Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I've tried to write this post for two days now. And it won't come.

The words and emotions are tightly knotted inside me, unable to find their way to my fingers.

If anyone would understand writer's block, it would be her--reader and writer, English teacher extraordinaire.

My beloved Aunt Sally.

She had been suffering for a few weeks. Doctors thought it was a kidney infection and treated her accordingly. On Monday afternoon, they diagnosed her with leukemia and took her to LDS hospital in SLC. They told her she could try chemo and it might buy her a few months, but when she came down with pneumonia, they said she was too weak. Friday afternoon they sent her home on hospice, and she died Sunday around 7 pm, with her son on one side and her daughter on the other. It was crazy how quickly it all changed.

Aunt Sally died on Sunday evening. Can that be true?

I got to talk to her just a few hours before she died. Mom held the phone to her ear as I told her how I loved her and how much I will miss her. I heard her struggling to talk, "Love you, Jen."

I also asked her to hug my grandma for me. I hope she remembered that. What am I thinking? Of course she did. She never forgot. She remembered all of her nieces' and nephews' birthdays for years. She remembered our spouses and our children--her great-nieces and great-nephews. She even remembered my grandkids' names and to whom they belonged--her great-great-nieces and great-great-nephews.

It wasn't just her blood family that she always remembered. She always remembered everything about everyone. Friends growing up in St. George, UT. Friends who became family in Redlands, CA. Students who learned to trust her and love her in the classroom. Friends sitting next to her in church every Sunday. She remembered everyone. And she had the kindest heart of anyone I've ever known.

Everyone who knew her benefited from her most generous heart and loving spirit. She loved to give gifts--for birthdays and holidays, to be sure, but she brought gifts every time she came to visit. Small gifts and big gifts and surprise gifts. When I was a girl, I had given her my bedroom to use while she visited us in Idaho. I'm sure she brought my rolls and rolls of 135 film for my Kodak camera (we had the same camera, and she always made sure to supply me with film), which I kept stashed in the treasure section of my dresser's bottom drawer. When I climbed into my bed that first night after she left, I found an envelope under my pillow. Out dropped a $20 bill, and all of my siblings were jealous and begged to give their room to Aunt Sally next time she came to visit.

It was always exciting to have Aunt Sally visit, not only because she brought presents, but because she brought light and life and joy and fun. We would play games for hours, go out to eat, and talk. She always knew what to talk about with each person she loved. She would tell stories (we all heard about the shark attack as she would show us the gaping hole on her calf, only to hear her laugh and say she'd had a cancerous growth removed from that spot years earlier) and ask to hear us play the piano or see what we had been working on. With me, conversation changed from musicals and photography when I was a teenager to history and family when I was first married. Then, this past summer, we talked education--the pitfalls and problems and possible solutions. She was well read and always had good book recommendations for me (even introducing me and Brad to a great used bookstore in California when we visited her early in our marriage). She knew politics and world events and could defend her perspective in any discussion. She was brilliant. 

Aunt Sally loved God. After a long time away, she returned to the church when I was a teenager, and her commitment never wavered again. She attended the temple with my mom a month ago, and two important items on her to-do list were tithing settlement with her bishop and a final partaking of the sacrament in her home on the day she died.

I knew I was her favorite. I knew it and even told her so. Ironically, so did everyone else she met. She had a way of making you feel important and special and so, so loved. She was quick with hugs and kisses and intimate conversation. She was the best.

Wow. She was my favorite.

Aunt Sally was my favorite because . . . 

. . . as long as I can remember, my mom used to tell me how much I reminded her of her sister Sally. I don't know exactly what it was that connected us, and Mom would try to explain it to me. I know it wasn't the kindness or the generosity or my hair or eye color or her insatiable love of games. But it was something.

And I will try to treasure that piece of me that is somehow like her for the rest of my life.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Miracles Small Yet Mighty

It's been about a month since my father-in-law's brain aneurysm and stroke. You can read about it here.

It's been a month of extremes. Many lows and many disappointments. Many tears and many hugs. Difficult conversations and difficult decisions. Brad has flown to Salt Lake twice to comfort his mom, relieve some of the stress on his siblings who live there, go through paperwork, and visit with Greg. It's been emotional and hard on everyone.

Last Sunday, Brad arrived to the news that although Greg had been moved to an acute rehabilitation facility, his condition was not good enough for him to respond to or participate in the therapies they provide. Insurance only pays for three weeks in this facility, and if he couldn't do it, the time and money spent there would be wasted and irretrievable. This news was upsetting--what should they do?

That day, Greg received a priesthood blessing, and he slept for most of the day. Monday morning, when Brad and his mom arrived at the facility, Greg was awake. Over the course of two days, he recognized Brad for the first time. He passed a swallow test and ate real food. He put on his own socks. He walked up stairs. He remembered passwords on his computer and where he filed his 2014 taxes. He gave hugs and kisses and smiles and cracked a few jokes.

Little daily achievements that never before seemed so miraculous.

While the final outcome is still unsure, these small yet mighty miracles do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

This Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where Is the Third Monkey?

You know these three monkeys?
Two of them currently live at my house.

Yesterday was a day of doctors, diagnoses, and surgery.

Brad had a minimally invasive retina surgery that provided him with an awesome eye patch.

I call him the cyborg pirate. His recovery will be quick--didn't even need the patch today.

The second doctor's visit of the day was not quite as positive, and we have been told recovery will not be quick.

Lily has been experiencing some weird raspiness in her voice and unexplained loss of part of her vocal range. I've tried to get her into an ENT, but between all of her rehearsals/performances and the crazy that is normal life around here, it took me a while. Yesterday was the day. When the doctor entered, I explained to him that her vocal coach had noticed some unusual sounds in Lily's voice and that she suspected vocal nodules. He numbed Lily's nose with a few drops and dropped a scope to investigate.

Even my untrained eye could see what she was dreading. She has nodules.
Made infamous in the movie Pitch Perfect, vocal nodules (or nodes as the Bellas call them) are real and not as comic as the movie portrays. Nodules are basically callouses that develop on the vocal chords from improper singing/speaking and overuse.

We are still in the early diagnosis/treatment phase, but as of that moment yesterday morning, Lily is on complete vocal rest. She doesn't speak--at all. She carries a white board and her phone to communicate through text, and she's becoming better at the constant game of charades that will be her life for the foreseeable future. I spoke with a speech therapist last night, and after she sympathized with Lily's situation, she said, "This is fixable if she works hard, and she will be back singing and doing everything she wants." Depending on how long the nodules have been there (could be as long as six months, we don't know), they will eventually soften and shrink. Lily will need weeks of vocal speech therapy to teach her how to avoid developing them in the future. Six weeks or six months--we don't know right now. One thing I know about my Lily--when she sets her mind to something, she does it. I have no doubt that she will commit to her therapy and work hard to get her voice back.

There were a few tears shed yesterday. She can't audition for the spring musical at her school (her sassy personality would have been great in Little Women). When I was with her, I noticed a strange phenomenon--when people find out she can't speak, they kind of leave her out of the conversation, thinking for some inexplicable reason that she can no longer hear or participate in what's going on around her. That is isolating, and I think it will wear on her quickly. I hope that gets easier.

Plus, my spunky girl is . . . only word to use is noisy. She loves to talk. She loves to sing. She loves to yell and be loud. It's endemic to her personality. I know these few weeks will be extremely hard for her. I hope she learns great lessons while she's in this circumstance, but I hope she heals quickly. I already miss the funny talks we have in the car or around the dinner table or on the couch watching Survivor. As we walked into Target yesterday to buy her a white board and markers for school, she sent me a quick text: "At least it's not cancer." We both know there are much worse things happening in this world, and it's good to keep it all in perspective, even though it really does suck right now.

It was comical watching these two try to communicate yesterday afternoon. Lily was waving her arms and mouthing words and sending Brad text messages. Brad, still recovering from the twilight anesthesia, had to half blindly search for his reading glass to place over his cyborg pirate eye so he could even read what she was writing. I had to laugh, and so did they. They chose to drown their misery with cheese and crackers as they caught up with recorded Survivor episodes. Quite a pair, aren't they?
This morning Brad's eye was much better, and after his followup appointment today, he should be fine. Lily has an appointment with a speech therapist tomorrow morning, and we are hoping for some more answers and direction after that appointment.

And Eve's biggest concern lately? The cold. It's been AZ winter temperatures around here, and she dug this old coat of Lily's out of the closet and wears it whenever she can.
She fell asleep in the car, snug in her winter coat--which she sported over her dance leotard, no pants, and no shoes or socks. If it's one thing AZ kids don't understand, it's how to dress when it's cold. And our cold is . . . about 60*.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Still Busy Around Here . . .

Here's what we did last night at the Sanatorium: block towers and a raucous dance party around the piano. I haven't played the piano like that in a really really long time. Jonah loved it all.

I remember dancing like that when my dad played those songs. While I have gotten quite rusty on the octaves and the notes aren't as accurate as they used to be, the joy that comes from these songs must be genetic. I love how "The Burning of Rome" and "Ben Hur" link my grandkids and my kids and me to my dad.

Thanks, Dad. Thanks for teaching me to love music. And for letting me dance like a dervish in my nightgown when you played.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I've Been Busy . . .

All four of my grandkids live a day's drive away from us. I hate that.

But Heidi's family came to visit for the entire week this week, and I'm loving every second I have to spend with them. We ran errands one day, went to the cabin for another, and spent the morning at the Phoenix Zoo for another.
The weather was gorgeous, and the kids had a great time.

How I wish they lived right here and we could do this once a week instead of once in a while.

I love their smiles and their hugs and their kisses and everything about them. Just a few more days and they will head back home. I'm soaking up every minute I can.

So pardon if my blog collects a little dust. Gran's got stuff to do.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Music in the Mall

 He doesn't look nervous, does he?

I think that is due to the amount of practicing he's been putting in lately. Since school started, Micah has increased his daily practice time to about an hour (some days more, some days less). Not only has he increased the quantity of time spent at the keyboard, he has also improved the quality.
During his practice sessions, he first focuses on mastering the notes and fingering, then he adds the metronome to make sure his tempo is even. Next come dynamics and tying the whole piece together to make it more than just notes--to turn it into music.

His efforts have paid off. Instead of the 1-2 pieces he used to learn in three months, he has learned four. Instead of playing level 4 pieces like he was in June, he has almost finished one piece that is a level 6 and one that is a level 7.

He performed two of these pieces at Music in the Mall a few weeks ago. See him there on the back row waiting his turn?
His previous obsession with playing things as fast as he can is morphing into something deeper, something truly incredible.
 He's learning to hear, and it's the most amazing process to witness.
Ever since he was aware of the piano, Micah has loved to play it, begging for lessons through all of kindergarten until I relented, and he began to take formally during the summer before first grade. I've taught dozens of students and a few of my own kids as well--he has a rare gift for it. It's like watching a fish swim or a horse run. Now that he's maturing a little, he wants not to simply play notes: he wants to make music.
And he wants to get better at it.

He's listening. He's slowing down. He's practicing and practicing and practicing with very rare complaints. He's learning that mistakes aren't signs of weakness but indicators of where to improve. And as shocking as it was at his last lesson, his teacher and I both witnessed him say, "I don't know if I can play it that fast. That's too fast." She recorded that comment for her personal amusement and future reference.

I love it when my kids find "their thing." It's been different for each of them, and it changes as they grow older. For now, Micah's thing is 88 keys, an adjustable stool, a lamp, and sheets and sheets of notes that transform under his fingers into real music.

Moms live for moments like these.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Relegated to Shotgun Status From Now On

It's that big milestone in a teen's life.

Age 15 years, six months.

Time to head down to the DMV.
Lily was pretty excited about it, until she saw the line . . . wrapping around the entire circumference of the room. Two hours we waited in that line.

Then when we reached the desk, she took a quick eye test, got a number, and we waited another 45 minutes. The excitement of being 15 years 6 months was quickly waning. I found this hilarious video on Facebook that kept us entertained and laughing. Worth watching!
We watched it twice in a row, laughing so loudly that I'm sure every other grumpy DMV waiting person wondered what was so stinking funny. It made the time pass quickly at least.

Her number was called, she headed back to take the test, and I called my mom while I waited. The second she walked out of the testing room, I knew she hadn't passed--missed it by one question. That was a heartbreaker. I was so sad for her but sad for me as well, because I knew another three-hour wait at the DMV was in our future.

We were saved by her friend's advice. Just a few miles from our house is a private motor vehicle office that issues driver's permits. It costs an additional $12, but that was worth it in my book. Total no brainer.

We showed up after the mandatory seven days had passed until a retake was allowed. She had studied and crammed and stressed and even cried just a little as she prepared to retake the test, and she was ready.

Or so she thought.

Her confidence shook just a little when she was told the test would be written instead of on the computer like she had practiced, but I rubbed her back and encouraged her before she disappeared into the test taking cubicle. After what seemed like forever, she emerged. "You have to get 13 right, and I was positive on 12 of them. I think I passed."

Again we waited as the test was scored. When the clerk approached us with Lily's test tacked to a clipboard, Lily noticeably held her breath next to me.

"You . . . " seemed like forever till she completed that sentence ". . . passed."

I thought Lily was going to explode. She jumped from her seat, pumped her fists in the air and kicked her legs. The clerk thought Lily was going to attack her, but she obviously was unfamiliar with the excitement level that surrounds my girl.

Now she asks to drive wherever we go. She was starting from zero experience, and I had to explain blinkers, brakes, acceleration, and turning. It's been two weeks now, and she's getting better and better. Thirty-minute drives home from late-night rehearsals for "The Secret Garden" (get your tickets here--opens tomorrow and runs for two weekends--it's awesome) have been the perfect opportunity for her to maneuver city streets when they're virtually deserted. I still slam my foot to the floor more than once each time we're driving, but I'm doing it less and less. In five months, she will be driving herself around--and being my errand girl.

Can't wait for that. I've missed having another driver around here.