Tag Archives: Aunts

“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!

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“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

“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.”