Tag Archives: Aunts

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!

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“Do” Live in the Moment

11 May
Elyse Johnson - Bishop Miege Graduation

Elyse proudly holds her diploma!

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

Ian Elyse and Joanie

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

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

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

Elyse Johnson Yearbook Ad

The yearbook “ad” or tribute for Elyse.

“Do” Embrace Being a Great Aunt

27 Apr
Laura at her 1st Birthday Party.

Laura at her 1st Birthday Party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Do Grow Up and Turn 30 One Day

3 Nov

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

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

My oldest nephew Nick turns 30.

Nick turns 30!

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

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

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

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

Do 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!