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Do Be Happy!

2 Jun

Because it makes me so happy to be with any and all of my nephews and nieces, here they are in the “Happy” song!  Nick, Katie, Ian, Elyse and Laura.  Just for fun!

“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!

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

“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!

“Do” Introduce Your Niece to Nordie’s!

14 Nov

Showing off a new outfit from Nordstrom's

The first time I ever went into a Nordstrom’s was the weekend that it opened in the Kansas City area (in Oak Park Mall/Overland Park, KS).  Mom, Elyse (who was about 4) and I went to just look, but an hour or so later we came out with bags loaded with really cute dresses and outfits from the children’s department.  And of course shoes! 

Mom and Elyse discovered the children’s shoe department and there was no looking back, the two of them would visit that department over the years many times a year, until of course Elyse’s foot outgrew the department – then she moved downstairs to shoe heaven – Nordstrom’s Women’s Shoes. 

Elyse learned to become a “strategic strike shopper” at Nordstrom’s.  Strategic strike shopping is Elyse’s definition of stocking up on lots of new, complete outfits all in the span of a couple of hours.  And we do this several times a year.  The three of us always go together. 

When she was still in the children’s department we’d head upstairs to the third floor and she would pick out several cute outfits.  She would also pick out accessories to go with the outfits – a hat, bangle bracelets, a jacket, or a one-of-a-kind-to-die-for-cute-purse!  Then she would look at my mom and say excitedly, “shoes!”  

Elyse at the Nordstrom's fashion show.

At some point during our shopping visit, we would go to Nordstrom’s Cafe.   We’d need a break from our shopping blitz, so Mom and Elyse would go sit down and I’d get in line to order three small bowls of their famous tomato basil soup (with the crostini’s!) and we’d split a ham and cheese panini sandwich with the pommes frites.  This soup is wonderful goodness, and always hits the spot!

After being restored and re-energized, we were ready to shop a little for Mom and myself, but we were typically there to shop for Elyse.  She was about 11 or 12 when the children’s department manager asked my Mom if Elyse would want to model in their Fall children’s fashion show at the store.  Since we were frequent customers there, we were on a first name basis with Shirley, the department manager.  Of course Elyse would want to model!  How exciting!  Plus she’d get a new outfit for doing so!

By then Shirley knew Elyse’s tastes – she was almost ready to move across the store to the BP Juniors Department, as Elyse never liked to dress little girl frilly.  She had then and still does an innate fashion sense for hip, stylish well-made clothes, and she always added something with a little bit of flair.

The black velvet jacket from the fashion show did double duty with a white blouse and gauchos. Elyse tied a black silk ribbon as a belt for that finishing touch!

The fashion show was a success, and Elyse looked adorable of course.  She had on a jean mini skirt with black leggings, and a black velvet jacket over a black camisole.  She wore a plaid newsboy cap, and carried a black suede purse.  And of course she wore new shoes – flat, ballet-style with interesting diagonal straps.  All the kids (from age 3-13) came out from behind a stage, walked down a small runway, stood on a circle for a moment then walked back.  Elyse did so with such confidence and charm, it was as if she had modeled for years.

Now that Elyse is in high school, she has broadened the stores we shop at – but unfortunately (or fortunately) Nordstrom’s set a high mark.  While we still shop at Nordstrom’s of course, our strategic strike weekends now include J. Crew, Von Maur, Hall’s on the Plaza.  She went through an American Eagle phase for a while, but when she wants to replenish her wardrobe while replenishing her soul, we head for Nordstrom’s for the day for clothes, tomato soup and shoes. 

Another "Strategic Strike" outfit: dress, sweater, hair clip from J. Crew; shoes (trust me, they're cute!) - Nordstrom's!

In fact, every now and then I’ll get a text message from her on a Thursday or Friday that simply says “Nordie’s???”  And we’re off that Saturday – Mom, Elyse and myself.  We now usually start the day with lunch – three bowls of tomato soup of course. 

Elyse then carefully selects outfits to try on.  Mom sits in the waiting area, and I go to the dressing room to help out – I’m more like her lady-in-waiting, taking things off the hanger for her to try on, hanging items back up, and dividing up what’s staying at the store, and what’s going home with us. 

She then goes out to model in front of her Grandma and the sales clerk (who’s magically showing up with other things Elyse “might like”).  And after we’re done with lunch and shopping in the BP department, we head downstairs to shoes. And now we’re also making quick hits in the cosmetic department. 

There will be other stores for shopping with Elyse, other lunch places to discover, but Nordstrom’s will always be top of the list for both.  It’s a special place.  It brings such a smile to her face.  The joy,  fun and memories we have together there are priceless.

A summer "Strategic Strike" outfit - part Nordstrom's/part J. Crew

“Do” Keep a Roll of Quarters Handy

26 Sep

At one time or another, I imagine we’ve all tried those exasperating claw machines stuffed full of plush bears, cats and other animals.  Some of them also have toys, prizes, jewelry and more.  They are eye-catching and both children and adults are equally lured to try their luck.  You can find claw machines in many places – grocery stores, Wal-Mart, restaurants, arcades, movie theatres, Dave and Busters, carnivals, theme parks and more.   

Ian at the Disneyland Hotel

 

I remember Ian starting his way to becoming a claw machine champion when he was about 5 or 6 years old.  There was a machine in our local grocery store, and he’d love to go to the store with my Mom (Grandma) or me and try his luck.  At 5o cents a try/claw drop, we would give him about two to three dollars, and he usually never failed to walk out of the store with some cute little stuffed puppy or something else.  Sometimes he would win back-to-back, and would walk out of the store with two prizes, much to the frustration of other kids standing near the machine waiting for their turn.  

For Ian, it was never about winning the toy/prize.  It was about his skill beating the machine.  Often he would turn around and give the plush animal to his sister Elyse or another little girl or boy standing nearby, broken-hearted because they had spent their last quarter and hadn’t won anything.  As his skill grew on this particular machine, he sought out other claw machines in the city, and sometimes we would purposely drive to that place so Ian could try his hand.  I remember going to a Wal-Mart with him (and I really don’t like to shop at Wal-Mart) specifically to try out their claw machine.  After spending just eight quarters, he walked out with a tiny bear, a hot lips pillow and a dalmatian puppy with a fireman hat on its head.  Quite a crowd had gathered after he won the first one (because people are skeptical of these machines and most believe they are rigged), and after we left the area, people and their kids lined up to try their hand, but I doubt if anyone was as “lucky” as Ian.  

However, we soon realized that it wasn’t luck, but skill.  Before putting his quarters in he would study the position of various animals, noting if it was a four- or three-pronged claw.  He would then put his quarters in and quickly get the claw over the top of his target.  He would maneuver the claw so that the four prongs were positioned above and below both arms of the plush animal in his sights, with the central part of the claw close to the neck, or high chest area.   

Ian at Disneyland's Tea Cups

 

So his trick was to grab the chest of the animal, and not the head.  Often he didn’t get it on the first try, but he would use that first try to help get his target into a better position.  He had a different strategy for three-pronged claw machines.  In the period of one to two years, we amassed  bags full of plush toys.  We would eventually donate most, but Ian would keep some (for those claw conquests that had been particularly difficult).   

About 13-14 years ago, I was speaking at an industry trade conference in California, participating on a panel about media trends.  The conference was at the Disneyland Hotel, right on the Disneyland property.  While this trip was noteworthy for many reasons (JFK Jr. had just launched the magazine George the year earlier, and he was the keynote speaker so I was in great company!), it was especially memorable for Ian’s claw machine success.     

Because the conference was in Disneyland, ideally I had wanted to take all four nieces and nephews with me; after all, what fun is Disney without a child with you?  Nick and Katie couldn’t go because of school and a few other reasons, Elyse was too little (she had just turned two), so I took Ian.  Mom/Grandma came with us to watch Ian because I had to speak/go to the conference (which was on  Thursday and Friday, so we planned to stay through Sunday).  It was his first plane ride so he had the double excitement of going to Disneyland and riding on a plane on the same day.    

We checked in on the  Wednesday evening prior to the start of the conference.  I went to a quick committee meeting, then the three of us decided to walk the grounds around the hotel.  Low and  behold outside of the Disney store on the property was a claw machine.  Inside the store were all of the Mickey, Goofy, Pluto and other Disney plush toys a kid could only dream about.  But Ian first had to try his hand at the claw machine. (Which curiously did not have Disney branded plush toys, just your typical claw machine animals and prizes.)   

On his second try, he grabbed a pretty white cat with butterscotch spots on it and brown ears.  It dutifully dropped down the chute, and he picked it up and gave it to me.  “This is for you Aunt Sheree, for bringing me to Disneyland.”  I asked him what we should call it, and he said “let’s call it Rose, because I wanted to get you a rose for bringing me here.”  Oh yes, he was such a charmer, and still is!  

We weren’t planning on going to Disneyland until the conference was over on Saturday morning.  So while I was in attendance at the various sessions, Mom and Ian hung out on the hotel property.  I came back to the room the first day of the conference and they were watching TV, but sitting on my bed with Rose the cat were four more plush animals.  He had won all four that day on his visit back to the claw machine.  He was so excited to show me, and my Mom said he had won all four from the claw machine in less than 10 minutes.  

I secretly wondered if winning at the claw machine was part of the “Disney magic” – but it was in a prominent place on the property (near the Monorail station) and we saw other kids walk away empty-handed.  Ian struck the machine again on Friday while I was at the conference, and came back with another four more plush toys, so he now had a total of nine!   

The infamous Claw Machine at the Disneyland Hotel

 

Saturday came and we were off that morning to Disneyland and we had so much fun going to Main Street, U.S.A.; walking through Cinderella’s Castle; twirling in the Tea Cups; and making our way through the Pirates of the Caribbean.  We also found many characters, including Mickey Mouse and Goofy, and Ian captured all of their signatures.  We spent most of the day there and at about 4PM he was getting a little tuckered so we jumped on the Monorail back to the hotel.   

As we exited the Monorail, the claw machine was just about ten feet ahead, so of course before walking back to our room, Ian looked at me and asked, “just one more time Sheree, before we go back to the room?”   

I had learned to keep quarters in my purse for the kids – for gumball machines as well as for the claw machine.  So I handed him my last 10 quarters and said, “okay this is it, try it one more time.”  Well once again, he won, this time three plush animals.   

He was so excited and a bit proud of his claw machine skills.  A little girl walked by with her Dad, and looked at the machine wistfully, but the Dad said something to his daughter that with Ian having just won three, she wouldn’t be able to win, so despite her asking to try, they kept on walking.  Ian ran after them a few feet, and said, “here, you can have this bear, I already have one like it,” causing a big smile to break out on her face as she said thank you.     

Cinderalla gets a big hug from Ian

 

I went into the store to buy a suitcase or backpack to put all eleven of his plush animals won from the claw machine.  They wouldn’t fit in the suitcases we had, plus there were other Disney items we had purchased at Disneyland.  When we got back to Kansas City and dropped Ian off at home, he was as excited to show all of his claw machine animals to his Mom and Dad as he was to tell them about Disneyland!   

Ian continued to play claw machines as he grew older, but always gave his winning toy/animal to either Elyse or some other kid watching him play.  And by this time, he ceased playing multiple times, if he won, he would be done.  Just a couple of years ago while in high school, we were all going to the show together to see a holiday movie and while waiting in line to enter the theatre, he went over and played the claw machine for old times sake.  On his first try, he won a mini Chiefs football, and he promptly gave it to a little boy standing there watching.     

The little boy said thanks, and said, “if I give you my two quarters, can you get my little brother a football as well?”  Ian told him to keep his change, and said he would try.  There was one more football in the glass case.  Ian looked at its position, looked up at the position of the claw, walked back around to the front and dropped in two quarters.  He quickly twirled the claw apparatus around so it would hit the roundest part of the football, then dropped it down at just the right minute.   

We were all sort of holding our breaths, and the two little brothers were watching in awe.  The claw picked up the football, and barely kept it in its grasp as it made its way to the opening of the chute.  It looked like he would lose it at any minute.  But the football slid down the chute.  Ian had beat the machine again!   Everyone around cheered, and Ian picked up the football and threw a quick pass to the littler brother.   

We were so proud of Ian that evening, not for his claw machine skills, but for using those skills to make two little boys he didn’t even know very, very happy.

“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.”

“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!

“Do” Help Your Niece Find Her Moondoggie

9 Jul

Ready to take-off in San Diego

 

I went to San Diego a couple of years ago for a conference and it was around Spring Break for Elyse.  Her big brother was off doing something else, and being a Sagittarius just like my Mother, Elyse is afflicted with wanderlust, and was wanting to go someplace fun for her break.  So my Mom decided to take her, my sister and myself to Coronado Island and treat for an extended weekend at the Hotel Del Coronado right after my conference.    

Elyse had turned 12 a few months earlier, and this was one of her first trips without Ian.  So I was a little concerned that she might get bored without him, since we weren’t planning on doing anything but relax at The Del.  But she loved the water and easily made friends, so this wasn’t a stumbling block at all.  Besides, she and my sister were swimming BFFs, and there was so much to do at The Del.    

Elyse holds her surf board (standing south of The Del) on Coronado Island

 

Laying by the pool and swimming had its fun moments, unfortunately there were no kids around the first day and I could tell she was getting a little bored, but I knew she would never say anything.  I had noticed that The Del gave surfing lessons.  I casually suggested this to Elyse (who is an awesome swimmer) and she jumped at the opportunity.  We went and signed her up for two morning classes for Saturday and Sunday.   And she would be in a group of 10-15 year old kids, so maybe she could meet some kids for the weekend to hang out with at the beach or the pool.    

She took to surfing like Gidget on just the first day!  In fact better than Gidget!  (Baby Boomers reading this will know who Gidget is of course!)  Elyse listened intently to the instructor and was up on the board catching the waves in no time at all that first morning.  She absolutely loved it and had so much fun.  And she was excited to tell her friends at school that she learned to surf over Spring Break.  The class was just three hours long, and afterwards, she came over to where I was reading on the beach and sat down next to me.  We had some lunch and Elyse shared with me the thrill of surfing and how that was now going to be her new sport.  I reminded her that she lived in the heart of the Midwest, and that probably wasn’t practical.    

After just a handful of attempts, Elyse was up on the surfboard in no time at all!

 

 While eating our lunch, there were some kids on the beach building a really awesome sand castle and on later inspection it was actually a sand fort.  They had dug this huge hole and were building a fortress around it.  One of the boys working on the fort had been in Elyse’s surfing class and he was about a year or two older than her.  She said to me, “don’t you think that boy is cute?”  I agreed and suggested she go down and help them with their fort.  Surprisingly she got very shy, and said no it would be too awkward, and what if they didn’t need her help or what if they wouldn’t talk to her?    

So I suggested that she walk down a ways on the beach (opposite the direction where they were building the sand fortress), then turn around and casually stroll back by them.  I told her to stop and say “Hi, I really like your fort, do you need any help?”   

She giggled, got up to do it, then ran back and said “I can’t do it.”  I was somewhat perplexed by this new shyness, as she’s always been confident around other kids, including boys, and never had a problem meeting new people.  Then I realized she was being shy because this kid wasn’t just any boy, but because like Gidget, she had found her Moondoggie (except she was a junior Gidget and he was a junior Moondoggie!).     

Elyse with her "Moondoggie" working on the sand fortress at The Del

 

I gave her a few words of encouragement, and told her there were girls around him, probably his sisters, and to talk to all of them instead of speaking just to him.  She walked back down in the opposite direction, casually turned around, and started strolling back in the direction of the kids on the beach building the sand fort.   

In no time at all, Elyse had said hi, told them they really had a cool fort, asked if she could help, and then was inside the fort digging out sand and forming a wall while standing right next to her Moondoggie.  As I suspected, the other girls did turn out to be sisters and cousins.  And Moondoggie turned out to be a very nice boy named Brendon.  They were from Arizona, and their family was also on Spring break.   

Elyse hung out with them on the beach all day, and had the best time with not only Moondoggie, but also his sisters and his cousins.  They also had fun surfing again the next morning.  While there wasn’t a permanent connection with Moondoggie, Elyse ranks this trip to San Diego as one of her favorites and has been after us to go there again soon – not only to surf, but on the remote chance that her Moondoggie will be there, and that she can accidentally run into him walking on the beach.  Because like Gidget said, I’m sure Elyse would agree that “honest to goodness it was the absolute ultimate!”   

“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.