Tag Archives: Nieces

Do Be Happy!

2 Jun

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

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“Do” Live in the Moment

11 May
Elyse Johnson - Bishop Miege Graduation

Elyse proudly holds her diploma!

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

Ian Elyse and Joanie

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

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

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

Elyse Johnson Yearbook Ad

The yearbook “ad” or tribute for Elyse.

A Quick Update

7 Apr
It's a Girl! My Niece Katie is going to have a baby, so I'm going to be a Great Aunt!

It’s a Girl! My Niece Katie is going to have a baby, so I’m going to be a Great Aunt!

I’m happy to get back to blogging.

Several things have happened in the last two years that slowed me down from writing (job changes, long hours), or kept me from being in the frame of mind to write (my beloved Uncle Mike and Uncle Larry both passed away within six months of each other) or in the big scheme of things writing a blog was just not as important as day-to-day life and living.

The biggest and saddest thing that happened was losing my beloved brother Tim, who passed away on January 15, 2013. He loved my blog, he loved reading about the adventures I wrote about his children (Ian and Elyse) and his nephew and niece (Nick and Katie). He was my first email subscriber. He would make comments on my posts. I didn’t really want to continue without one of my biggest fans.

But I realized today I needed to resume writing this. Because I attended my niece Katie’s baby shower. Yes, I’m going to be a GREAT Aunt!

Katie with a pink blanket I gave her for my new great niece. When Katie was born, I gave  her a similar pink-crocheted blanket which she still has!

Katie with a pink blanket I gave her for my new great niece. When Katie was born, I gave her a similar pink-crocheted blanket which she still has!

Elyse sitting by my side as I was snapping a few pictures of Katie opening her gifts, I promised myself I would come home tonight and write this and commence writing my aunt blog again. Now I have a new little person coming in May to write about, plus I have missed so many stories and accomplishments of my four nephews/nieces I should have been telling.

So I will not only be writing a few new stories but going a little into the past as I  have done with many of my previous posts to play catch-up on a few items which I hope you’ll enjoy reading about. Regardless, they will give me joy writing about them.

Do Rejoice: School’s Out for Summer!

3 Jul

Elyse back in the swing of things a month or so after her surgeries (at the 6/18 McWilliams' family picnic).

Elyse just finished her Freshman year of high school. She did so with honors grade-wise. She did so with grace and a positive attitude. And she did so with remarkable courage.

Shortly after making her high school’s varsity swim team as a Freshman (and posting some of the best times among the team!), one evening in early April she started experiencing intense pain in her upper-right side of her abdomen. After a few h0urs and a few Nuprin, the pain wasn’t going away, so my sister-in-law and brother took her to the emergency room.   
 
The hospital emergency room did their due diligence, ruling various things out, taking blood, taking her temperature and more.  This was on a Wednesday or Thursday. But they found nothing. They told my sister-in-law to take her to a female specialist, since maybe she had a cyst or something, (despite Elyse saying the pain was higher not lower).  But an appointment couldn’t be made until the following Tuesday, so Elyse suffered Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday until she saw this specialist on Tuesday.  But they found nothing. 
 

My sister-in-law then tried to find GI specialists to take Elyse to find the source of the pain. But only one GI specialist in the city had a pediatric license  and he was booked for days. An appointment was made, but that night (Tuesday), the pain was once again so intense that Elyse was taken back to the emergency room.   

Finally it was determined that Elyse had gallstones.  But that one and only pediatric specialist in the city who could remove them only did so on Fridays. (Most GI physicians aren’t licensed to work on children under 16 due to the high cost of malpractice insurance; Elyse is 15.) So she was checked in and stayed in the hospital until then. The diagnosis was a surprise and something unusual for her age and for her health, as she is an athlete and in great physical condition.

So late that Friday afternoon the pediatric GI specialist did laparoscopy, removing four gallstones safely. We were all relieved after so many weeks of Elyse being in pain, and by this point she had missed two weeks of school.  She stayed overnight in the hospital and late Saturday afternoon was released to go home.  The doctor did recommend that Elyse would need to have her gallbladder out since gallstones would/could come back, but suggested doing so during the summer when she was off school since she already had missed so much.

She went back to school on Monday, made it through most of the day, but by the end of the day she was having the same intense pain.  So back to the emergency room she went, and by this time while she didn’t verbalize it, Elyse was getting so frustrated – she was getting tired of nurses poking her, putting her on an IV, taking blood. She was tired of being in pain. And she had good reason. She wanted this to be over!  But the gallstones were back right away and they needed to schedule gallbladder surgery. 

Once again my sister-in-law and brother faced the hospital and healthcare bureaucracy and that there was only one GI pediatric surgeon that could really do this procedure.  And now he was out-of-town.  The hospital wanted to put a feeding tube on Elyse along with a pain IV, and have her stay through the weekend until the following week to do the surgery.  This was ridiculous!  Elyse would have had to wait over seven days to schedule the surgery (as a result, now missing almost four weeks of school).

My sister-in-law had talked to the hospital’s patient advocate, as well as making a few more calls trying to get someone to do emergency surgery within a day or two rather than waiting another weekend, going into the next week.  Apparently pediatric surgeries were primarily done on Friday at the hospital, so that Friday morning the round doctor said they would talk to the general pediatric surgeon on duty to try to work Elyse in so she wouldn’t have to wait over the weekend into the next week. 

The doctor on rounds said late that Friday afternoon that the attending surgeon knew of Elyse’s situation and getting scheduled for surgery would all depend on how the schedule was proceeding since surgeries were completed by 5PM.  The patient’s advocate and the other call pressure must have worked, because at 5PM the doctor on rounds came in and let Elyse know that they were going to do surgery soon. Finally, sometime after 6PM they took Elyse to surgery and she had her gallbladder taken out via a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

During this surgery, a laparoscope (a small, thin tube with a camera on the tip of it) is used to remove the gallbladder. Several small incisions are used instead of one large incision. The laparoscope is put into the body through a tiny cut made just below the navel. The surgeon can then see the gallbladder on a TV screen and do the surgery with tools inserted in three other small cuts made in the right upper part of the abdomen. The gallbladder is then taken out through one of the incisions.

Elyse made it through the surgery with flying colors! Her three incisions and the one in her belly button were her badges of honor. She stayed in the hospital of course on Friday night and again on Saturday, but was able to go home on Sunday afternoon.  On Monday, school was out for a teacher’s conference, but she finally went back on Tuesday (after missing almost five weeks of classes!).

Elyse gave me permission to share this story on my blog. She wants to get the word out that kids can and do get gallstones. She wants to let people know the challenges her Mom and Dad had dealing with emergency room physicians, the rounds’ doctors, the specialists and the surgeons. You would think when a young teen girl suffers with pain that it wouldn’t be so routinely dismissed (until she was finally diagnosed, Elyse believed that many of the doctors thought she was making this up to get out of school or something)! She wants to warn other parents/kids that there are very few pediatric GI specialists in this city, even in the country. She wants to let others know that gallstones are getting more common in teens.

But I wanted to tell the story to show how brave and patient Elyse was. How much courage she had when she went through two surgical procedures on back-to-back Fridays. How strong she was to suffer through weeks and weeks of pain.
She got back to school just in time for finals and had to catch up five weeks of lessons. The school was awesome in developing an action plan for her to do so quickly – they delayed her finals by a few days and gave her some time to finish her Freshman year.

She had to read The Odyssey, and write a report on it as part of finishing her honors English class. (Fitting, since she had been on her own odyssey.) She had to catch up on lost weeks of math formulas and Spanish vocabulary. She had to rapidly catch up on chapters of reading for her Religion and History classes. And as the last bell of the year rang loudly signaling to the kids that “school’s out for summer,” she sat all alone in a classroom making up missed tests and taking her finals as all her friends ran out the doors to begin their summer.

Like I said at the beginning of this story, she made second honors, pretty remarkable for missing about 30% of the semester. And while she didn’t get to complete swimming on the varsity team or be in any tournaments, she’s swimming competitively this summer with a coed team, achieving new personal bests. But Elyse shows her personal best at all times – never complaining, never crying, always keeping her sense of humor and gregarious personality, and always worried about others.

I’m so very proud of my niece and how she handled herself during this ordeal. And I hope she rejoices that her Freshman year is over, and has a wonderful summer!

(Here’s a video from February 2010 when Elyse was in 8th grade and swimming with the Kansas City Blazers Swim Team…just a few shots before the meet started.)

“Do” Embrace March Madness

27 Mar

It’s that time of year again.  March Madness!  First we had the Big 12 Tournament from March 9-12 (KU winning the championship of course!).  And now we are in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, with KU reigning, washing out the Spiders and playing for a place in the Final Four (of course!) against VCU. 

Why do I bring up basketball in this blog about being an aunt?  Well, 1) it allows me to bring up the Jayhawks, my alma mater; basketball powerhouse and America’s basketball team; and 2) March Madness has always caused scheduling issues at this time of the year in terms of the day we celebrate Katie’s birthday.  You see, my family, especially Katie’s dad, my brother Jeff, my sister Debbie and my brother Tim, all put the tournament first in terms of scheduling.  So Katie’s birthday typically gets pre-empted on the actual day, since it is on March 9th, the very first day of the Big 12 Tournament. 

In the past we would celebrate the kids’ birthdays on Sundays, and would all get together as a family.  But Katie’s birthday either was pushed up by a week, or pushed back, depending on when KU was playing.  Or sometimes, we’d still schedule it on the Sunday closest to her birthday, but wedge the dinner/cake before or after a game.  And sometimes, we’d wait to get together (probably to her disappointment) until later in the month.

This scheduling challenge became the norm for Katie.  Sometimes we’d make it really special, and have it on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day, but only when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday.  My Mom and I would make corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and soda bread.  But you’ll note that day was eight days after her birthday, and sort of a long time to make someone wait for her birthday, especially when she was a little girl.  

Katie's 17th birthday, about nine years ago - one of the last times we had her birthday on a game day. (Nick is in the background.)

As Katie grew older (she’s now married!), sometime when she was in college, we quit trying to get the dozen of us together to celebrate near her birthday while avoiding a KU game so we could give her our undivided attention.  We now embrace March Madness and either have it on the day of a key game so we can all cheer KU on together, or we get together with her independently, and she has 3 or 4 birthday events/dinners throughout the month.

That’s what we did this year.  We were the first birthday event.  My Mom, my sister, my nephew Nick (Katie’s brother), Katie and her husband Randy and myself all went out to dinner on March 4 – five days ahead of Katie’s birthday, well before the tournament started. 

We all met at Jasper’s, our go-to restaurant for special family celebrations.  It was a wonderful meal as usual (you must try the Lobster Cappuccino!), with great service from our favorite waiter Tony.  We laughed, told stories, the kids teased Grandma and we sat for hours talking and having fun. 

And while there may have been better birthdays in Katie’s eyes, more fun and/or interesting gifts in the past, (this year she got a Lowe’s gift card to go towards things they need for their new house – how exciting is that?), I liked celebrating this birthday with her the best.  I liked being able to drink a Cosmo with her.  I liked being able to talk about our jobs.  About landscaping.  About our cats.  About the delayed honeymoon cruise she just took.  All without having a basketball game on in the background.

And while I often bemoan the four of them growing up so fast, I’m really enjoying birthdays with Nick and Katie as adults.  They’ve been just as fun as their birthdays from the past, especially for me.

It’s still March – so I can still wish my beautiful niece happy birthday.  And both of us can cheer on KU together. 

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, Happy Birthday Katie!

“Do” 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!

“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+!