Two Times Makes a Tradition

For the second year in a row now, dare I say it’s tradition, two of my chiblings* have come to stay with Brian and me the weekend following Thanksgiving. For years before this new “tradition” has been in place, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been bookmarked as the Thanksgiving celebration for my dad’s clan. My dad’s children, children’s spouses, and children’s children all convene in my grandmother’s 1970s ranch for our day of family chaos and wonderment. Sometimes there’s hula-hooping, or charades, or wrestling, or a game. Every year finds the youngest generation playing in the basement, football on TV, laughter, conversation, and Grandma’s roast beef and Texas sheet cake, to name a few of the staples.

(*Chiblings is a term I coined to fill a gap in the English language. It is a gender neutral word for the children of one’s siblings and is much more succinct than always having to write “niece(s) and nephew(s).” You’re welcome, English speakers.)

Thanksgiving 2007

Thanksgiving, 2007

Last year my brother and his wife had plans after the family gathering, so Brian and I arranged to take their two youngest, Brady and Paige, home with us to Pittsburgh to spend the night. This year, without impetus we did the same, extending their stay until Sunday.

After a lazy Saturday morning and easy afternoon with Penn State football, video games, and the game Tri-Spy, Brian, Brady (9), Paige (6) and I set off to a nearby playground. Closed for construction. Bummer. Thinking on the fly, we went to the bowling alley. An hour-and-a-half wait. Strike two. As we loaded the car and headed to the movie theater for Tangled in 3D, I twisted around in the front seat and told Brady and Paige, who were still upbeat and cheery, that if we didn’t get to do anything fun this weekend, they could at least tell people that we had fun ideas.

Fortunately things turned in our favor and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the movie and the amazing Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort. The chiblings didn’t have a camera with them, but each took 70-100 photos of the light displays using their Nintendo DS systems. One of Paige’s favorite displays — that I happened to capture, albeit crappily, on my cell phone — was the carousel with moving horses. Throughout the entire evening, even after we left the resort, she continued to exclaim, “How did they get the horses to move like that?!”

On Sunday, we scored again with an afternoon at Carnegie Science Center’s SportsWorks. We were fortunate to pick a day with a small crowd, giving us pretty much free reign and nearly unlimited access to whatever “exhibit” we wanted. Brady (who is flipping on a trampoline in November’s masthead) loved the virtual roller coaster best. Paige’s favorite was the 25-foot (that is, about 7 Paiges) rock climbing wall. The weekend was officially a success.

Brian and I pulled our car into the garage Sunday night, children returned to their parents and our cats in charge of the house again. The house is quiet, which is nice on one hand, but missing a joy and presence that only those amazing little people can fill. A couple times I have caught myself sitting on the couch or at my desk staring off into nowhere, reflecting on the fun weekend and the kids’ antics, smiling as I remember Paige beam as she told the SportWorks attendant that she had pushed the button at the top of the rock climbing wall not one, not two, but three times. I too was in awe of her boundless energy. She had climbed that wall 6-7 times at least, ringing the proverbial victory bell with a push of the button on the last several attempts, and then she would rappel down as though she had been doing it professionally for years.

But that beaming. There was no prize for the number of button pushes; she was just so delighted in her own accomplishment. We are impressive creatures, aren’t we? Almost always capable of achieving so much more than we ever credit ourselves able to do. Anyway, it’s these little moments with our chiblings that inspire us to rustle up our home for a weekend with their imprint and to create new traditions.

I’ll Have a Pepsi, Please. And Super-Size It.

This past weekend I had a chance to chat with my grandmother (my dad’s mom) on the phone for almost an hour.  I always enjoy our conversations.  Usually there’s a story or two that is recounted, like the time when I was a toddler and, as soon as my grandmother came over to our house, I grabbed her hand, took her to my room, and closed the door, apparently wanting to keep her all to myself.  “Do you remember that?” Grandma always asks, smitten by the story.  I don’t remember the incident when it actually happened, but I do remember it from the previous conversation when she shared it with me, and from the time before that, and each time before that. It’s a favorite memory of hers, so I’m glad to listen as many times as she’d like to share it.

We also talked about her life as a navy pilot’s wife, a young widow after 20-some years of marriage, and a mother of three.  She told me about the people for whom she’s cared and about her faith over the years.  For her it’s just her story, it’s just the hand that she was dealt and the life that she’s lived.  For me it’s this example of strength, of endurance, of sacrifice, of devotion.  Sometimes you just need to hear perspective from someone who’s been doing this for 85 years.

Oh, and there’s a matter-of-fact quality to my grandmother.  If she has a question about your bowel movements, by golly she’ll ask it without lowering her voice or using delicate language.  No sugar coating here.  This straight shooting usually makes me laugh, more so when someone else is in the hot seat being asked how often they wash their face or if they use the quilt that she hunched over for months to make for them.

I told her about my recent state of overwhelmedness.  Trying to make headway with my comprehensive exams while juggling work in the lab and a big load of personal stuff at times leaves me falling short in all I do.  When these feelings of defeat peak I can become almost paralyzed, leading to, among other things, inefficient use of my time, which of course feeds in to the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and falling short.  To this Grandma responded: “When I start to get that way I drink a Pepsi and it helps me to get going.  And I know that it’s not good for you, but it’s either that or shoot myself, so I figure the Pepsi’s not so bad.”

She’s funny and she’s blunt, but she’s right.  I have dozens and dozens of pages to write and only a few weeks until my deadline, so yeah, I need to get going.  And maybe life for the next four weeks (or five or six weeks) is going to be a little disjointed and wearisome and out of balance, but this is my spring.  It’s either get going or give up, so even if I need to cheat here and there on my healthy eating plan, ignore a few emails, or let the bathrooms stay a little dirty, it’s not so bad.  It’s worth the trade off of not giving up, of meeting another goal along this (sometimes very painful) journey, of knowing that I never really was defeated after all.

Dedicated to You, Mom

Okay, so I know there are still the extensions, the quarterly reports, and the back log from your ‘real’ job, but I hope you can still appreciate this little e-card I made for you. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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It will probably take your eyes a while to readjust to natural lighting after constantly being exposed to only desk lamps and fluorescent lighting for so long, but they’ll get there.  Even though you still have a full load on your plate, please, please allow yourself to fully recover with pedis and massages and walks and sleep and American Idol…or whatever.

Green Day

No, I am not talking about the band.  Though, if I were referring to Green Day the rock band I’m sure my husband would have something to say about how the trio is underrated.  Today is March 17th, so I am talking about none other than St. Patrick’s Day!

Frankly, I know very little about this holiday other than what I quickly read on Wikipedia before writing this post.  I don’t really care to elaborate on its origins; what makes the day special for me is that it was Ro’s favorite holiday.  The man loved Jesus, but Christmas and Easter didn’t unearth nearly as many dollar-store items in our household as St. Patrick’s Day did.  Ro owned no “Kiss me, Jesus is Risen!” buttons, but Lord knows on March 17th the “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” button was pinned to his black and green plaid cardigan at the top o’ the morn’!

To date, Ro is the only person I’ve known who, on St. Paddy’s Day, would receive as many store-bought cards and incoming phone calls as he would for a birthday.  He was not shy about his love for the day; if his words didn’t express it, then the Shamrock sticker on his Bible sure made it clear.  One year he decorated the kitchen with green streamers cascading from the chandelier to the kitchen walls like the spokes of a wheel.  This was a day to be celebrated!

The leprechaun cut-outs Ro hung around the house were cute too, but to have a day where you are practically obligated to drink a stein of beer – I believe this cuts to the core of his Paddy’s Day passion.  Ro grew up in a Nazerene church where things like dancing, playing cards, and drinking alcohol were pooh-poohed, yet out of this strict upbringing grew a man who loved to have a glass of wine or a tall, stout beer with his blazing hot shephard’s pie – just a glass or two at a meal to give his lips a refreshing blast of heaven.  We rarely had any alcohol in the house as I grew up, so any chance for him to have a drink was a treat.

St. Patrick’s Day, 2001, Brian and Ro went for a midday green beer.  I was at my parents’ house when the phone rang – another Happy St. Patrick’s Day call for Ro.  It was his sister, my Aunt Virginia.  Ro had such a sweet, close relationship with his sister.  I also adored and loved her.  I don’t recall ever meeting her in person, but before she became too weak to use a typewriter she and I were Pen Pals.  She would send the most sincere, thoughtful notes to encourage me, pray for me, and tell me stories of her life.  Sadly, she passed away last year, the summer before Ro did.

On this particular day, Aunt Virginia and I exchanged a couple updates with each other.  I knew she wanted to talk to Ro, but I explained to her, “He’s out drinking green beer with Brian.”  She laughed.  I laughed.  But later that day I learned that we were laughing for different reasons.  She laughed because she thought I was making a joke.  I laughed because I was thinking oh, that Ro and his green beer.

What I didn’t know until after the phone call was that Aunt Virginia never knew that Ro consumed alcoholic beverages, let alone that he had an acquired taste for them.  A devout Christian and product of the Nazarene church herself, she adhered to the no-drinking rule and assumed that her brother did as well.  I know heaven doesn’t look back at Earth or celebrate our holidays or resemble life as we know it, but I still find myself creating a story in my head of Ro and Aunt Virginia together.  Ro is chuckling with a Paddy’s Day beer in hand as his sister discovers this little secret of his, and then starts to make sense of that phone call I had with her eight years ago.  Of course my little fantasy is so irrelevant for them now, for as much as Ro loved to celebrate this day, there is no holiday or event on this Earth that can come close to matching the celebration that they know now and will experience for eternity.

Thinking of you today, Ro!

One!

The March masthead came about when I realized that 1) I haven’t taken any pictures in the last month, and 2) a year ago this month we purchased a new car, a 2008 Toyota Prius.  I have never had a brand new, driven-less-than-ten-miles-when-we-drove-it-off-the-lot vehicle, so owning it has felt like living in luxury, even when I’m driving while wearing my $9.99 pajama bottoms and a spaghetti-stained race t-shirt.

When we bought the car every inch of it was so shiny and flawless, a state that I knew we’d never see again, so I drove it to a municipal park near our house for a little photo shoot. Thank goodness there were no baseball or soccer games going on at the time, because I didn’t need dirty, toothless children staring and pointing at me to clue me in to my quirkiness.  I recognized on my own that I looked strange snapping photos with such extreme detail.  But hey, at least I wasn’t shouting, “Work it!  Work it!  Look right at the camera!  Now give me pouty lips!”

Here are just a couple shots of the car as the photo shoot waned in to the sunset and post sunset hours.  Note the sunset sky reflecting on the car in the first photo and the full moon in the second.  Ooooooooo.

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prius38-copy-2

I originally thought that I would use this photo as the masthead for this month…

prius31-copy

…because when is there any other time that your car’s engine is so abnormally clean that you want to lick it or cut fresh fruit on it? There is no other time. Further, how often do you see a lickable car engine as the masthead to a blog? Probably not too often. While I was excited about this rarity, Brian vetoed it in favor of the dashboard view masthead. In the name of love, I let his first choice prevail.

(After I added the dashboard view to the website, I tried to think of something profound that I could say about the photo, but all that came to mind was Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and the harder I tried to think the louder the lyrics “DO YOU LOVE ME? WILL YOU LOVE ME FOREVER?…” resonated in my head. Ah well, instead of thought-provoking I got memories of junior high dances.)

So I was enamored with the pristine newness of the car, but as I celebrate the first anniversary as its owner, please realize that the anniversary excitement is less about the car and more about the opportunity to count something.  I can’t help it; I was born in to a family who has a strange affinity for numbers.  My father teaches math, and my grandfather, mother, and brother are accountants.  Am I forgetting anyone?  Well, most of the rest of us without a bean-counting job title still enjoy numbers in our spare time.  We monitor baseball and football stats, count stairs, find patterns in phone numbers, take heed to random dates (e.g. insignificant anniversaries), and oogle over the odometer in the car, to name only a few examples.  Heck, even before one of my nephews started kindergarten he was counting by 11’s and playing games with people’s ages.  Just like The Count on Sesame Street, we cry if we do not get to count things and we will sometimes send letters to ourselves just so we can count the incoming mail.  Okay, maybe we don’t do the latter, but cry if we run out of things to count?  Yes, yes we cry.

Does anyone else think of their odometer as a little dial of magic?  When my brother was in high school trying to decide what topic he should choose for a paper, my grandfather told him that he should seriously consider writing his paper on how my grandfather’s car hit 66,666 miles that week.  Similarly, my mom and I will often call each other to excitedly announce that our odometer struck a number like 80,000 or a fun palindrome like 105,501.  In every car ride, a surprise awaits.

Anyway, as The Count would say about the Prius today, “One!  One anniversary!  A a a a a!”

Paper That You Can Trade In

Two years ago today, I called my nephew to wish him a happy birthday.  He had turned 7.  My sister-in-law answered the phone, and here’s how the conversation went down…

Kris: Evan, Auntie Michelle wants to talk to you.

[Evan grabs the phone.]

Evan: What?

Kris (in background): Um, how about “hello?”

Evan: Hello?

[I immediately sing happy birthday.]

Evan (monotone): Thanks.

[After a couple nice conversational exchanges…]

Evan: Thank you for my birthday car-

Kris (in background): That was from Aunt Kimmy, not Auntie Michelle.

[Evan is silent for a moment, clearly thinking through his next step.]

Evan: Well, Aunt Kimmy got me a birthday card and inside was this paper that you could trade in-

Kris (in background): It’s a check.

Evan: Well, it had a check that you could trade in for money, so I traded that in and my allowance for heelies…

***

I’d like to hear more about this paper you can trade in for money.  And whether or not they make heelies in adult shoe sizes.

Happy 9th birthday, Evan!  I’m still ridiculously crazy about you, kid!

My Favorite Baritone

On Sunday morning, December 7th, I received a concerning phone call about my step-father.  (His name is Robert, but decades ago the nickname Ro was given to and seamlessly stuck with him.)  Ro was in the ICU with renal failure.  The situation looked grim.  I was in a sickly state myself, but felt a tug at my heart to venture to Cleveland, so we went.  Brian and I were greeted at the hospital by my brothers and mom, and we all waited for Ro to return from a surgical procedure.

The nurse finally gave us the go ahead to see him, two at a time.  Brian and I went first.  Ro was tired but alert.  I tucked my hand into his clenched fist and used my other hand to stroke his hair.  I tried to lean over the bed rail to plant a kiss on his cheek, but my torso wasn’t long enough.  I stretched onto my tip toes and puckered out my lips as far as they could go.  The three of us chuckled as I worked my lips out a nanometer at a time.  It didn’t work, so I went flat on my feet and took a step back, ready to attempt this again with more momentum at the start.  Lips ready, the second attempt was successful.  Ro nodded and smiled in approval.  We had a short conversation, exchanged I love yous, and then Brian and I returned to the waiting room to tag in the next pair.  The visit wasn’t easy, but the strength of family together made all the difference.

After exhausting Ro, we watched football in the waiting room and dined in the cafeteria so he could rest.  A couple hours later, Brian and I went with my mom to see Ro one last time before returning to Pittsburgh.  I took the same position at bedside, gripping his hand and petting his hair.  I once again leaned over the bed rail for a kiss, and once again we laughed as I found myself trying to reach his cheek by straining my puckered lips.  Didn’t work.  Just as I was about to lean back in a failed attempt, Ro turned his head and puckered his own lips to bridge the gap.  Such a sweet kiss.  Eye to eye we both said I love you to one another.

The week to follow was a whirlwind of emotion and turmoil.  I was struggling with my own health, which was deteriorating by the day, but that seemed so irrelevant compared to Ro’s fight for life.  For us, it was this roller coaster of feeling hopeless about his outcome one moment, but then in the next moment getting an encouraging update that maybe the next procedure they attempt will make all the difference and he’ll improve.  Ultimately, procedure after procedure failed, and by Thursday Ro was unresponsive and in transition to hospice.  Over the years, he had fought his way through so many ailments, but this time the battle was too great.

Saturday morning he started singing again…in heaven’s choir.

***

I struggle with the word “step-father” because it sounds so second rate, like when you put the word ‘step’ in front of ‘father’ it somehow lessens the parent-child relationship.  Sure, I have a father who I know and love, and sure, my mom tended to make the big decisions for me and my brothers during our childhood, and sure, Ro was closer in age to a grandparent than to a parent, but there is nothing ‘step’ about the relationship that I had with and the love that I have for my step-father.  He has been a father figure in my life from about the age of four.  There aren’t many memories that I have of my life before he entered in to our family.

He did all of those parenty things, like make me eat my vegetables, drive me to extracurricular activities or to friends’ houses, encourage me, love me.  He was my tooth fairy and my teacher at the piano bench.  He would watch me swim in our pool when I was so desperate to get in the water, but wasn’t old enough to swim alone.  When we went camping and I had a distraught look on my face as I took my first bite of sour cereal one summer morning, he told me that I shouldn’t eat that because the milk sat out on the picnic table all night.  He mowed, he raked, he buried our dead pets in the backyard.  He teased that I always had to be on center stage, but I knew he loved it when I sang, danced, or raised my voice louder than anyone else in order to be heard at the dinner table.

He helped me learn to ride a bike and was the chaperone of my very first drive with a learner’s permit.  In my high school days, I joked with Ro – though it’s true – that one of the most important lessons I learned from him is that, when in a bind, your socks can be used to wipe dirty hands.  I still laugh about the one morning when he served as my alarm clock – he opened the bedroom door, threw a shoe at me, and left.  So random.  But just as randomly, one day he walked through my bedroom door and gave me a watch that he had bought for me earlier that day, just because he was thinking about me.  I don’t know how old I was or the day it happened, but I remember the moment when I recognized that he had stopped pushing me to study and instead reminded me to make sure I didn’t overdo it.  All along he encouraged me to pray and to read my Bible, and most certainly led by example in this regard.

Do you see this theme of me, me, me, what he did for me?  Yes, kids are needy little creatures, and Ro was such a big part of meeting those needs and wants during my childhood.  It’s such an unselfish act and he did it willingly as any loving father would do for their child.  There was nothing second rate or ‘step’ about any of this.

For the past decade he had grown dependent and in need of increasing care and I have long been married off, but even still there was a special bond between the two of us.  And even though we have lived a state apart for many years, there has been a comfort in knowing that my roots are just…there.  They are a constant in my life; they ground me.  Ro is part of my history and has had a hand in who I’ve become.  I miss the comfort of this root just being there.  I miss him.  I will miss our breakfast dates where we talk about politics, current events, the end times, and the Bible.  He always listened when I shared about my most recent adventures and believed that I could succeed in whatever I was doing.  I will miss his laughter and his song.

Ro had so many wonderful attributes – he was a great listener, humble, a prayer warrior, hard-working, encouraging, supportive, and patriotic, to name a few.  Jesus was on the throne of his life, and because of the relationship he had with God he studied the Bible like crazy.  My mom found a note that he had written from a devotional referencing Psalm 98:1-3.  He wrote: “Victories in sports, business, or politics must be won again and again, year after year, but there is a victory that was won once for all.  The psalmist celebrates the victory of God’s power and holiness, beautifully prefiguring the final victory of Christ over sin and death.  Our greatest victory is receiving God’s gift of salvation, and this victory need never be won again.”  Ro lived in the light of this victory.

There’s no mistaking – his God-given gift was his voice.  He studied music, taught music, and had music seeping from his pores.  He performed in a multitude of choirs and was a professional soloist.  As he would practice at the piano in our living room, I always felt this great privilege of being serenaded on any given day.  Beyond all this, his music was an offering and helped people connect with God.  I remember sitting in church during a duet he sang, “Household of Faith.”  I was not even a teenager, but still recall the power of the two voices – not only did they have the chill factor, where my arm hair was on end and I was pushed back in my seat breathless, but those voices also invoked a connection to the lyrics and a call to respond.  I remember this same response as Ro sang “He is No Fool” and “He’s Alive” as well.  This was not just a talent, but a powerful spiritual gift.

At Ro’s memorial service, my mom did such a beautiful job honoring Ro’s life.  At the end of her reflections, she shared a story about Ro auditioning for a choir in the Cleveland area about 17-18 years ago, the Singer’s Club.  She didn’t think he should have to audition given his ability; he humbly shrugged his shoulders and went to the audition.  When he returned, my mom asked him how it went.  He sheepishly replied, “They said, ‘To what do we owe this honor?’”

I echo my mom’s words:  It has been an honor to listen to this man, to know this man, to love this man.  But Robert would say, “To whom do we owe any honor?”  To his Lord and our Lord, Jesus Christ, who won that greatest victory.

(Click here to hear an excerpt from “God’s Great Grace,” Ro’s last public solo in 2001, age 76.)

Perspective

Yesterday afternoon I went to the doctor to find answers for the back spasms that I’ve been having. The first episode was in late September, here and gone in a painful, scary night. The spasms didn’t rear their ugly face again until early November, but again they were over within a night. The past week or two though, the spasms, or at least an aching and discomfort, have been nearly constant. On Saturday night it was painful to the point of inducing vomiting.

During the doctor’s examination yesterday, we discussed what might have caused this recurrence with such intensity. Among a number of possible culprits, the doc asked me if I have been stressed.

For the two seconds that I said, “Uhhhhh,” the last three months of my life zipped through my head. My grandmother’s death. The October grant deadline, the intense two-week deadline for part one of my comprehensive exams, and the general chaos of graduate student life that keeps me straddling the edge of sanity. My brother’s November house fire. Tough conversations about travel expectations to visit family, especially around the busy holiday season. The busy holiday season. My step-dad’s admittance to the ICU with numbers in his blood report skyrocketed to levels that bodies don’t survive. Crying with my mom as we discuss end-of-life decisions for this husband, this father of ours.

“Uhhhhh, yeah. I think so.”

***
Saturday night around 3 a.m. I thought Brian was asleep. I was tossing and turning in bed, frustrated that no position worked comfortably and feeling hopelessly miserable with the aching and throbbing. I swung my arm behind me and gripped mid-back where the pain was the worst. Moments later a hand touched me in that same spot.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“What are you doing?!”

“I just felt like I was supposed to be praying for your back right now.”

I burst into hot tears, “It hurts so much!” Brian prayed. He put a hot cloth on my back. He held my hair as I threw up. He made me a bubble bath at which we laughed as the bubbles seeped over the edge of the tub. He coaxed me to sleep after 4 a.m. even though he had to be up in less than two hours. I tried to apologize over and over for the inconvenience, but he never let me.

***

What would we do without the strength and support of our loved ones during our stressful, weak times in life? I feel the touch of their hands on me, praying for me, lifting me, easing the weight of my burden. Sure, when the doctor asked me if I have been stressed all of these events from this fall flooded into my mind, but the woes from the past three months have rarely been in the forefront of my thinking. It’s the blessings that I see. I see the fortitude and devotion of family and friends. I see love and joy that surpasses understanding. I see the eternal perspective in my soul that tells me that a house, a job, suffering, life on this Earth,…these are all temporary. There is so much more for which to hope and to live.

Yes, I am so richly blessed.

It’s Genetic!

I took this picture of Brady and Paige (nephew and niece) two summers ago. What I love about it – other than their cute faces – is that they are in their pajamas grabbing some ice cream from my brother’s ice cream truck for breakfast.

I identify with this picture on days like today when I am working from home wearing a t-shirt and my Hello Kitty! pajama bottoms all day and eating a Dairy Queen Buster Bar for breakfast.

Bill Shakespeare Would Be Proud

My grandparents used to take my mom and uncle to Nelson Ledges in the fall when they were young.  My mom carried on that tradition with my brothers and me, every fall if possible.  We typically started our day in the picnic area, enjoyed a lunch together, and tossed around a football or frisbee in the open field for a bit.  Afterward, we all hit the outhouses and then walked across the street from the picnic area to the ledges.  Degree of hiking difficulty here is determined by the group.  Hikers could casually stroll above or around the ledges, or could opt for more demanding descents, climbs, and crevasses through which to crawl.  We usually elected for anything that would challenge us or that looked like it had not been explored before.  If I made it through the Devil’s Icebox without losing my footing – which meant drenching my foot in the cold, orange, mineral-deposited water – then the day was a success.

November ’07 we introduced the state park to the next generation’s boys – four of my nephews.  This month’s masthead is a photo of Brian and the three youngest nephews heading in to the hiking area.

My brother, Tod, explained this sign best as “where your pee would go if you #1’d right here.”

It is customary for our family to stand on this balcony and recite, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?…”  Thanks to Brady, it looks like licking the balcony may become a new tradition as well.

Being silly, I had captioned the photo of Tod, Cliff, and me as “Siblings in love” in a family album.  When my mom was showing the album to my nephews, she asked if they knew what ‘siblings’ were?  Evan, seven years old at the time, said, “Yeah.”  “What are siblings?”  He explained matter-of-factly, “People in love.”

At the end of the day, my mom rode home with Tod and his two boys.  Nate, five years old then, must have been observant of the chatting and laughing that my mom and I did throughout the day, and then saw the hug and kiss we exchanged as I headed back home to Pennsylvania.  In the car he asked, “Granny Joanney, how do you know Aunt Michelle so well?”

Must be all those trips to Nelson Ledges.