Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Celebrations

There are a lot of things to celebrate in Spring.  The snow has finally melted and we are hopeful it won't come back; the spring bulbs are all in bloom; the trees are all sprouting leaves and flowers; and baseball season has finally started.  And of course Spring brings special celebrations each year with family and friends.  This year we first enjoyed one of our favorite celebrations, a Passover Seder, with our dear friends, Fouad and Mary.  Fouad and Mary never fail to make this evening one that we always remember.  The food is wonderful, the tradition has meaning, and Fouad always incorporates a new adventure into the evening. How could you not know that it is going to be a special evening when you are met at the door by Moses?

Those of you who know Fouad understand that he is a Pied Piper for children.  Regardless of the occasion, Fouad has the children around him.

Now Moses doesn't just look good.  Moses provides us with some traditional events like a ceremonial lighting of candles by all of the attending families.

Fouad and Mary!
The Kappels, Marianne, Hayes and Reeder!
Linda, Fouad's Sister from New Jersey!

Sarah and Anthony!

But next Fouad shows us he really isn't kidding about this Moses things.  We all know exactly what Moses looks like, Charleston Helton with long hair and a big beard, plus carrying a big stick.

OK,  so he can look a lot like Moses, but can he really make the Red Sea part so we can all walk across on dry land into the promise land?  Sure he can.

OK,  so the Red Sea does look like a green carpet, but Moses wacked it with the stick and we all crossed into the promise land (well some of us danced and skipped over the parted sea).

Another of the Ezra's traditions is protecting us from the plagues that were cast upon the "Egyptians" before "we" were released by Pharaoh.  At the Ezra's house we protect ourselves by holding a "tent" over the Seder table while we repeat each of the plagues.  You might also note fingers in the wine glasses.  We dip into the wine and flick it onto the plate with the wine representing the plagues that we cast away as we say them, and flicking the wine onto the plate is a way to get rid of it. 

Hand washing is also one of the traditions of the Seder, and Fouad loves to get the children involved in the celebrations.  Here Reeder and Alexa (granddaughter of one of our P&G friends, retired) pass the water bowl and help us with the towel.

And for the second wash it was Anthony (the little guy is behind Fouad's arm) and his mom, Sarah.

And of course, at Fouad and Mary's house, the children never leave without something special for them.  This year it was a bag with some goodies.  Reeder and Alexa became friends quite quickly and enjoyed the chocolate together on the big overstuffed chair.

And finally, it would be terrible not to mention the Passover meal itself.  Mary prepares this meal every year by herself and the table is open to as many as can come.  Mary makes the best roasted lamb that forces me to overeat every year.  And of course Mary also makes the very best Matzo Ball Soup- And my favorite the pistachio cookies!
Now Don has done a perfect job explaining the special joy that is Passover with Mary and Fouad.  It is always an evening filled with new friends and old, good food and much laughter- and of course hope- hope for that promised land as we repeat the many blessings for the richness of our life in this our Cincinnati home.

Passover week also always falls about the same time as Easter (amazing coincidence) every Spring and Easter is another opportunity to get together with family. I might mention as an aside that there is not a single religion- or culture- that does not celebrate the arrival of spring- and the eggs (fertility of course) predates much of the religious significance that has been layered on this spring rite. We feel especially fortunate to celebrate in both the Jewish and the Christian traditions each year. This year we celebrated Easter with Marianne, Reeder, Hayes and Weiler, Marianne's parents Jerry and Marcia and special guests from Florida, Shannon and Wyatt (Marianne's good friend from Florida and her son), as well as Anthony and Deseree accompanied by two of Deseree's friends Selena and Sierra.  And what better way to celebrate Easter than with a BRUNCH! It was Max's turn to cook and it was a breakfast that even an eggnostic could enjoy.
But first there was a tradition that Max started last year.  Since Easter baskets are pretty common and not very useful once the goodies are gone, Max decided that the holiday needed Easter bags, cloth bags with drawstrings filled with appropriate goodies.  Below Reeder and Anthony are showing off their bags of loot.

Weiler had a special request since he was already pretty full of Easter candy that had already been processed by Marianne.  Weiler likes to hold things in his hands when he goes to sleep and blankets are just a little to mature for this little guy.  So Max knitted him some mini-blankets to satisfy his need for security.

While Weiler was being cuddled by Shannon, the other kids had an Easter egg hunt in the house. It has been raining for about 3 weeks now and who wants to hunt eggs in the mud?  OK, so of course Hayes would love to hunt eggs in the mud, but that just wasn't going to happen.

The plants in our sun room provided lots of hiding places...

And as Anthony shows below, eggs were found.

But the purpose of this brunch was brunching.  Max made two wonderful egg caseroles and this spectacular fruit salad.

But the real hit (at least in my opinion) was the home made cinnamon rolls.

They were absolutely as good as this close up shows.  All of that wonderful stuff in the center is just heavenly - sugar, butter and cinnamon.

But if you are a three year old boy that has spent a good bit of the morning taking advantage of the goodies from baskets and bags, you might not be very hungry for egg casseroles. I do believe these are my favorite pictures of both celebrations as Hayes desperately pleaded- "more candy please". 

You might just rather have one more of those chocolate eggs, or just a few more peeps.  Who wants to each brunch stuff when that bag holds such better things?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's Always About Mikaya

One of the really nice things about being mostly retired is that your schedule is very flexible, and you can go anywhere you want to go, any time.  Sometimes this may mean something as minor as taking in an afternoon baseball game and sometimes it may mean helping your family when they need it.  You have all read and heard about Brandy's recent surgery and the very positive outcome that we all expect so I will not expound further on that subject.  
Wait a minute!  Let's back up.  I'm afraid I can't just breeze by the last 9 weeks and 6 days with a "you have all read and heard about Brandy's surgery..."  It just doesn't happen that way for me.  See 9 weeks and 6 days ago I entered some weird alternate reality in which I still wander.  It all began with a CT scan that said, "HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS OF OVARIAN CANCER".  I exited the world as I know it- and trust it- and entered the Land of Oz- for surely "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." The earth stopped moving on it's axis- time slowed to almost a standstill as we waited first for the appointment with the Gynecological Oncologist (took two long, long, long weeks for that) and then another two weeks and 2 days for the surgery to actually take place and then the 8 hours sitting in the waiting room waiting for information on how the surgery was going and then the agonizing wait for the results of the pathology reports- had to wait on that twice- first the "local" take- and then the "experts" from University of Florida- and of course two body and mind numbing weeks in the hospital while Brandy recovered from what was originally billed as a "3-5 day stay".  And then 9 weeks and 2 days after that first earth stopping CT scan Brandy has now started what will be 6 doses of chemotherapy- Taxol and Carboplatin if you're inclined to the details. 
See in my reality the NEXT BIG HEALTH EVENT was not one of our children- or grandchildren- it was Don or me.  After all we're the ones that are entering that "almost elderly" category- we're the ones that count out the pills for morning- and then again for evening to stave off the boogie men of the aged.  That's how the world works- I know it!  You're not suddenly blind sided by an ovarian cancer in your beautiful 35 year old daughter (epithelial mucinous ovarian cancer for those interested in the details- stage 1C- poorly differentiated).  Now I can probably fathom say gall bladder disease- or a hernia- or broken bones.  BUT OVARIAN CANCER! 

Just an aside- cancer in the young adult- age 21-39- is increasing- the experts don't know why- they just know it is...  Somehow I don't think this is the time we ought to be "watering down" our environmental protections- just saying...

I wish to interrupt this blog with a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT.  Will and Anne (Will's sister and Brandy's sister-in-law) will be running in a half marathon at the end of this month to raise money for the American Cancer Society on TEAM BRANDY.  Many of you have donated- and please know how much this is appreciated.  So please check out the website at TEAM BRANDY for more information!

But given that we were there to support Brandy during and after her hospital stay it also provided Max and me the opportunity to spend significant time with Mikayla.  Mikayla is a jewel of a little girl, and from pictures I've seen of Brandy when she was that age, Mikayla is a spitting image of her mother. Mikayla looks so much like Brandy that sometimes I'm transported across time- and I actually see my beautiful little blond curly headed daughter.  But then Brandy was brown eyed- and Mikayla has huge blue eyes- and Mikayla definitely has her Daddy's ears- and can hear as well as he can (Will would hear my "alarm" for my dinner pills go off two rooms away while I sat quite oblivious to the "noise"). Mikayla does not like "noise"- hair dryers- blenders.... So I see Brandy in Mikayla but it's fleeting- mostly I just see my beautiful little blond curly headed granddaughter.

Early in the hospitalization it became apparent that the ONLY WAY to bring a genuine smile to Brandy's face was to show her a "real time" picture of Mikayla.  So that's exactly what Don and I would do!  How grateful I am to technology and SMART PHONES!  Don would take a picture with his phone when he was with Mikayla and send it to me on my smart phone- and I'd show it to Brandy.  And absolutely 100% of the time a big smile would break across her face- regardless of how miserable that particular day was.  And then when I was with Mikayla I'd take the pictures and send them to Don's phone- and he'd show them to Brandy.  Eventually when Brandy was feeling better- and actually sitting up looking at her computer- we'd send the pictures straight to Brandy's email.  So when you look at each of the following pictures know that each brought a smile to Brandy- the only real smiles in fact until she finally made the back trip home. Behind each of these pictures is a smiling Brandy!

I have to say that we were a bit apprehensive about how Mikayla would react to having her Mommy gone and being taken care of by Grama and Grandpa who have had little experience with her.  But this little girl just accepted us like it was normal.  We did get to spend one full day with Mikayla before Brandy left for the hospital, so we were well briefed on Mikayla's standard day, from waking up (7:00 a.m.) to going to bed at night (7:00 p.m.).  Since Brandy's surgery was scheduled for early morning and the drive was 75 miles to the hospital, Will, Brandy and Max left for the hospital at about 4:30 a.m.  That first day it was just me and Mikayla and guess who decided to wake up at 05:00am on that first morning? I need to add here- that Don always pulled the "duty" with the least amount of sleep allowed- he was the one home when Mikayla got up EARLY- both times.  He was the one at the hospital when the night staff somehow decided that no one needed sleep that night- Brandy or Don!  But I did know the process and ad libbed until time to take her to her day care at 08:00.  Max didn't get back until later that night, but Mikayla and I did quite well getting through our first day.  Our second day after school I took her to a park to get a little change of scenery.

The swings were fun, for a while, but Mikayla wanted to go home.  One nice distraction at the house is the two large tangelo trees in their back yard.  Mikayla loves to eat the tangelos, so we spent time picking and eating the fruit right off the trees.

Now let me interject here the pattern of our days- the pattern of our days for 14 days. Don and I rotated between spending the night with Brandy at the hospital- and spending the night with Mikayla.  Will went back and forth between the two places- trying to spend at least one afternoon with Brandy- and then the next evening with Mikayla.  I also might mention that Will also returned to work so he wouldn't have to use all of his vacation time during this hospitalization.  He might need some later- like maybe to take a vacation with his beautiful family! For a picture of the "hospital" side of this adventure this is probably the best...

And of course reading books was always high on Mikayla's list of favorite things to do.

And of course, eating "a little snack" ranks high on the list too.

She certainly showed us her range of expressions while sitting in her high chair and snacking.
St. Patrick's day was celebrated while we were there and Brandy was still in the hospital.  Mikayla was happy to get into the spirit of the day and enjoyed the new stuff sent to her by her Auntie Anne. and Grammy Maggie.
For a while we were afraid to even mention Brandy to Mikayla because we didn't know how Mikayla might respond, but then as the hospital stay got longer and longer we decided the silence wasn't a good idea.  We started talking with Mikayla about how Mommy was in the hospital with a BIG "OWIE". Mikayla would ask from time to time if Mommy was still in the hospital with the "owie" and we'd say yes that Mommy was still in the hospital with the "owie".

The day Brandy was to come home, Max showed her a picture from her cell phone of "Mommy".  Mikayla hadn't seen her mother for two weeks and her first response to the picture was to kiss it.

And then it was time for the HOMECOMING!

When  Mommy finally did come home Mikayla was never more than a step away from her.

We stayed one  more week just to help Brandy with Mikayla.  Lifting her was not an approved function for Brandy just yet, so Max got the job of doing all of the "heavy lifting" and Mikayla adjusted to the process like it was second nature. 
Now for me this week was as close to sheer joy as I can get for awhile.  Just watching Brandy and Mikayla is food for the soul.  What a beautiful sight they are together!
We focused on doing fun things that week.  We went to the "Gulfarium" Ft. Walton Beach http://www.gulfarium.com/ and watched the sea lion and dolphin shows.

We went to the beach at Destin and played a little before having a seafood dinner with a view of the Gulf.

Sitting at a table in the restaurant was great fun.

We also spent some time at a park not too far away from their house.

And of course Mikayla loves to go to the library.

And back at home she worked on her art portfolio.

And finally before leaving we put in our Spring garden of tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs and a few flowers.  Mikayla decided that her job was doing the watering.

So now we're back in Cincinnati.  Maggie and Peter (Will's Mom and Stepdad aka Grammy and Grandpa Peter) arrived the day we left Florida- and Maggie is still there doing the "heavy lifting". We've been so very grateful for all the support, love, prayers from family and friends during these past weeks.  Words can never express how very grateful we are.

As for me, I'm still waiting for the world to shift into it's new normal.  For now I'll just have to wander around in Oz for a while longer.