double-breasted coat, with the collar, pocket flaps and buttons in brown leather.  It had a matching cap, with the bill in brown leather, and came with leggings made of brown leather as well.   

I don’t know if I started my Aunt shopping frenzy just because that’s what aunts are supposed to do (?) or because I felt guilty, jealous or something else for not being around him as much as my Mom and sister.  I guess I worried that Nick wouldn’t get to know me.   

Many of my friends at the time (also single working women not remotely concerned about getting married or having kids, after all, this was the 80’s) were Aunts and saw their nieces and nephews often because they lived in the same town.  Gone was the old cliché of aunts as old maids – the new aunt was hip, had a good salary to afford spoiling, and would take her “weekend kids” anywhere.  They were fun to be around and good company.    

Nick about 14, always looking good!

Being an aunt is all about giving – not just your credit card, but giving your time, your wisdom, your love.  Aunting is also a special honor and privilege in terms of receiving.  They love you not because your family or the gifts that you do spoil them with because you can, but because of that special bond that they have with you.   

So one of the happiest days of being an Aunt out of the hundreds and hundreds that I’ve had, was the day I was home for another holiday.  I walked into my brother’s house and Nick (a little over 2 years old) comes running out of his room into my arms yelling “Chicago, Chicago!  My Chicago is home!”   

He did know me!  He just didn’t know my right name.  He thought my name was Chicago!  The family deduced that he called me that because when people would talk about me when I wasn’t around it would be with Chicago attached to it.  Thus my name to Nick for a year or two was Chicago. It was fine with me.  

Katie, my Mom and Nick in front of the Chicago Art Institute

Nick grew up to be a great dresser, with an eye for classic clothing from fine department stores – dress shirts from Brooks Brothers, suits from Halls.  He always look impeccably neat and pulled together.  I’d like to think I had a bit to do with it from those first outfits from Marshall Fields and Harrod’s.   

A couple of years ago Nick, Katie, my Mom and I went to Chicago for the weekend to go Christmas shopping.  We had the best time.   We didn’t just shop – we went to the top of the 95th of the Hancock Building, to the Chicago Art Institute, had Chicago pizza at Uno’s, martinis (by that time they were 22 and 21) at the Grand Lux Cafe and brunch at the Ritz-Carlton.  And we went to Marshall Fields.   

I came full circle as an Aunt with Nick on our trip to Chicago.  Beyond being able to have the means and the desire to shop for them, Nick taught me over the years how much fun it was to just be with them, to love them, especially the day he yelled “Chicago, Chicago, my Chicago is home.”  

“Do” Believe in a Little Magic

4 Jul

A picture of part of the courtyard (before the arrival of the toad house)

The townhome I lived in before my current home had a beautiful outdoor courtyard surrounded by a high brick wall to the west and then a wooden fence on the opposite wall.  I had planted all kinds of perennials in it, plus lots of annuals every summer.  It was a pleasant place to sit, read, cook out or entertain, and for Ian and Elyse, to play or just hang out and talk.     

I was reading an issue of Martha Stewart Living one Saturday afternoon in the courtyard – it was an article about toads and toad houses.  Basically it said that if you put a toad house in your garden, pest-eating toads would show up and find it – and then hang out in your garden.  So I bought a really cute toad house online (total price $35.00) and put it in a nice shady place under a tree in the courtyard.  However, after several days, no toads showed up.  

The next weekend Ian and Elyse were over and Ian said, “I know let’s go to the park and find some toads!  We can catch them, then bring them back to the toad house and they will have a really cool new home.”   He felt bad that no toads had showed up for my toad house and saw it as a big adventure/quest to go out and find at least one toad!

Ian was about 11 at the time and Elyse about 7.  Not having anything available to catch toads with, we went to the store and purchased a small net and a small plastic bucket with a lid (total price $16.50).  We grabbed some snacks (total price $20.00) and drove over to Antioch park, a very pretty and fun area near my townhome.  While we had a great time in the park as usual, we searched the pond area for several hours but found no toads.   

Ian reading Harry Potter in the courtyard patio; Elyse looking at a book on flowers

Ian was really disappointed that he couldn’t find me a toad for my toad house, so I said we’d go to a pet store and see if they had any.  Elyse had given up on the toad hunt and stayed home with Grandma, but Ian and I drove to the nearest pet store. 

The only person in the store was the cashier, who was a grumpy middle-aged guy with a scrappy beard.  I asked him if he had any toads and he responded, “why, what are you going to do with one?”  I thought this was a very curious question, and really none of his business.  Did he think we were going to use it to cast a spell on someone or something?  But he looked at me and said, “we’re all out of toads, go to Antioch park.”      

Once again, we were disappointed about not finding a toad, but Ian was still convinced that we could find one someplace.  Then he said, “I know the best place to go, it’s the  pet store by our house, they will have one!”  This store was about a half hour away, but I thought it was a brilliant idea, surely they would have toads as it was an exotic pet store and they had all sorts of fish and reptiles. So we rushed over there because it was going to close in an hour at 6PM (we had been toad hunting all day).   

Ian at Antioch Park, looking a little tired and disappointed after hunting for toads

Sure enough, they actually had a toad/frog section.  I asked the young clerk if they had any simple pond toads, and he said no, but they had all kinds of exotic toads from all over the world.  (I guess there are people who keep amphibians as pets.)  They were called everything from the Granulated Toad to the Great Plains Toad, from the Fire Belly Toad to the Egyptian Green Toad, ranging in price from $12.00 to $300 each!

Being an 11-year old boy (and at the time, reading the Harry Potter books), Ian was fascinated by all the toads and was so excited that we had found one, especially one that would be so special!  Instinctively, I knew these were probably not the kind of toads you throw out in your courtyard to live in the toad house, but I didn’t want to disappoint him.  So I rationalized that a toad is a toad, and that whichever one we would buy would stay put.  (But the prices of these toads did give me cause to pause!)    

So we walked out of the store with a Chilean Christmas Toad – he was sort of skinny for a toad, was blackish green and had red markings all over him (total price $29.99!).  He was the second least expensive toad but Ian knew we had found the most perfect toad.  He named him Trevor – after Neville’s toad (in Harry Potter) who was escaping all the time and made frequent attempts at freedom.     

We brought Trevor home and went out to the courtyard, with Ian peeking in Trevor’s box all the way home to see how he was doing.  Ian opened up Trevor’s box and gently scooted him towards the toad house.  Dutifully, Trevor jumped over to the toad house and sat in front of the door of it for several minutes.  He seemed to be looking at us, almost inspecting us, but didn’t look afraid.  He turned around and went inside the toad house, just like that!  Martha Stewart was right!      

Ian sat outside for several hours until sundown (by this time it was 9PM on a Saturday night), watching what Trevor would do.  Sometimes Trevor would pop out of his little toad house and roam around a bit, but Ian always coaxed him back over to the house.  Finally, Ian came inside, and he was confident that Trevor would be there in the morning.  

Unfortunately, he was not.  Ian had stayed the night and the first thing the next morning went out to check on Trevor.  Trevor was gone.  Ian was sad.  I felt foolish for spending by this time $81.49 on the toad house, the search for a toad and for Trevor, and the little thing just hopped away.  And now I had a sad little nephew.    

Trevor's toad house in its new location with its new toads

Ian convinced himself that Trevor escaped while he could (unlike in the book, Neville’s Trevor never managed to escape) and was on his way back to Chile.  Ian reasoned that Trevor would find a stream to follow and would just keep swimming and hopping South until he got to Valparaíso or someplace near there.  I secretly hoped Trevor would come back now and then and do his job at pest control.  But we never saw him again.     

So while I bought an expensive toad that was with us for less than 24 hours, the whole toad hunting adventure that day with Ian was priceless.  And like Harry Potter, and the lore around toads, perhaps Trevor was a very magical toad, and he was able somehow to make it home to Chile.      

In 2003, the toad house made the move to my new house, and it sits nestled among the hostas in the shade under the deck in the back.  I often see tiny little toads coming and going in and around it, and when I do, I’m reminded of Trevor and that magical day toad hunting with Ian.

“Do” Have a Happy Fourth of July Weekend!

2 Jul

Elyse at 6 Cheering for the 4th of July!

 

With the weekend coming up, thought I would post two pictures of Elyse and Ian (from different years) celebrating the fourth of July.  Here’s Elyse in her bob haircut about age 6 or 7, (missing teeth), rooting for the holiday.  Unfortunately, after that age, we never got her in any further holiday shirts or apparel!!  :-)  

And I love this picture of my Mom and Ian in front of this HUGE flag at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, CO.  The whole family went there a couple years ago for the July 4th holiday, and it was a fabulous vacation.   

My Mom & Ian on the 4th of July at the Broadmoor in CO

 

 

“Do” Buy Your Niece a Hat

26 Jun

This was Katie's straw boater hat, except it had a pale blue ribbon instead.

 

 Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor performing arts venue) has been an important part of my life since I was 10.  I remember my Mother taking us at least once every summer, and although we sat way in the back, it was as fun and exciting as ever.  My favorites from those years were Bye Bye Birdie, Camelot, West Side Story and Brigadoon!      

Mom carried on the tradition with her grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, and we have taken all the kids to Starlight each summer since Nick was 9, Katie was 8, and later when Ian was 6, then when Elyse was 6.  And we now have great season tickets in the center orchestra section, row 4, aisle seats, which gave them a birds-eye view of the stage.     

All four of the kids have loved going with us year after year, and since we only have four seats, there’s friendly competition about who goes to what show.  But as they have gotten older, they’ve gotten more selective about what show they want to attend.  It was very bittersweet last night that I couldn’t get any of them to go to the season opener “Little House on the Prairie.”  They were either too busy or not interested, or saving their Starlight “attendance pass” for one of the other shows later in the season.     

Katie trying on a fur hat while we were Christmas shopping at Lord & Taylor in Chicago

Last night as Mom and I watched the show without any of the kids, the girl playing Laura Ingalls buys herself a new straw hat in the second half of the show.  It reminded me of the new straw boater hat we bought Katie (and matching dress) on the first occasion of her Starlight début (we saw Cats)!  She looked absolutely beautiful.  She had long straight blonde hair, and the hat’s straw pale color was almost the color of her hair.  It had a pale blue ribbon on it, the exact color of her eyes, and a small little daisy on it.  The sundress was also pale blue, with miniature daisies across the bodice.     

Everywhere she went she looked like a breath of fresh air, and people would do a double take because of how stunningly pretty she looked.  Most eight year olds would have kept the hat on for just a few minutes to humor their aunt or grandma, but Katie wore that hat with confidence!      

And while Katie doesn’t necessarily like to wear hats now, she does dress and wear clothes with confidence.  Proof in point:  she’s now very tall and loves wearing high heels!  And incidentally, when we go shopping, she loves to stop and try on hats (and shoes of course).     

I probably will be sharing more Starlight memories, as it has been a big part of the time I’ve spent with my nephews and nieces.  We’ve laughed  and cried together, have been hot and chilly together (sitting at the outside theatre), but mainly we’ve had so much fun and have made wonderful memories together.  And by the way, “Memories” from Cats was Katie’s and my favorite song that night she wore the straw hat.

“Don’t” Make Your Niece Look Like a Donkey

21 Jun

Elyse with my Mom, her Grandma

The other day I was in the car with my Mom and my niece Elyse, doing some “strategic strike” shopping as Elyse calls it, and we were talking about social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogging and more. I mentioned my idea for this blog, and they both got really excited about it. Elyse said, “Call it the Do’s and Don’ts of Aunting” – and tell about all of our trips, adventures and fun times!”  And then she started rattling off some “Do and Don’t” examples and we all started laughing and having fun with just the handful she named.  So I’m going to start this blog with a “Don’t” in honor of Elyse.      

Elyse is getting ready to start high school at the end of this summer having graduated from 8th grade this past May. It was the start of grade school as a kindergartener that this particular story happened. During her school Christmas pageant, it was tradition that the kindergarteners all marched in from the back of the church as animals. Having some moderate seamstress skills, her mom asked me to whip up a costume – and Elyse wanted to be a puppy. How hard would that be?   

I went and bought a really cute puppy pattern, two colors of furry material and some Velcro. The suit was a breeze to make, but the headpiece, which was basically a bonnet to carry the ears, was a bit more challenging.  I thought it looked cute, sort of like a basset hound (don’t think that was the puppy she had in mind nor even knew at the time what breed that was!) and excited to see what she would think of her finished costume when I dropped it off the night before.       

Donkey or Puppy?

Well take a look at the picture; the ears were a little too long and floppy. (The Velcro didn’t exactly get in alignment when she put on the costume.)  And when she walked down the aisle with the other kids, her puppy suit could have been mistaken by some as a donkey, but surely they would know she was a puppy, right?       

Elyse doesn’t let people get to her, and doesn’t take anything from anybody, so when she got a few “that’s a cute donkey suit,” or “wow Elyse, why did you want to be a donkey, I thought you were going to be a puppy” comments, she didn’t let it bother her.  But I’ve heard about it every year since then, as she had eight more Christmas pageants, where all the new kindergarteners would march in wearing their costumes reminding her of that donkey suit with the silly ears that she had to wear.     

But as always, she was one of a kind, and no one else – that year or the remaining eight years of grade school – was ever a donkey!  And what a cute donkey she was!

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