Tag Archives: Aunt

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!

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.

Don’t Throw Away Memories

27 Aug

Last month when I was packing some personal things from my old office/job, to my delight I found in a desk drawer this very sweet and touching poem Ian had written for me when he was about 10 years old. Now that he’s 20, Ian may be very embarrassed to see it, but I will treasure it always and am so excited that I found it. 

I tend to be a bit of a hoarder as far as all four of my nieces and nephews are concerned. I keep informal scrapbooks/envelopes of things from our trips, lots of pictures, programs from their piano, dance and music recitals, and so much more.  They all have written me letters, notes, jokes, secrets and more. But this was my only poem. Reading it makes me very happy.

If ever there was an aunt,
who is as great as you.
I could never imagine,
all the things she’d do.

She’d take me to Florida,
California and New York.
And at the cinema movies,
she’d see Frodo & an Orc.

So I really guess
that what I’m trying to say,
is that you’re the best aunt ever
of the future, past or today.

-Ian
XOXOXO
      ♥

Here's the actual poem - Ian wrote it on some stationary he found in my desk drawer.

 
 

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” 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

“Don’t” Bargain Roger Rabbit for Sushi

6 Oct

In 1988 two movies were released that I will always associate fondly with my nephew Nick.  He was five at the time, and we had been taking him and his sister Katie, 17 months  younger, to the show for about a year or so and he loved going to the movies (primarily Disney films)!    

The first 1988 movie was “Beetlejuice” which he really liked and ended up going twice to see it.  It was funny and entertaining, and despite being about dead people and ghosts,  Nick was quite enamored with this movie.  For Christmas that year, we gave him several Beetlejuice toys – there are still a few in a box in my basement to this day.  I just don’t have the heart to throw them out.    

The second one was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”   It was pretty radical at the time as it combined live actors with animated characters.  It’s about this toon hating detective named Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins) who ends up being a cartoon rabbit’s only hope to prove his innocence when he is accused of murder.  You see Roger Rabbit had suspected his wife Jessica, had been two-timing (playing patty cakes) on him, so he had hired Eddie to snoop around to see if it was true.  But then the owner of Toon Town (Marvin Acme played by Stubby Kaye) ends up dead, and Roger Rabbit is accused of the murder since Marvin Acme was the man playing patty cakes with Jessica.    

It had many plot twists, colorful characters, memorable lines (Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way…”) and more.  The movie won four Oscars and had been nominated for seven, and it was visually stunning to watch all the special effects – at the time, they were truly amazing.    

So imagine how much a five-year-old boy with a big imagination would enjoy the movie.  And enjoy it Nick did.  Over, and over, and over again.  In fact, in the span of eight months, he saw that movie six times!  I saw it with him three of those times.  I believe my poor Mother saw it with him on five occasions.      

One of the last times I saw it with him was in 1989 right after the Academy Awards, and it had moved to the dollar theatres.  Nick was insistent on going again, and got quite stubborn about not wanting to see anything else.  So I bargained with him.  He was somewhat of a picky eater at the time and wouldn’t try anything too different, so the places I could take them out to eat were somewhat limited at that age (that would change in another year or two!).  So I said, if you go to the Japanese restaurant with us so I could have Sushi, we would go see Roger Rabbitt one more time.   

He readily, yet reluctantly agreed.  We went to our favorite Japanese neighborhood restaurant and thought that the kids would get a kick out of sitting in the private room with the traditional low-style Japanese table and seating mats.    It was about six o’clock and my Mom and I decided to take Nick and Katie to the eight o’clock show on a Saturday night since the kids would be spending the night.  So we had enough time to eat and get to the show a couple of blocks away.    

Once in the restaurant, the Japanese hostess escorted us to a private dining area, and motioned for us to take off our shoes.  Mom, Katie and I slipped out of ours readily but as I was moving to sit down in the low table, Nick was still standing, with his arms crossed tightly around him, and a big (but cute) pout on his face.  He didn’t want to take off his shoes – he wouldn’t take off his shoes.    

I tried to coax him gently, but he refused; my Mom tried to reason with him and he crossed his arms even tighter around him and backed up.  “I don’t want to do that, you’re not supposed to take your shoes off in a restaurant, it’s not proper manners, and I’m not going to eat here either” he said politely.

   

The Japanese hostess tried to tell him that it was alright to take off his shoes, but he just got more bull-headed.  He wasn’t about to take his shoes off.  Unfortunately there were no regular tables and chairs available as the restaurant was very crowded.  So we asked for a chair that he could sit down in, and we sat him in it just inside the corner of our private  room.  Mom told Nick to sit there that we were going to eat at this restaurant, that was the bargain he made with us for being able to see Roger Rabbit one more time.  So Mom, Katie and I all sat in the low table (shoes off) and had Sushi, Tempura and we ordered Yakitori, thinking the kids would like the grilled skewered chicken.  Nick sat quietly in his chair (shoes on) watching us eat (but never unfolding his arms).    

“This chicken is really good Nick, don’t you want a bite?” I asked.    

“No thank you,” he said ever the polite, but stubborn boy.  “I’m not hungry.”   

Grandma said sweetly, “don’t you want to come sit down by us?  You can leave your shoes on.”   

“That’s okay Grandma, I’ll just wait , I’m fine, I’ll just sit right here.”   

The Japanese restaurant was very dark and mysterious to Nick

We hurried through our meal and left the restaurant.  Nick happily jumped in the car, once again excited about seeing the movie.  While we thought this was a lesson about respecting other people’s preferences, he saw it as an exercise in exhibiting polite patience while avoiding something he didn’t want to do.  He wasn’t throwing a tantrum or anything, as this wasn’t Nick’s style as he was always, always very well-mannered, polite and sweet.     

So we went off to see “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” one last time on the big screen (it would be released later that year on video).  As we were driving to the theater about a half a block ahead the Golden Arches were within sight.  “I’m hungry,” Nick said.  “Can I please have a Happy Meal?” 

Well we couldn’t let him not have any dinner (I had planned on getting him something at the show), so we drove thru and picked up a Happy Meal and small soda and he ate it in the parking lot of the show.  As we were walking into the theater he hugged both Mom (Grandma) and me, and said “thank you so much for taking me to see Roger Rabbit one more time, it’s the best movie ever!”   

And he then said, “by the way, I’m glad you got to eat your Sushi, but that was a really strange place, I don’t ever want to go there again, it was spooky!”   

The truth came out – he had been frightened to sit down in the “pit table” as he had called it.  It was very dark in that Japanese restaurant, and he didn’t know what was “down there” under the table.  And since he didn’t know, he didn’t want to put his feet “down there” without shoes on.   He wasn’t afraid of the ghosts, dead people and the eerie stuff in “Beetlejuice,” nor was he afraid of the murder, mayhem and evil antics from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”  But unknown food, in a dark place, with unusual seating arrangements, with a lady in a kimono asking for his shoes, all that was a little too dark and mysterious for Nick’s 5-year-old imagination!

“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.

“Don’t” (Ever, Ever!) Buy Them A Live Animal!

11 Sep

When Katie was about 8 and Nick 9, we had been in a small neighborhood shopping center (Corinth Square) in Prairie Village, KS having a late lunch.  It was a beautiful Spring day, and both kids were so happy – we had been giggling and listening to Nick’s jokes and stories and as we were walking to the car, we walked by a pet store (it’s no longer there, replaced now by www.thelandofpaws.com, a stylish-type pet boutique!).     

"How much is that kitty in the window?"

 

The kids quickly went to the window to look in, and pleaded, “can we please go in and look at the puppies and kitties?” (Which were in plain view from the window of course).  What’s an aunt to do?    

We are sort of a family of cats.  I’ve always loved them since I was little and we’d go to my Uncle Mac’s farm in Eskridge, KS for Thanksgiving.  He would tell me that I could have all the kittens I could catch in the barn, but of course they were wild, and if and when I would get my hands on one, it would squirm and hiss at me and start scratching, so I’d have to drop it real fast, but I always tried every year.    

We always had at least one cat growing up – with the exception of the years we had an adorable Peke-A-Poo named Luigi Cappuccino (He was black, tan, with white markings as frothy as a fresh steamed cappuccino.)  He also understood commands in Italian (I had just come home from living in Italy when Mom and my little brother gave him to me for my birthday).  But I digress.    

My other brother (Nick and Katie’s dad) always had a cat, usually one that he would find, he’d feed it, and it would stay around.  And my sister-in-law also liked cats, and she had grown up with them as well.  So Nick and Katie had two cute cats in their household, one named D.C. (from the movie “That Darn Cat”) and another named Bandit.     

And at the time, my beloved cat Ashley was alive and well.  However, when Nick and Katie came over, he would give them disdainful glares, and was especially contemptuous when my sister-in-law would drop them off.  He was basically a one-person cat, despite Katie and Nick petting him and trying to pick him up.  He came to KC with me from Chicago, and lived for 23 years!     

I also had an outdoor cat named Watson, who I named after the golfer Tom Watson, as he was found on my brother’s golf-course (he’s the Master PGA Club Pro at Sunflower Hills).  My sister-in-law rescued Watson along with his three tabby sisters.  I took them home to my house and found homes for the three little tabby cats (who I named Birdie, Bogey and Putt-Putt) and decided to keep the all-gray cat as company for Ashley, but I could never get Watson to stay inside.  He would come and go a couple of days at a time.    

Maggie curls up in a little ball to sleep

 

Many years later, Maggie, who is the daughter of Ian and Elyse’s cat Sadie, joined my household after Watson had departed.  She overlapped with Ashley by a year before he died.  So Maggie took over the chore of being disdainful and contemptuous to the nieces and nephews.  (Oh by the way, you can follow Maggie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TheCatMaggie)     

So we had lots of cats around, plenty of cats!  Many cats!  But as soon as Katie saw all the cute kittens, one in particular gravitated towards her.  It was a little yellow striped cat, who was all furry and sweet, and just adorable.  “Please Aunt Sheree, can we get this kitty?  Mom said I could have a kitty, ’cause I want one that will be all my own.”     

“Are you sure your Mom wants another cat?” I said, “You already have D.C. and Bandit, you don’t need another cat.”    

“But it needs us, it needs me, and Mom will just love this cat, she really, really does want another cat.  She’ll be soooo happy to have this cat.  We’ve talked about it.”  Katie was just emphatic that my sister-in-law would want a third cat.    

“Nick, what do you think?” I naïvely asked my 9-year old nephew for his blessing in purchasing something that I knew probably wasn’t going to be received well by my brother and sister-in-law.       

“Well Mom loves cats, and why wouldn’t she love this one,” he replied, giving me the green light to go over the edge with the decision.     

I guess I could have called my sister-in-law, but at the time (1993) it was before the broad spread use of cell phones, and I had a feeling she would have said no on the phone.  In my mind I rationalized if she got upset, I would just keep the cat at my house for Katie.     

We never did get a picture of "Sunny," but she looked identical to this kitten.

 

So despite the nervous knot in my stomach, I nodded yes to the sales clerk and received the biggest hug of my life at the time from my adorable little niece.  “I’m going to call him ‘Sunny’ because he looks all yellow and orange, bright and happy like sunshine,” Katie said.    

In addition to purchasing Sunny, we also bought Sunny a bed, matching food and water bowls, a collar and a few toys.  I also bought a new litter box and some litter, as I didn’t want my sister-in-law to not be ready for it when she picked up the kids later.  How thoughtful of me!!    

We went back to my house and the kids fed Sunny and then played with him for several hours.  Ashley gave me a panicked look, like why was I  bringing another cat into the house, and quickly scampered upstairs.     

Finally the door bell rang.  My sister-in-law came in and before I could say a word, Katie said with delight, “Mom, look at what Aunt Sheree got me, I’ve named him Sunny, and I’m going to take care of him and love him for the rest of my life.”    

Oops!  Wrong decision!  The blood drained from my sister-in-law’s face.  “Is that so?” she said. “We already have two cats Katie, we really don’t need a third one.”    

“But you said I could have my very own cat.”  Katie replied.    

My sister-in-law countered, “I said we’d talk about it and would do that one day.”     

I stepped in and said, “I’m sorry, the kids said you were looking to get another cat, and he was so sweet, we have everything ready for him – a bed, a box… if you don’t want him, I’ll keep him here for Katie.”    

Katie said, “Oh no, I want him to live with me.”    

Noonan

 

My sister-in-law was such a good Mother at that moment (as she always is) and was such a good sport.  I knew she was mad at me, but she didn’t say a word.  But if looks could kill!  I had put her in a tough place – if she said no to Katie, then she would be the bad guy and cause her daughter heartbreak.    

“Okay,” she sighed, “but Katie, this will be your cat, and you have to take care of it.”    

Sunny went home and Katie enjoyed about a week’s time with him before he accidentally got out and ran off.  They searched for him for days, and my sister-in-law dutifully wiped Katie’s tears and my niece eventually got over her first loss of a pet.    

Lacey

 

I truly felt bad about buying the kitten.  I had crossed the invisible line of what’s acceptable for an aunt to do/buy versus a parent.  I vowed to myself to never do that again.  I vowed to at least have a conversation with their parents on something as significant as purchasing a live animal!     

Katie of course survived her heartbreak.  Now married, she and her husband Randy have two fun cats, Noonan and Lacey.  My brother and sister-in-law still have two cats, now Jake and Sassy (as D.C. and Bandit passed away).  I still have Maggie of course, who right now is giving me a scornful look – as she’s thinking it’s her turn to be blogging, and wants to post a Tweet.    

Maggie likes to be near the laptop, wherever it is, and she has a Twitter following of 850+!

“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.

“Don’t” Hunt for Eggs in the Rain

9 Aug

Powell Gardens has always been a destination for something fun to do with the nephews and the nieces.  It’s Kansas City’s botanical garden, and is set on more than 900 acres of lush, rolling hills.  It was established in 1983, and my Mother and I started going there a couple of years after that, always with one or more of the four kids with us.   

The egg hunt was held along a trail in the woods at Powell Gardens

 

About a 45-minute drive from Kansas City, we would get in the car and drive out there and make a Saturday of it, doing everything from just walking through the gardens to attending special exhibits, from taking water color painting classes, to going to the annual butterfly festival (which deserves its own story in the weeks ahead!).  The kids especially loved the days we’d go for walks, have lunch in the café (or sometimes we would take a picnic) and then do arts and crafts like painting clay pots.  

In 1991 we decided to take Nick, Katie and Ian to Powell Gardens’ annual egg hunt the Saturday before Easter.  At the time they were age 7, 6, and 2 (Elyse hadn’t been born yet). The day started a little cloudy, but we didn’t let that deter us and off we went to the hunt.  The kids looked so cute – it was spring and Saturday and they were excited and talked about all the eggs they would find and all the fun they would have.   

Katie’s birthday had been in March, and she had on for the first time this really cute outfit my Mom had given her.  It was cream color velour jeans, with a matching cropped cream corduroy jacket.  The jacket had all these gold buttons sewn everywhere on it, there must have been over 50 buttons of all types!   

The Easter Egg Hunt at Powell Gardens consisted of two activities.  Kids 6 and older could go hunt eggs in a wooded area where they had cleared a trail with hundreds of eggs scattered along the route. They said it was about a half hour walk from start to finish.  (Remember that this was Powell Gardens in 1991, not many years after it had opened.  It was a little rough back then, as now the wooded trail is a lot longer, is paved and they have made considerable improvements, built lots of buildings and attractions since then.)  

The littler kids less than 6 years old could go across the field to a hilly area where they were having an Easter egg roll.  To take part in the roll, they had requested that you bring a dozen eggs so the Powell Gardens’ volunteers would have enough to roll down the hill for all the little kids.   

So I decided to take Nick and Katie through the woods hunting eggs, and Mom took Ian to the Easter egg roll with the dozen eggs I had colored the night before.  Off we all went with several baskets in hand to line up for each event.  As we lined up at the designated time, a very light sprinkle started.  But it didn’t deter any of us and when the Powell Gardens’ volunteer blew the whistle about 100 kids followed by many adults scrambled to the entrance of the woods. (There were also about 50 or more smaller kids at the top of the hill ready for the roll.)  

Kids quickly scooped up the brightly colored neon eggs and Nick found a blue one and Katie a sunshine yellow egg.  Right after each of them found these first eggs, the sprinkle then turned to a light drizzle.  I was a little worried about all of us getting wet, so I asked them if they wanted to go back to the car, as we were still near the entrance.   Both Nick and Katie said no, they wanted to keep going until they each got the eight eggs each child was allowed to pick up.  (Powell Gardens’ way of insuring that everyone would get a fair number of eggs.)   

We went further into the woods, and things were really getting wet.  The ground had already been damp from a Spring shower the day before, and very quickly things started getting a little messy.  Both Nick and Katie were worried about getting dirty, afraid that my Mom or myself would be upset for getting their shoes and clothes muddy.  Katie was especially concerned because of her new cream-colored outfit and tiptoed on patches of green to try to avoid mud.    

Because they were being so cautious about avoiding the mud, they were missing out on getting eggs they saw, as more aggressive kids in more appropriate clothing for the weather were splashing around in the mud and greenery getting far more than the allotted eight eggs!   

Katie spotted a purple egg like these before she got stuck in the mud and fell.

 

I was very damp and feeling a little cranky, so as two boys about 9 or 10 years old passed by who had been kind of hogging all the eggs along the trail (their parents weren’t with them in the woods), I stopped them and questioned them about the number of eggs in their baskets.  While both boys shot me guilty looks as if I had caught them red-handed, the one with wet sandy-hair said “you’re not the boss of me!”   And then they ran off.   

Katie, Nick and I trudged along the trail, stepping gingerly to avoid the mud but it was almost impossible.  Suddenly Katie spotted a purple egg hidden in the moss by a tree near a small stream.  She went to step over the stream but her foot got stuck in some silt and suddenly she was sinking fast with mud oozing over her shoes that by this time were already filthy.   

When I reached her, Katie’s damp cream-colored jeans were grey up to the knees and getting darker every minute. Before I could grab her hand to pull her out, she lost her balance and fell back.  She got right back up, but now the backside of her pretty cream velour jeans and the back of her matching cream jacket had mud all over on them.  By this time the drizzle had let up a little and had turned into a steady, gentle rainfall.  

A half hour had passed, and it appeared as if we were almost to the end of the trail.  However, Nick had only collected 5 of his 8 eggs, and Katie only 3 of her 8.  I looked at my poor miserable, wet and muddy niece and nephew and said, “why don’t we head back and find Grandma and Ian?  This isn’t the best day to hunt for eggs.”   

They nodded in agreement and both started saying sweet little things so I wouldn’t feel bad.  Nick grabbed my hand saying, “We found plenty of eggs, Aunt Sheree, we don’t need any more.”  

“This has  been so much fun it’s not your fault that it rained,” said Katie, taking my other hand, “I’m sure Grandma or Mom can get my outfit clean, they’ll just have to use some extra soap.”  

Nick put one of his eggs in Katie’s basket so they each had four eggs.  We finally made it to the clearing and walked over to the parking lot.  But the egg roll was over, and we couldn’t find my Mom and Ian.  Suddenly this door opens to a big white van, and there she is on the passenger side, Ian on her lap, with some strange man on the drivers’ side.   

She explained that the driver of the van had let them take cover from the rain since I had the car keys in my purse.  At least the two of them were dry!  But my painted easter eggs were a bust.  First of all, we weren’t supposed to have brought real eggs, and the dye quickly had washed away with the rain.  The hard-boiled eggs sat in a basket on the ground outside the van with just hints of color left here and there and they weren’t allowed to be rolled down the hill by the powers to be at Powell Gardens.  

I had no pictures from this adventure at Powell Gardens, but Katie still talks about it to this day!

 

Nick wasn’t that muddy except his shoes, or at least it didn’t show on his navy pants and sweater.  But poor Katie was a disaster.  Her long blonde hair was wet and had a little bit of mud in it from the fall, and the cream-colored jeans and the cute little button jacket were wet and covered in mud and green stains from the foliage, ferns and grass.  

The rain had stopped  and we all headed over to the car.  We took off Nick and Katie’s muddy shoes and socks (all soaked) and took off Katie’s jacket and put them all in the car trunk.  Fortunately, I had a couple of blankets in the trunk.  I took one and circled it around her, had her slip off the muddy wet jeans, then I wrapped her up in it.  We put Ian in his car seat, then next to him in the back, we bundled Nick and Katie with the other blanket and we headed back to Kansas City.  

Fortunately, we had a change of clothes for everyone at the house, and had everyone cleaned up by the time Nick and Katie’s mom came over to pick them up.   My sister-in-law had decided to take all of their wet clothes home saying she would wash them, but it was a hopeless cause for the cream jeans and gold button jacket.  The outfit had its one and only “wearing” that day.  

When we talk about our Saturday adventures, Katie especially remembers this escapade at Powell Gardens.  She clearly remembers the cute outfit because of all the buttons.  She remembers hunting for eggs in the rain and getting that cream-colored outfit all muddy.  She remembers her brother giving her some of his eggs.  She remembers finding Grandma and Ian in a car with a stranger.  She remembers riding home barefoot and wrapped in a blanket.   

But what I remember from that day is what good sports both Nick and Katie were.  Especially Katie.  Instead of complaining or crying about how the day turned out, she just giggled and laughed about the fiasco all the way home. And she still laughs about it to this day.  

However, despite her being such a good sport, I have never been able to get her to go to Powell Gardens again.

“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.

“Don’t” Miss Reading or Seeing “Auntie Mame”

25 Jul

I read today how the book “Auntie Mame,” considered a lost classic, is back in print in Britain after its reprinting success in Europe as well as America.  It’s one of the best-selling books of the 20th century, and of course was made into a Broadway play, musical and several movies.  It’s one of my favorites because Mame is a fabulous example  for what happiness, optimism, tolerance, fun and integrity means and she is the epitome of a loving aunt. 

I hope it’s true that they are remaking the movie!  While sometimes you shouldn’t mess with a good thing, I think doing a modern-day version of this terrific story would be fun to see.  I would have loved to have seen Angela Lansbury in Mame on Broadway!  Two wonderful songs are from the musical – “If He Walked Into My Life” and “We Need a Little Christmas.”  If you haven’t seen one of the movies or read the book, I encourage you to do so!

“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.”