Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A New Tradition

I wasn't sure how we would feel about going back to Timbuk Tree Farm this year.  Sometimes I feel really sad doing things that we always did with Rick.  So this year we decided to patronize the Christmas tree lot at the boys' school.  The Christmas tree sale is the longest running fundraiser for the school and every year we admire the beautiful trees they have.  This year was no different.  We found the perfect, lovely, full tree.  And the nice volunteers tied it to the top of the car for me!

We managed to get the tree set up inside and decorated all by ourselves. 
It's a byoot! 

Rick would be proud.

Monday, December 28, 2015

New York City!

We did the most fantastic thing for Thanksgiving! 
We went to New York City
Here's how it all went down:
The week before Thanksgiving, I was working with one of the residents who was talking about how her aunt lives on Central Park West and has a great view of the Macy's parade from her apartment and how every year her family gathers at the aunt's apartment and there are tons of kids there and some year I should come and bring the boys and wouldn't that be great.  Possessed by some sort of spirit of horning in on someone else's family celebration, I blurted out, "What if we came this year?"  Well, the resident was very gracious (she's a super nice person) and said she would double check with her aunt but she was sure it would be okay.  One short visit to expedia.com later, we were on our way to New York City!
It was almost eerie how everything just fell into place for this trip.  I was packed and all ready to speed straight to the airport after work on Wednesday. I even packed all carry-on bags so we wouldn't have to check any luggage; the boarding passes were already printed.  I was envisioning the busiest travel day of the year, but the reality was no traffic on the way to the airport, hundreds of open parking spaces in the Park & Fly lot, maybe ten people in line ahead of us at security, and arrival at the gate about an hour and a half early. 

Even when we got on the plane the stewardess said, 
"You can really sit wherever you want. There's only about 30 people on this flight." 

We got to La Guardia early.  La Guardia was not at all the madhouse I was expecting.  The shuttle to our hotel arrived, and though we were sharing our shuttle with several other families, we were the first to be dropped off.  And we floated straight to our beds the rest up for a big Thanksgiving Day

The next morning we gave ourselves plenty of time to negotiate the crowds and blocked off streets to arrive at the parade party about 30 minutes before the parade started.  It was of course an unbelievably beautiful apartment and our lovely hosts treated us to a scrumptious breakfast spread.  They had thoughtfully pushed all their beautiful furniture back against the walls so that there was plenty of room for kids to run around and they genuinely didn't seem to mind that kids were running around and having fun.  And there were plenty of window seats to catch every moment of parade excitement.
It was magical.

When the parade finally ended and we had tried our hardest to express our deepest gratitude to our hosts, we walked across the street to Central Park and meandered through the park (climbing rocks, following paths, getting into everyone else's pictures), back to our hotel.  
It was the most beautiful day!

I wasn't too stressed about finding someplace to have a full turkey dinner on Thanksgiving; I knew my kids would be happy eating hotdogs from a street vendor, but then I found out that the restaurant in our hotel was having a Thanksgiving buffet.  That seemed like just the thing.  So we enjoyed an elegant dinner with views overlooking Central Park.  We all agreed that we missed Dad's turkey and Great Grandma's dinner rolls, but it was still very lovely.  And I enjoyed not having to cook or do any dishes or make any plans for leftovers.

That evening we took a short walk to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes!

Yes! they were amazing and Yes! those are 3D glasses that we got to wear for part of the show.

Soren scored a much anticipated street vendor pretzel after the show.

On Friday we totally pretended to be locals, thanks to my very sweet friend Erin and her husband Ryan who had recently been living in New York City before coming back to work at Children's Hospital.  Erin advised us not to waste our time waiting to see the Macy's Santa Claus- she knew of the most beautiful Santa Claus in NYC.  So we met up with her family near Union Square and were the first ones in line to see...

the most beautiful Santa Claus in NYC

Then we took some time to play on a great playground in Union Square where the guys made friends with cute, hipster urban children.  We wandered a bit and hit some funky shops Erin knew about and THEN...

we took the subway.  It was something I really wanted to do.  There's no way I could have figured it out by myself.  Luckily Erin and Ryan are pros.  

We took the subway down to the Staten Island Ferry and rode it past the Statue of Liberty.  That's got to be one of the best kept secrets of NYC tourism- see the Statue of Liberty for free!

Erin's  family went back to their airbnb apartment (I told you they were pros) to rest and resupply.  We rode the subway (all by ourselves this time!) to Grand Central Station where we walked around and noshed on some hotdogs.

Then we made our way to Rockefeller Center where we miraculously found Erin's family at the Top of the Rock!

The last stop on this adventure was the Toys R Us in Times Square.  I promised my friend Valerie that I would take Soren to ride the ferris wheel there.  I'm not gonna lie- Toys R Us in Times Square on Black Friday was probably the least charming part of the trip but we scored the Firetruck car on the ferris wheel- the one Soren said he wanted.  So that kind of made it worth it.

Saturday morning the shuttle driver picked us up and drove us through no traffic back to the airport where there was no one ahead of us in the security line.  And the cherry on the top of the amazing weekend was an upgrade to First Class for the flight home.

Thank you, Guardian Angel Rick.  I know you played a big hand in the Best Thanksgiving Ever!

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Soren played basketball on the Little Rams team at school this year.  He loved it!

At the last game he scored 2 baskets! 
And somehow I got talked into wearing the Ruckus Ram mascot costume.  

I think I did a pretty good job.  But I couldn't fool Soren.  He said to Ruckus, "Hey! You have the same shoes as my mom." 

It's Halloween!

This might be the last year I can choose the costumes the boys wear for Halloween.  Every time Soren sees this picture, he still says, "I hate that costume"

But I so love it! Trick or Treat!


This Year, William participated in an event called PianoRama which involved several weekends of extra practices and culminated in a performance at an Ohio State School of Music auditorium with 15 pairs of musicians playing duet pieces on 15 pianos... at the same time!

PianoRama really is the best word to describe the spectacle.  William and his partner (also named William) did an amazing job, as did all the performers.

Buckeye Baptism

In late September, Will attended his first Ohio State football game.  
He's now officially a Buckeye fan.

We even had to run out the morning of the game and get him new shoes, because his school tennis shoes are (gulp) 
blue and gold.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Gift

We take a lot of trips to South Carolina as a family.  Rick and I both lived in Charleston in the course of our Navy adventures and we love the Lowcountry
Right now Will's future plans include moving to Charleston (Soren was invited to move with him, but I was not) and open a ferry boat business in Charleston Harbor, shuttling tourists where they want to go.  He also wants to live on the beach, so I hope that ferry business is a successful one.
The last time we were in Charleston was this past August and while we were out taking one of our many leisurely strolls with Mr. Dog, we started to notice these cute little sago palm trees everywhere. Will started calling them pineapple palm trees- and they do look like little pineapples planted in the ground with palm fronds sticking out of the top- and asked if we could get one to take home.  
At that point, it was difficult for Rick to venture far from the beach house so we didn't get a chance to shop for a souvenir palm tree.  After we got back to Ohio, Will diligently checked the garden section at Lowe's every time we were there to see if they had any... but this is Ohio, after all.  No luck.

Rick died on what would have been the boys' second day of school.  Obviously I had not sent them.  They were reluctant to be away from Rick at all in those last few days.  But when they were finally ready to go, I had not yet returned to work so I was taking them and picking them up from school.  In the afternoon, my routine was to park a street over from the school and walk to the dismissal area, then walk them back to the car.  
One afternoon, on maybe the third or fourth day back at school, I parked the car as usual, walked the usual route through the neighborhood and met the boys at school. The three of us then walked back to the car the same way I had just come, but now on the sidewalk in front of one the houses sat a little sago palm in a pot next to a sign that said 

I absolutely could not believe my eyes.
We all knew right away and Soren said, 
"It's a gift from Daddy!"

Saturday, October 24, 2015

You Can Do Hard Things

One of the hardest things I have ever done was deliver the eulogy at Rick's funeral.  
I had thoughts prepared. 
I had beautiful friends standing by, ready to step in and read them for me if I just gave the signal. 
But it was important to me that these things were said. And I was proud of myself for doing it. Just like I am proud that I was part of Rick's amazing, amazing life.

Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
I remember that thought first concretely crossing my mind right outside on the front stairs of this church. It was a day in early May three years ago. Rick had just come home from the hospital after having surgery right after his brain tumor diagnosis and the parish was having a Spring yard and grounds clean up.  We were new to the whole cancer thing and desperately trying to do normal things. We brought a folding chair along- the idea being that Rick could relax in the fresh air while we cleaned up the flower beds around the church and school. But he couldn't stand to sit in that chair long and soon he was trimming rose bushes and digging out weeds right along with us. We were finishing up that day and I had swept the debris from the concrete right outside in what I thought was a satisfactory manner.  Rick gently took the broom from me and swept it up in a ship shape manner.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
The evidence was early. When he was in elementary school back in the day, for some reason in gym class they split up the kids based on their athletic ability. The fastest runners, highest jumpers, strongest chin uppers wore gold shorts to gym class. The medium performers wore red shorts.  The slowest kids wore white shorts maybe. Rick prided himself on always qualifying to wear gold shorts.
Rick enlisted in the Navy when he was an 18 year old kid.  He chose the job of cook because he had had a job at a local hotel and enjoyed working in the kitchens there even though the recruiter tried to talk him into a more challenging job. At the end of Navy cook school someone came to the class looking for volunteers to go to submarine training. Anyone who knows anything about Navy cuisine knows that the food that is prepared on board submarines is the best food to be had on land or sea. If Rick was going to be a cook he was going to be a submarine cook.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
Because Rick came to the submarine force in somewhat of an unusual way, he had somewhat of an unusual career.  He served on board 7 submarines. He rose through the ranks rather quickly and made Chief in 9 years. He received a direct commission and became a Supply Officer and went back to the submarine force, becoming a rare sailor with both silver and gold dolphin warfare pins. Along the way he was afforded the opportunity to cook at the White House, cycle on the Navy's competitive bicycle racing team, and travel with the Navy SEALs with what he said was literally a briefcase of cash handcuffed to his wrist in order to procure for the SEALs whatever they needed wherever they happened to be in the world. If you weren't hearing the James Bond theme music in your head before, I hope you are now.
Rick retired from the Navy and moved to Columbus to be close to a certain cute Navy dentist he had met while stationed in Iceland and he said his dream was to run a bed and breakfast. So we bought a house and Rick set about rehabbing it from to top to bottom, in some places taking it down to the studs, and he built a beautiful home, mostly with his own two hands and he ran the kind of bed and breakfast where the soft sheets were freshly ironed and there were always oatmeal-craisin-chocolate chunk-pecan cookies on hand.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
Our children came along and I probably don't need to tell you what kind of father he was. A lot of you got to see it first hand. I will say that it filled my heart with joy to bursting to see Rick nurture and love our children and it made me fall in love with him all over again. He was the ultimate caregiver and he took good care of us.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
And then Rick got cancer. He couldn't get just any old kind of cancer. He had to get one of the big baddies. Because I am a healthcare provider, my instinct is to turn to the literature when I am dealing with an unfamiliar diagnosis. So I tried to read journal articles to inform myself but I could never get past phrases like "abysmal prognosis" and "18 month average survival" and "one of the deadliest". But in true Rick Smiley fashion he faced it with dignity and courage and befriended the other patients in the hospital waiting rooms, and joked with the nurses, and was basically a shining light in the sad places that chemotherapy suites and oncology wards can be. Our oncologist actually said that whatever Rick was doing to cope with the illness and treatments, he wished he would sprinkle it over the other patients on his way by. And Rick did his best to lift up everyone around him.
And in living his life the way he did, he gave us a tremendous gift.
A gift to me.
A gift to William.
A gift to Soren.
A gift to all of us who knew him.
He gave us a beautiful example of how to be strong.
How to love.
How to have faith.

And when you do those things never do them half way.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Build A Bearthday Party (Heehee)

Soren's friends met us at Build-a-Bear to help celebrate the momentous occasion. 
We got there a little early. 
Soren was anxious for the doors to open.

It was lots of fun to watch everyone make a new little buddy and the party leader did a great job of shepherding everyone through the process.  
You know how they have those little cloth hearts that you make a wish on and stuff inside before they sew up your stuffed animal? When we got to that part, each guest got a small heart to make a special wish for Soren. Rick and I gave a little kiss to our small hearts.  Then the party leader put all the small hearts inside a heart-shaped pouch to put inside the Minion Soren made. 
That was a very sweet touch I thought. 

We moved out onto the Easton patio to open gifts

and share cupcakes.  
Because Sour Patch Kids are Soren's favorite candy, I was so excited to find the recipe for Sour Patch cupcakes on Pinterest. They turned out so pretty

But the taste elicited reactions like this 

and this.

But Will's friend, Drew, saved the day when he said, 
"Don't worry, my mom makes worse cupcakes." 
Thanks, Drew.

We rounded out the rich, full day with a screening of the Minion Movie in 3D. 

Phew! So much fun!

Caught in the Act

August 1st was a beautiful day filled with many surprises.

Soren and Will caught in the act of snuggling
(I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes)

Soren caught in the act of pumping his legs on the swing 
(I honestly thought he still needed me to push him- 
mom is a sucker)

Soren caught in the act of being good for a haircut
(he's come along way)

Soren caught in the act of turning 6!

Happy Birthday to our sweet, sweet boy!
We love you, you little stinker!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Camping With a Side of Mud

In June Will and I went to Cub Scout Camp
Yes, Cub Scout Camp. 
Yes, in June. 
Yes, this past June when it rained torrentially every day. 

But we managed to do all the fun camp things. I was fairly amazed by how all the camp activities were conducted rain or shine... mostly rain.
Will earned his Webelos Sportsman pin by learning how to shoot BB guns

and shoot a bow and arrow.

He also played volley ball

and collected bugs

and fished and fished and fished.

I enjoyed some quiet afternoons reading in a canvas tent with a nice colony of daddy longlegs.

One afternoon the sun came out

The most amazing aspect of Cub Scout Camp (to me) was the fact that my french manicure survived five long days. There should be a merit badge for that.