Tag Archives: Memories

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!

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!

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” 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!

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” 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.

“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” Watch Silly Movies and Sing Sappy Songs

20 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do” Have a “Super Summer Saturday!”

17 Jul

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

 

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

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

Katie wins the apple bobbing contest while Nick intently judges!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Do” Help Your Niece Find Her Moondoggie

9 Jul

Ready to take-off in San Diego

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Don’t” Just Shop for Them

4 Jul

Nick about 2 years old looking very dapper!

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

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

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

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

The Harrod's Bear

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

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

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

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

Nick about 14, always looking good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do” Believe in a Little Magic

4 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do” Have a Happy Fourth of July Weekend!

2 Jul

Elyse at 6 Cheering for the 4th of July!

 

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

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

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

 

 

“Do” Buy Your Niece a Hat

26 Jun

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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