Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gram's Home....

Last Wednesday, Rob's 82-year-old Grandma passed away quite suddenly. Everyone simply adored her, none more than Madeline and Charlie. Over breakfast the next morning, we explained to Madeline that Gram went to heaven. That she passed away and now she lives with Grandma Bonnie. We explained that we won't get to see her anymore, but that one day, we'll all be in heaven too. She listened and asked questions like "Why did her body stop working" and "Does she have a fluffy bed in heaven?"; we answered them simply and honestly. At the end of our conversation, she gently said, "I'm really going to miss Gigi a lot." We all will.

We stayed over in Louisville on the way to and from Geneva, and were able to spend time our dear friends the Haru's. The visitation, funeral and luncheon to honor Gram were all a lovely memorial to her life and the people who loved her. Our friends in Geneva, Erica and Craig, and Jo and Jason, came to our rescue over and over again to support us over the five days we were with the Vlachs -- we feel truly blessed to call such amazing people our close friends.

We will miss Gram...Gigi....Marion...with all our heart. Rob shared the story of her life during her eulogy:
Marion and Lucille Ball were both born in Jamestown, New York, just 17 years apart in a town that was known as the Furniture Capital of the World. She grew up in her dad’s grocery store, scooping the olives he imported from Italy, slicing cheese and running the cash register. And speaking of Italy, she was 100% Italian with mother, Nicolina Scarpino, and father, Philip Russo. She learned to cook by feel and taste, watching her mother in the k

itchen, never writing down the recipes she is now known for. Once, as newlyweds, Meg and I spent an afternoon with her, learning how to make her spaghetti sauce and meatballs from scratch, and thankfully, scratching it on a napkin as we went. She and Bob fell in love in high school. It was a West Side Story romance – he was a Swede and back then, everyone knew that Swede’s and Italians were like oil and water. But not Bob and Marion. They were devoted, loyal and loving for the 45 years they were married. During that time, they raised Sandie, and moved their lives from Jamestown to Batavia, where they had pool parties, hosted annual pig roasts during Swedish Days and threw extravagant Christmas parties.

Marion was fun. She was generous, warm, and filled with spunk. Most of all, she loved getting to know to people. And even though in 82 years, she never once got a speeding ticket, she also never really slowed down much. When she was 75 years old, she visited her homeland of Italy for two weeks, chasing trains, walking through Roman ruins, and viewing the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City. She had an energetic, entrepreneurial spirit -- for more than 25 years, she owned Geneva Girl, which Bob encouraged her to do. She still worked at Sunshine Lighting two days a week and loved playing golf with her girlfriends every Tuesday.

She had her little idiosyncrasies as well:

  • She loved talking to people so much that she once chatted up a woman on an airplane for five full minutes before she realized she didn’t speak English.
  • She always knew who had just been eliminated from American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.
  • My grandma waited almost eight decades to have her first pedicure. But then she was hooked, and loved going with her daughter and granddaughter as often as possible.
  • At my wedding to Megan, one of our guests came up to me and said, “Your grandma is the bomb.” This was after our best man opened his speech by saying, “I’ll keep this short and sweet, just like Rob’s grandma”
  • Marion could dance a mean polka with her good friend Dave. He says she was a great partner because he could just pick her up and spin her around.

The end of my story about my grandmother is to simply say that she amazed me. She touched the hearts of life long friends and complete strangers. I think today is a testament to that. Christmas Eve will never be the same without sitting around her table. But she is with us as we go about our lives, so we celebrate now and always what she meant to us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Best Husband..err...Birthday Ever!

A month before my 32nd birthday, Rob excused himself from a meeting with his boss and quickly walked to his computer at 9:58am, where he had everything ready to go.... At 10:02am, he had two tickets to the sold-out Nashville Rising Benefit concert with 19 performers including Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Lynryd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw (the organizers), Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn, Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus, Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry, Toby Keith, Martina McBride, Leann Rimes, Luke Bryan, and a few others. Nashville natives Reese Witherspoon, Dolly Parton and Matthew McConaughey all sent video messages and Sandra Bullock made a hilarious (and surprise) live appearance.

The show was perfect for new country music fans like us. Each performer sang two big hits and then minutes later, the next guy was singing a song that Madeline and Charlie bounce to in the car on our way to the grocery store. We started listening to country as a cute hobby -- a "when in Rome" thing. Now, we love it. And how can you not love a song like, "I want to check you for ticks," or "Come and take a ride on my big green tractor" or "God is good, beer is great and people are crazy"? It doesn't take itself too seriously. Lots of it makes me want to dance, like Lady Gaga or Brittany Spears. And some of it is really beautiful.

Carrie Underwood opened the show -- I'm sure I've ever heard such a powerful voice live. She sang her upbeat single Undo It, then Jesus Take the Wheel and segued into a gutsy, soulful rendition of How Great Thou Art. The crowd leapt to it's feet; I had goosebumps head to toe and my eyes stung -- it actually moved me.

And I will never forget the moment when Lynryd Skynyrd played the first four notes of Sweet Home Alabama that everyone knows so well. It was that deafening, wild sound when 16,000 people start screaming at the same time. ZZ Top was hilarious; these old guys rocked out hard core with synchronized dance moves, swigging whiskey and smoking cigars on stage.

The concert raised $3 million dollars for flood victims. Thanks for one of the most fun birthdays on record, darlin'!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Up North with Papa and Ning...

After a fabulous, jam-packed week in Chicago, Rob drove back to Nashville for work while the kids and I boarded a flight to Minneapolis to see my dad and Nancy (also affectionately known as Papa and Ning).

Madeline shouted "Ning, Ning, Ning," and leapt into her arms as soon as she saw her waiting at the gate with Papa. The next two weeks were so special and fun -- looking back, some of my favorite times were the quiet early mornings when we were all up drinking coffee, and Charlie would crawl into my dad's lap while he read the paper. Ning works from home, so she would pop out of her office throughout to laugh and play with chalk or blow bubbles with us. My dad came home for lunch every day -- Madeline and Charlie would wait for his car to pull up just like they do for Rob at home. One morning, he took us to the Minnesota Children's Museum in downtown St. Paul, and then treated us to a fun lunch at the classic Mickey's Dining Car, which has appeared in the Smithsonian and National Geographic. Another big hit was the swimming pond walking distance from my dad and Ning's house -- a man made sand beach with filtered, chlorinated water -- we went there every other day! The kids also loved the dog park, where we played with Mary Claire. Madeline and Charlie had a blast at the Father Hennepin Festival -- they were fascinated by the camels and fearlessly rode on the carnival rides, but only after splitting a corn dog. Ning had a bottomless bag of "surprises" for Madeline (dress ups, sunglasses, art projects, bubbles) and my dad changed "horseshoes," to the kids absolute delight (think foot tickling with lots of giggling and squirming). One of Madeline and Charlie's favorite things to do was play in my dad's boat parked in the garage and catch "Papa Fish."

It was such a treat that Mollie, Andi and Kyle all visited during our stay, though not all at the same time. Mols was in from Denver for a weekend; my dad and Ning watched the kids while we shopped for Mollie's bridal heels and jewelry! That night, they treated me to a babysitter (the best gift ever?) and the four of us went out for a fabulous dinner with live jazz.

Andi and Kyle arrived a few days after Mollie headed home; it was the first time I had seen them since their recent engagement! Ning, Madeline and I loved watching Andi model wedding gowns (she looked breathtaking) and it was awesome to hang out with Kyle, who became a great friend of ours after hanging out in Peoria with him for a year before our transfer to Nashville.

I loved seeing where my dad and Ning live -- not only their beautiful home, but also the lovely community they're a part of, with 50 miles of biking trails and natural forest, literally starting in their backyard. I ended every day with a relaxing sauna and an early bedtime.

Madeline and Charlie loved the flight home just as much as they loved the flight there (though in Madeline's case, I think it might be because they gave her juice, a big reward in our house). The pilots even invited them into the cockpit! From beginning to end, our three-week trip was amazing and we loved every second! Rob was waiting for us at the airport with flowers, hugs and kisses -- we missed him so much and were so happy to see him again!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Our Chicago Visit!

We're home and settled from our three-week vacation visiting family and friends in Louisville, Chicago and Minnesota. Here are some of the highlights from the first half of the trip!

The Harus welcomed us with an all-American pork chop dinner (Mmmm. I love pork chops) and made us so comfortable -- they even let Madeline sleep in Kainoa's brand new big boy bed! They treated me to a surprise birthday party with cake and gifts. We loved seeing sweet Kainoa and baby Makaoi, but hated how short our visit was. We slipped out the next morning while the sun was rising to get a jump on the Memorial weekend traffic for our long drive to Chicago....

Here is the magical secret to long car drives: lollipops. One after another, for as long as it takes. Every time we heard a noise behind us, we'd just wing another Dum-Dum towards the backseat. Sadly, this epiphany was short lived since Charlie nearly choked twice later on in the vacation, but at least it got us from Louisville to the Chicago suburbs.

Madeline was so excited when we pulled into Geneva that she burst in on Tom taking a shower. We had a wonderful time with Rob's mom, dad, sister and Gram. Grammy put the canopy on Madeline's princess bed, Tom took the kids fishing, and Nicki tossed water balloons with them in the backyard. Mads and Charles had a blast making Rice Krispie treats, seeing a parade, going to the playground, making forts, reading French childrens books and having festive family dinners every night. Rob and I enjoyed meeting Nicki's French friend, Thomas (to sound authentic, say it like this: Toe-maa) and seeing her charming apartment in Elgin. Rob and I enjoyed some couple time on our last day -- thank you, Sandie. It felt so wonderful to be back in the house where Rob grew up, surrounded by family.

Some of our closest friends, the Martens and the Pattersons, now live in Geneva too, so we also loved meeting their babies, Kai and Marin, for the first time! The six of us hosted a Memorial Day barbecue at Erica and Craig's beautiful house -- we were thrilled to see our friends, the Kaluses and the Parrillos, and meet their new babies, Holly and Eloise. A couple of other highlights: Erica, a professional photographer, took incredible candid shots of our family! And Jo and Jason, who have been restoring a gorgeous old home, invited us over to inaugurate the brand new deck that Jason built. We had so much fun laughing and catching up that two nights in a row, embarrassed police officers came asking us to pipe down. We were very proud of ourselves (though we're going to teepee Jo's lame neighbor next time we visit, which is about as mature as getting the cops called on you at 32 years old.)

The Chicagoland Tour Continues
After a wonderful visit, Rob took the train into the Loop and had a blast over the next several days with some of his closest college friends, including Matt Pawlak and his brand new fiance, Suzie, the McAllisters, Dan Matarelli and so many others. They went to street festivals, ate Chicago-style hot dogs, and watched the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

The Hisers
I drove with the kids up to Rockford to see our dear friends Buffy and Dan, and finally meet their seven-month old daughter, Sophie (who is wearing the most adorable helmet for another month). Madeline and Ellie were two peas in a pod, which was no surprise since they played together several days a week for the year that Buffy and I still lived in Peoria. There was a lot of giggling and jumping on the bed. It meant the world to me that Buffy flew down to Nashville to meet Charlie shortly after he was born; I was so happy to be able to visit them!

The Browns
The next morning, we drove to Wilmette to visit our college friends, Erin and Erik, and their sweet children, Cassidy and Gavin. It was lovely to see their adorable new house. We had so much fun playing with their giant backyard swing, going to the playground, and visiting with another sorority sister of ours, Mandy, and her darling boys. Erik stayed home with four sleeping kids on a Friday night (what a rockstar!) while Erin treated me to a fabulous girls' night out. It was special to meet one of Erin's good friends, also named Megan (happy coincidence!).

Whew! And that was just the first week! More to come....