Monday, November 24, 2014

Talia's Birthday and Baptism

So within the past two weeks, we've driven to New York, shipped Annika off on a plane to Utah, and sent me to Seattle.  Fortunately we were all united in Omaha for a few days in between because something very important happened.  Our Talia Lily turned eight!

Since Talia's real birthday party was the Harry Potter celebration in October, we limited ourselves to a simple family get-together.  We all went to watch Big Hero 6 in the morning, ate tamales for lunch, and played in the afternoon.  Here's Eli, crowning our birthday gal before she opened presents.

Even though Talia wasn't supposed to get any new presents from Mom and Dad, I salvaged this doll house from a street corner where it was waiting with the trash.

The best present of all, however, was having Grandpa Charles and Grandma Susie fly in for the celebration.  Here are Charles and Jason carrying the doll house all the way up to its new attic home.

As special as her birthday was, the following day was even more significant: on November 16th, Talia was baptized.  The dress she is wearing, made by her NomiAnn, has become a family heirloom.  Thus far it's been the baptismal dress for two sister sets: Kara & Callie and Brooklyn & Talia.  I'm guessing Eli will choose to break the tradition...

Cheerful despite the bitterly cold weather, we explained to Talia that God blanketed the whole city in white in honor of her baptism.  :)

Here are Brooklyn and Talia smiling at the picture Jason drew for the cover of her baptismal program.

Speaking of Daddy Jason, here he is dressed in white, all ready to baptize and confirm his special little girl.

Even though the photo quality isn't great, but I love the adoring look in Jason's face in this picture.  You can tell he's just so proud of Talia and the great choices she's making.

Despite a relatively small turnout on this frigid day, Talia's baptismal program was very special.  NomiAnn offered an opening prayer, Brooklyn gave a talk on baptism, Papa K and Eli sang "I am a Child of God," Grandma Susie spoke about the gift of the Holy Ghost, Sister Emma Beck (the Primary president) and Bishop Tomoser welcomed Talia, and Grandpa Charles gave the closing prayer.  Talk about being surrounded by those who love you!

Before we knew it, it was time to enjoy cheesecake and brownies before bundling up to head home.  Here's Grandma Susie getting Annie ready to go (a foreshadowing of things to come.)

And one more picture of Talia with her Wheeler grandparents.

Talia Lily, we're so very proud of you and the covenants you've made to follow Jesus.  You already have such a generous heart and sincere desire to serve others.  May this gift continue to be magnified, spreading happiness and joy now and for always.  We love you!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Autumn on Long Island

One of the unexpected bonuses of driving to Long Island for Uncle Jay’s funeral was the chance to enjoy the incredibly mild New York weather.  Our trips to the east coast are almost always centered around summer or winter vacations.  It was such a treat to experience the beautiful colors of fall.

Brooklyn, Talia, and Eli hanging out in Aunt Alison’s yard, along with her neighbor’s chickens.  Her neighbors on the other side were so kind, allowing us all to crash their home, just like they did while Jason was working in Manhattan.

A walk around the pond in Centerport.

Talia takes a closer look.

Too pretty for words.

Uncle Jay, I really don’t know if you had anything to do with the weather from upstairs, but we sure enjoyed the sunshine!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

John "Jay" Wells

As delightful as the arrival of Callie's new babe is, I have some sad news to share as well. Our beloved Uncle Jay (John Wells) passed away on Friday, November 7th.

Sketch drawn by Jason

In many ways, the news was not completely unexpected. Uncle Jay's struggle with ALS has been intense for what feels like a very long time. It's been difficult to watch this remarkably strong and fiercely independent man be forced to rely upon a feeding tube and a CPAP to survive.  We were all grateful to learn that he passed away peacefully in his home without pain, drifting off to sleep while surrounded by loved ones.

But still...I wasn't ready.  When the phone call came, hot tears escaped from eyes because no, I didn't want to say goodbye yet.  There were letters I wanted to write, cards I meant to send--each saying the same thing: Uncle Jay, we love you.  You've meant so very much to our family over all these years, as an uncle, a friend, a mentor, a teacher, an employer, a boat repairman...the list goes on and on.  Even though you may not be able to do much from the confines of your chair anymore, just your very presence enriches our lives.  We love your smile, your sparkling eyes, the wave of your hand.  Uncle Jay, we'll miss you.

I never sent that letter.  But I'd like to think he knew.

Jay's wake and memorial service were beautiful.  Since we all desperately wanted to be there, we hopped in my parents' eight passenger mini-van and made a beeline for New York, just like Jay and his family did coming the other direction last Christmas.  Was it a little bit crazy?  Definitely.  Just like Uncle Jay would have liked it.

Originally, we'd thought that the casket would be closed for the viewing, but once Jay's body was laid, he looked so peaceful and happy that it remained open.  It's funny, but oftentimes during a viewing you look upon the body and immediately sense that the person is gone.  With Uncle Jay, seeing him rest peacefully and free from all the contraptions made him feel closer than he'd felt in a while.

Eli definitely sensed this.  Even though we explained that Uncle Jay's spirit had already left his body, he kept insisting that this was the place where we came to say goodbye to Uncle Jay before he went to heaven.  To our little man, Uncle Jay was simply sleeping.  Eli was continually drawn to the prayer bench before the casket, where he would happily sit close by to keep Jay company.

During the memorial service, we gathered to share happy and quirky memories of John Wells.  While there were certainly tears, there was an abundance of laughter as well.  Katelyn played her guitar and sang the most precious song that she wrote about her dad for Father's Day.  No matter what the drama, whether delivering Katelyn in the front seat of the suburban or simply losing the keys, Uncle Jay smiled and said, "It's all right."  Someday I hope to record Katelyn singing and post the video here.  It's priceless.

Eric VanderMaas, a long-time family friend, likewise shared some thoughts, beginning his remarks with a question:  By raise of hands, how many of you have purchased an excavator on e-bay?  Right there, Jay's one-of-a-kind uniqueness became clear.  We all chuckled as Eric described Jay on the job site, where his idea of eye protection was squinting really hard, and ear protection meant raising a shoulder to the ear closest to the noise.  Janet smiled at the irony that hospice, when carrying away her husband who always hated seatbelts, buckled him in two.

Alesia and Gregory also shared wonderful memories of their Dad.  Alesia reminded us how the very best stories about Jay generally involve something mechanical and something unexpected.  Even as a small child, I understood that whenever we were out on the water with Jay, breakdowns were just the norm and added to the adventure.  He always got us home eventually.  Alesia had us all on the edge of our seats, gasping in terror, as she recalled how Jay not only crashed through thin ice while snowmobiling on Lake George, but then proceeded to actually fish the machine out of the lake through unbelievable persistence, driving it home the next day against all odds.  Great lessons on determination and hope to be learned there.

Gregory talked about how selfless his Dad always was, putting others before himself.  He reminded us how Uncle Jay was always so busy baiting everybody else's hooks that he very rarely had a chance to fish himself.  I've certainly been the recipient of that service!  In fact, the very last hooks Jay baited were probably for my children two summers ago when Talia reeled in a whopper at Lake George.

As for myself, what I remember most about Uncle Jay is his positivity.

Jay had a remarkable gift for seeing potential.  He was a builder of people and buildings alike.  Instead of a traditional arrangement, his wife and kids had their flowers placed in a vase full of nuts and bolts.  Next to his coffin hung his tools.  All over Long Island and the city there are buildings that bear his mark, even though he has passed.  But his greatest legacy, of course, lives on in the lives of his four children.

Alesia, Greg, Katelyn, Jeanette--you guys are remarkable.  So talented, strong, and caring, even in the face of sadness.  It's okay to miss your Dad.  We all do.  Anytime you want to laugh, cry, and swap stories, we're just a phone call away.  Even though 58 years isn't near enough time, your Dad had more adventures than most can claim in multiple lifetimes.

And Janet, what to even say?  Lots of people say I love you, but so very few have shown love the way you showed Jay, caring for him day in and day out, hour after hour.  I can't find words to express the admiration I feel, but this I am sure of: your hubby knew you loved him.  Loved him with the deepest love that only comes through years of partnership through the very best and very hardest of times.  I sincerely pray during this time of change and transition, you are filled with renewed light, hope, and an extra measure of peace.  I'm sure Jay would want that.

During the memorial service, Brooklyn, Talia, and Eli recited the following poem.

I'd like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I'd like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when life is done.
I'd like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times
and bright and sunny days.
I'd like the tears of those who grieve,
to dry before the sun
of happy memories
that I leave when life is done.

Uncle Jay, your Afterglow shines on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Introducing Eila Kay Wilhoit!

Well, since my very favorite Anonymous kinda spilled the beans in his last comment, I figure I better hurry up and do some announcing.

Meet the lovely Eila Kay Wilhoit!

Callie and Adam’s precious babe was born on November 14, 2014 at 12:19 am, weighing in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces, 20 inches at length.  (Apparently she shrunk a bit the following day once the cone head has a chance to subside.)

It was a very lengthy labor where nothing went quite according to plan (just an early lesson in the harsher realities of the real world), but both Mom and baby are doing wonderfully.  Eila, the “fiery oak tree” is just as sweet as can be.  Callie and Adam may have contemplated sending her back at one point when she cried until she was hoarse, but they’ve since decided that she can definitely stay.  Besides, Zoe is thrilled to have a sibling at home.  As for our family, we are delighted to welcome our very first cousin, with another (Justin and Brianna’s babe) soon to arrive.

Unable to keep my hands off the new baby, I flew out here to be with Callie and Adam after a flurry of split-minute decision making.  Annika Mae flew home with Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles, while Jason and Papa K are taking care of the rest of the munchkins.  I can’t even begin to tell you how appreciative I am for all their love and support.  It was really, really difficult to bid farewell to my own babes, but I know they are in the best of hands.

There’s certainly much more to be said as we’ve had a great number of significant life changes over the past days.  For the moment, though, that will all have to wait.

I have a niece to snuggle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Parenthood Purse

Today I flew all by myself somewhere for the first time in over a decade.  (More details coming!)  Unloading my purse/diaper bag was kind of a surreal experience.  Out went the diapers, out went the wipes, out went the hairties, the crayons, the board books, the finger puppets, the spare outfit, and the sippy cup.  By the time I was all finished, my purse was completely empty with the exception of my wallet, cell phone, and some chapstick.

For a moment I stood there quite dazed.  Space for myself?  I had no idea what to do with it.  Over the years I've become so accustomed to worrying about the munchkins' needs that my own have been crowded out.  Slowly, I started adding in a few personal items: a journal, an iPod, some pleasure reading, and a pack of blank thank yous.  As I did so, I reminded myself that I won't always fill my purse with diapers.  This stage of life, intense as it may be, is still fleeting.  In moments when I feel like I have completely lost myself to motherhood, may I remember that some day there will be room in life's purse for other things.

The very last thing I did before leaving was to repack the wet wipes.  After all, once you've discovered something great, there's no going back.

Love and hugs to all my great ones.  My purse is rich because of you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Colorado Rockies

Two weekends ago we decided to take advantage of the lovely lingering fall weather by planning an impromptu excursion to Colorado to spend some time in the mountains. We hoped that a brief "mountain fix" would satiate our longing for the canyons. In truth, the gorgeous colors and crisp fresh air just made us miss the mountains even more. Even so, I'm glad we escaped for a few days. Our kids are just growing up so fast. More and more, I'm realizing that the time to enjoy life and each others company is right now.

All in all, the munchkins traveled quite well for our long car ride.  (Many thanks to our Harry Potter audiobook.)  At our neighbor's suggestion, we stopped off at Ole's Big Game Steakhouse for dinner in Paxton, Nebraska.  Apparently the original owner started this bar six decades ago to fund his hunting excursions all over the world.  The entire restaurant is filled with his trophies.   While definitely a unique dining experience, it was likewise surreal with strong undercurrents of "horrific" and "disturbing."

The girls enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs as they walked around taking pictures of everything:

There were plenty more, but you get the idea.  Definitely a different era.  I'll have you know we ate chicken.

On to happier thoughts: hiking!  After surviving the first night (Annika was a horrendous hotel sleeper), we met up with some Illinois friends of ours in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Meet Forest and Ivy.  (Cute couple names, huh.)  They haven't aged a bit since we first met them years ago.  Even more amazing is the fact that Forest hiked Bear Lake with us, even though he'd had his appendix out four days before!
 And here we have some of our combined brood.  By the time you add in the two baby girls (not pictured), Eli was definitely outnumbered.

A family photo.  Last time we were in Rocky Mountain National Park, Talia was still a baby and Brooklyn wasn't even three.

Annie Mae hitches a ride on Daddy's shoulders.

About thirty seconds into our hike, Eli pauses for a rest.

The kids were adorable, creating their very own "Wolf Cub Club" that periodically cheered throughout the trail.  When we took other hikes later on, Brooklyn, Talia, and Eli insisted on creating new club names, so we also had the "Nature Preservers" and "Harry Potter Hikers."

Annie Mae, smiling widely as a jack-o-lantern. 

Vistas so beautiful that it hurts.

 What fun to reunite with my visiting teaching friend and singing buddy!

 After finishing the Bear Lake Loop, our friends needed to get back on the road.  Ivy had a cello concert that evening, plus Forest must have been ready for a break post-surgery.  Since the mountains are a rarity for us, we Wheelers decided to keep going.

Eli kicks back on a rock.

 Talia was definitely in here element.  She loves to hike!

Our next destination?  Nymph Lake.

Love the lily pads!
 If you're happy and you know it, touch your mouth.

Eight years apart, yet Brooklyn and Annie have so much in common.

Eli scales this amazing root structure.

Perfect spot for a couple family pictures.

Talia soaks in the sunlight.

We made it to our final destination, Emerald Lake, just as the sun started to slip away.  The chipmunks were just as friendly as we remembered them being during our picnic at the very same spot seven years ago.

By this point, the munchkins were tired, but they still humored me with a photo at Dream Lake on the way back.

Something about the mountains brings the whole world into better perspective.

The following night with Annika was long, but we cheered ourselves up the next morning by hiking in Boulder Canyon.  The kids were way excited to pull out their Camelbaks once more.

 The real joy of sisterhood.

 Annika Mae sure enjoyed smearing her snack in Dad's hair.

The only downside to this hike was that we'd hoped to rappel, but never found the spot.  Ah well, I guess there's nothing wrong with playing it safe and keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground.

We thoroughly enjoyed our Saturday afternoon watching the street performers in Boulder instead.  This amazing guy folded not only himself into a plastic box, but squeezed Eli and a couple other kids in there too.

Talia's living the Good Life.

After two nights of lousy sleep, you'd think that Annika would have crashed that evening.  Ha!  At one point, she slept in the shower where she was strapped into her car seat, having been delicately carried in after Jason drove her round and around trying to convince her to close her eyes.  Still, our last hike made it worth suffering through that final night.  Eldorado Canyon State Park was stunning with its tall cliffs, reminding us so much of Snow Canyon.

We happily embarked on the Rattlesnake Gulch trail.

Annika "woofed" at every passing pup and insisted on petting most.

My happy place.

Hey Jason, you're looking a bit sleepy there...

...but not as sleepy as Annie.  Going...



So glad she had a chance to finally catch up on her zzzs.

At least we didn't have to tote our big girls.

The trail wound right past the ruins of what used to be the Crags Hotel.  Built in 1908, it was in operation for only 4 years before burning down.

Brooklyn examines the old fireplace...

...while Annie sleeps on.

Posing for a picture at the Continental Divide overlook.

Standing tall.

On second thought, sit down.  That's a mighty steep drop-off!

  Strength to grow in the most unlikely of places.

Annika finally woke up (and kept stealing my hat!)

 Despite her lousy sleeping habits, this munchkin seemed to thoroughly enjoy our excursion.

I think Annie spoke for all of us in summing up our Colorado adventure: