Caryn

The closer we get to Christmas, the more my mind begins to reflect on the Christmases of my childhood…My Christmas Past. In those early years, an artificial tree was unheard of. We would go to the tree lots and get a tree, usually shortly after Thanksgiving. Dad would bring the tree in and decide how much would need to be trimmed off. Then he would begin to cut on the trunk of the tree. The smell of pine was everywhere.

Once the tree was set, the decorating would begin. We would sing Christmas carols as we decorated the tree, and we would have candy and hot chocolate or some other treats to munch on while we worked. Soon the tree was finished and the house was filled with festive, twinkling lights. I couldn’t wait for evening to come each day, so the tree lights could be turned on again. It was my favorite time of year.

It was the time of year for buying gifts for my sisters and my parents, hopefully without disclosing what I bought. A time to try our best to keep the secrets for the days and weeks until Christmas finally arrived. Gifts were hidden around the house or better yet wrapped right away so they could not be found, but that brought it’s own set of problems. As kids, it is so hard not to peek. We would shake and squeeze our packages hoping to be able to figure out what we were getting, and stopping short of opening the packages and re-wrapping them…mostly because I would be sure to be caught.

Probably the most fun we had, however, was the shopping for our parents. As kids, we didn’t really have a lot of money, so the gifts we could get for our parents were usually small or even homemade, but as we got older, we schemed, scrimped, and saved so that we could buy them the kind of gift that would really knock their socks off. Those gifts brought the best memories. And there were a few times that our gifts were so surprising to them that it almost brought tears to their eyes…and usually did with my mom.

My Dad has been in Heaven now for the last 4 Christmases…this will be the 5th, and at times, I find myself…less than enthusiastic about the coming holiday. I miss him so much, but I know that he would want me to be excited about the holiday that he loved so much. So I’ll soon be ready, and the day will be great, but I think I’ll always wish we could, maybe just for a little while, relive…My Christmas Past.

From the time they were little babies, my grandchildren have had Christmas pictures taken together every year. Those photo sessions were often not fun to say the very least. One or more of the kids always seemed to want nothing to do with one or more of the others. The instant the photo session started, so did the fighting and the inevitable headache. You could call it sibling rivalry or cousin rivalry, but whatever you want to call it, it was the pits. Well, last weekend was that time again, and we all expected the same old thing.

For many years, my granddaughter was certain that she would never love her brother. I kept trying to tell her that eventually she would like her brother and even have fun hanging out with him. Still she was certain that there was no way that would ever happen. Now, just a few short years later, they are friends, and I’m so happy to see it. I love watching them playing together. Really, it’s like they are saying, “Here we are, who once were enemies, and who now are friends.” That look that warms a grandmother’s heart. Watching them share a laugh and goof off together…well, it was awesome.

Christopher and Josh didn’t fight in the same way that Shai and Caalab, but I suppose that is just because they were both boys, and two brothers fight differently than brother and sister do. Still, I remember a number of times when Kevin had to get after his boys for fighting too. Each one felt like he needed to take matters into his own hands if his brother got out of line. Now that Chris is working, Josh is starting to miss his brother quite a bit. He is thinking about the fun they have had through the years.

One of the biggest rivalries, however has been between the two youngest boys, Caalab and Josh. They seemed always to be fighting each other for some reason or another. They fought over who got to hang with Christopher. They fought over who was the boss. They fought over toys, games, friends…they probably would have fought over the air if they had thought about it. Now, even that is changing. They get along so much better.

After the traditional Christmas pictures were done, we turned the kids loose to go outside and create a little different Christmas picture, and I have to say that it is those pictures that have been a big surprise. The kids played and laughed, threw snowballs, tossed each other into the snow, chased each other…but they didn’t fight. They who once were enemies, and they who now are friends. My grandchildren, who have made a transition…that first real step into adulthood. I was amazed, pleased, and definitely in awe of the change.

Sometimes in life, an opportunity presents itself, and if you work hard…harder that you ever thought possible, something totally awesome can come your way. That is exactly what happened to the Casper, Wyoming, Kelly Walsh High School Cheerleaders this week in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Kelly Walsh Cheerleaders, of which my niece Siara is a member, have been in other competitions, but this one is special…it is The American Grand. It’s the big one…Nationals!!!

The Kelly Walsh Cheerleaders had already won the State Championships this year, so we all knew that they were special, but Nationals is where you separate the best from the rest!! Nerves are raw, the tension is high, your stomach is doing as many flips as the cheer squad, and yet…you know that you have to do your part…you have to pull your weight…you have to stick every landing, and make every move perfect, because only the best will do in this competition. And you are competing against the best squads in the United States.

Our family has been very proud of Siara’s participation in cheerleading. She has a great personality and sense of style, along with a smile that could light up a cloudy day. She has worked hard, and earned her place in this squad each year. Cheerleading is a part of her now. Siara is a senior this year, and knowing that her high school cheerleading days are almost over, has made her sad at times. Still, there is no better way to end your high school cheerleading career that to go out as both a State Champion and a National Champion!! It doesn’t get better than that!

National Champions…it is a title that has rolled around in the minds of these girls ever since they won the state competition and found out that they were heading to Las Vegas right before Christmas. Could they pull it off? Would their hard work be enough to win this competition? Only time would tell. So, they worked hard and prepared…practicing their routines over and over. Then, less than a week before they were to leave for Vegas, one of the members had to have surgery, and everything changed…from the routines, to the hearts of the girls, who were heartsick for their teammate. Again, the girls stepped up and worked hard to re-vamp their routines.

These girls not only proved that they had the ability to work hard…they proved that they are champions!! Against all odds and adversity, they stuck it out, put big smiles on their faces, and wowwed the judges, to take first place in the Varsity Non-Stunt Division. They are and forever will be National Champions!! I am very proud of my niece, Siara and the Kelly Walsh Cheerleaders!! Congratulations to you all!!

Today is my niece Michelle’s birthday. She also just graduated from college. She will be continuing to the next level in college, but has not fully decided where that will be yet. Michelle is studying to be an art teacher, and there is much more to that than I ever imagined. She needs so many art classes that 4 years is not enough to finish it all. It takes much dedication, and I am very proud of her. I am also very much in awe of her abilities. Her work is amazing.

Michelle has the kind of mind that is filled with beauty. The kind of mind that creates beauty all around her. She also has that ability to share her talent by teaching it to others. Not everyone can be a teacher…that takes a very special ability, and it is one that Michelle definitely has. The students she had while student teaching were so blessed to have Michelle as a teacher, and I know her future students will also feel the same way.

Michelle, I don’t know where your plans will take you next, but I know that you will be greatly missed around here. And I truly hope that you won’t be gone forever, because I believe that our school system needs good teachers like you will be, and our students need the benefit of a creative mind like you have. I also know that wherever you go, the students who come out of your classes will be thankful to have been in them.

I look forward to seeing more of your work, Michelle, and I still think that you need a website to show it off. Great artists should never hide their work away. I know this is something you have had in mind, and I hope you will not put it off any longer. I am very excited about your future and I look forward to seeing much more of your beautiful work. I’m very proud of you Michelle, and I wish you a very happy birthday, and all the greatest and most wonderful things for your future. I love you very much!! Have a great day!

Sometimes…when we least expect it, or maybe when we just weren’t looking, it occurs to us that those we love are getting older. Little problems begin to present themselves, that throw us for a loop. We begin to wonder how we could have missed the fact that someone is really in their early 80’s. I mean, we know their chronological age very well, but somehow their physical age sneaks up on us, and takes us very much by surprise.

That is exactly what happened to me last Monday, with my father-in-law, and we spent the rest of the week with him in the hospital, while we waited to see if the racing heart rate that his foot doctor caught was going to be problematic, or just a result of the Pneumonia that he was also diagnosed with. Like my own dad, my father-in-law had always seemed much younger that his years, so suddenly being faced with something that could be a life or death situation, just about knocked me over, as did the possibility of losing the first line caregiver for my mother-in-law.

The diagnosis came, and we will be dealing with A-Fib for the rest of his life, but since my mom has that, I know it is manageable. The Pneumonia is pretty much gone, and he came home from the hospital today. He would like to think that he can just go back to life as usual, but for me, much has changed. Yes, he was on oxygen before, and weak in that way, but the rest of him was always strong and able to handle the majority of the care of my mother-in-law, but now…I have to consider that the stress of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient might be too much for him. Still, he has not come to a place where he is ready for her care to take a different turn, and we will honor his wishes concerning that decision. And, we aren’t ready for that change either.

So, we will modify the plan for now, until we know where we stand in this situation, and home health care will help with the day to day care for both of them. And we will see where the future will take us. In the case of my mom, the meds control her A-Fib quite well and she can do pretty much what she wants to. I pray that my father-in-law will be with be the same, and that the sudden changes that have come about will be able to return to at least some semblance of normalcy.

I’ve often wondered why the latest thing to do is take pictures of the shocked look. Everywhere you look online, there are pictures of mock surprise…and they can be really funny. Everyone is going for some variation of that look to see if they can get people to laugh. I remember back when the only pictures of a shocked look were actually real, such as my niece Liz at Christmas when she was a little girl. From the picture you can see that she was very surprised to see what gift she got for Christmas. And you knew it was a real reaction. Maybe it wasn’t the huge surprised look that you see today, but it was much more realistic.

But these days it’s all about the shock factor…and it can be pretty funny. There is the surprised look, the stunned look, the almost tearful surprise, the grinning surprise…and the list goes on. So, why do we take these pictures, which are usually the long arm specials, by the way? I think it is to see what kind of reactions we can get. Or maybe we just like to take pictures of ourselves with different expressions because we are curious as to how we would look. People today…me included…seem to have an obsession with the self portrait, and we totally enjoy every possible variation of it.

Of course, the real goal is to see how many people laugh at your silliness. I always get a kick out of the shocked look pictures, because every one seems to be more outrageous than the last. And people don’t seem to mind having these pictures out there on Facebook for everyone to see, and maybe more importantly to laugh about. And really, when you think about it, who doesn’t need a good laugh…anytime. So much in this world is serious, negative, and stressful, so why not post a picture meant to simply make us laugh, and put us in a great mood.  Every time I look at one of these staged shock factor pictures, I can’t help but laugh, and then, go on with my day in a little better mood. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about.

Bob’s Aunt Marion was a wonderful, hard working woman, who died in 1999 at the age of 72. She always seemed so young and full of life, but I guess that is what comes from staying so busy that you don’t have time to notice advancing age or illness. She raised 8 hard working children, 5 girls and 3 boys. Her youngest son is actually younger than her first grandson.

I was always a little in awe of Aunt Marion. She seemed to have it all together. Nothing phased her, and yet she never made you feel like she better than you, or that you were worthless. We didn’t get to see her as often as we would have liked, but always enjoyed the times we got to spend with her and her family. Her kids were very much like her, so they remind me a lot of their mom.

Aunt Marion’s husband, Uncle John passed away a few days ago on December 13th at the age of 85, and I have found myself thinking about him and the kids a lot. They told us that he worked hard all summer, and apparently didn’t tell them that he had cancer, until it had advanced to the point of much pain. It breaks my heart to think of him suffering in silence, working hard, and hoping that his children…who work with him in the family business, by the way…won’t notice. It’s so hard on the kids to think back, looking for a sign, and wondering if they should have noticed more. It brings quite a lot of guilty feelings and regret. In reality, I’m sure there was nothing they could have done, other than to provide moral support, but if that is all you can do, you feel better if you were given the chance to do it.

I have thought a lot about Aunt Marion through the years, and I’m sure I will do the same with Uncle John. I’m thankful that neither one is in pain anymore, but I wish that they were both still with us. It is always so hard to deal with loss. I know it is natural…the circle of life, but it seems to get harder with each and every loved one that leaves us. I don’t think I like it much…natural or not.

When my grandkids were little, I found a great toy box that would serve a dual purpose. It was a Winnie the Pooh couch/toy box. It decorated our living room for many years. I’m sure many people would have laughed about our unusual decor, but my grandchildren loved it. Their Winnie the Pooh couch was the first place they ran to when they came into my house. It was like a lost treasure chest. Every time they opened it, they knew the toys would be waiting for them.

The seat of the couch slid out, so the toys were kept hidden when the kids weren’t playing with them, but the minute one of the grandkids came in, the seat was quickly removed, and the toys instantly cluttered the entire room. How is it that kids can get toys out so fast? That has always been the way kids were. My girls could take a room from clean to disaster in about 10 seconds. It was like a tornado hit the room. I know all kids are about the same, and I guess they wouldn’t be kids if they weren’t that way.

I wanted to have a toy box at my house for my grandkids, like I’m sure most grandparents do, but I wanted it to be something a little more…stylish. A lot of grandparents just find a box and it becomes a makeshift toy box, but I wanted one where their dreams could be housed. A place where their imaginations could grow and blossom. And a place where they could sit to watch television, or read books. I wanted a little…toy land…just for them. The Winnie the Pooh couch served just that purpose.

That little couch/toy box has long since left my house to move on to other children who would use it more, since my grandchildren are now teenagers. We all know that the toys teenagers play with are definitely not the ones housed in a Winnie the Pooh couch, but the memories of that old couch come to mind every so often, and they always bring a smile to my face. Those little tiny people running into my house and straight to the toy box…the giggling that would soon follow…and the pure joy of the great blessing that grandchildren are.

For the past year, I have had the distinct pleasure of working side by side with my granddaughter at The Stengel Agency. Yesterday was Shai’s one year anniversary. She is our CSR, and her job is to answer phones, take payments, keep our filing up to date, and all the other odd jobs we give her. This has been a great opportunity for a high school student, and she has done a great job of it.

Not many people get to work with their kids or grandkids, and I am blessed to be able to work with both. There is a loyalty that goes along with working side by side with family and friends, and that is what you will find in our office. There is no need to micro-manage anyone, because we all just do our jobs. Shai comes in after school, and works until 5:00pm every weekday. When she first started working in the office, she was nervous about answering the phones, and dealing with customers, but as time has gone on, she is very comfortable greeting customers, and talking on the phone.

Kids go through many changes as they journey from childhood to adulthood, and I am proud to say that through those years Shai has excelled in several key areas of that journey. At 10 years of age, she cared for her great grandparents during the last 2 months of that summer, when they were both quite ill. I was very proud of how capable and responsible she was. We knew we didn’t have to worry about them…Shai was on the job. She also babysat my niece’s 3 boys, and they knew their children were in good hands…not to mention loved. And now, she is proving herself in the office. We know we can count on her to do her job to the very best of her ability.

Shai, I don’t know what your future plans will be, and while I love working with you, I will support you in whatever you do, but I will tell you this…you make a good CSR, and I believe that as time goes on you will get better and better at it. And thanks for the great…but fictional picture. I know you didn’t really drop those files, but it definitely adds flair to my story. Congratulations on a great first year!! Love you very much!!

My mom had relatives who lived in Cascade, Idaho, and I remember going up there for visits as a child. The area is beautiful, and their home were practically right up in the mountains. The trees were pine trees, and the air was fragrant and cool, even in the summertime. We had a wonderful time every time we visited. It was almost like camping out, even though we weren’t. These were my mom’s aunts and uncles, her mother’s family, and they were wonderful people.

There were enough people in our family that it was not possible for us to stay at the same house, so we split up, which was fun in itself. I got to feel like I was at summer camp…sort of. I always stayed at Uncle Austin and Aunt Abby’s house, and they had this cool little day bed at the top of the stairs that I got to sleep in. It was a little scary at first, when the lights were turned out, but I got used to it, and then it was fine. I will never forget that bed. It was so strange to have a bed at the top of a stairway.

I’m not sure where everyone else slept, but I do know that Cheryl got to stay at Aunt Ada’s house. I wish I could tell you more about how things were over there, but I don’t remember. Chery and I were talking about this the other night, and she reminded me of the apple butter my aunt made. I do remember that, now that she reminds me of it. It was wonderful…in fact, as I recall, all the food was wonderful. There is just something about eating your food in a mountain area, that made everything taste better. Cheryl reminded me about the Apple Butter…oh yes, it was the best I have ever tasted. In fact, I think it was the first Apple Butter I had ever tasted. I suppose that is why it was so good.

In fact, just about everything about being up there in Cascade, Idaho was great. The small town in the mountains that was so big in my past that I can still see it in my imagination. The cousins, and the fun, the food, and so much more. Just a very special time.

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