Friday, January 2, 2015

2014: The Year of Tough Changes

This is probably going to be the most difficult thing I've ever written, please bear with me.  2014 was by far the most difficult year of my life.  Honestly, 2015 can't come quickly enough... and yet it's also come too quickly- funny how that happens.

Last January David, Calvin, and I were temporarily living in North Carolina at my brother Morgan's house with Morgan's family and my sweet mama Juli.  If you read last year's post, you'll remember that David's generous employer, Hewlett Packard, gave him permission to work remotely so I could be with my mama as she faced Pancreatic Cancer. We were all trying to surround her with as much love as possible and I think I can safely say that we accomplished that goal in the final months of her life.  Knowing how much I needed to be with my mom, my incredible husband really went above and beyond to make it possible for me/us to be together.  I can't thank him or his employer enough for the extra effort they put into making that a reality for her and for me.

January 13, 2014 we had a beautiful celebration for mom's 71st birthday (despite the fact that the initial celebration was in the hospital.) My niece Kitty was very specific about the entire event.  You should have seen the looks and comments I got lugging three babies, a few dozen flowers, something like 10 huge balloons, and food (mostly chocolate) into the New Haven Regional Medical Center, which for some horribly planned reason was up hill from the parking lot and it was freezing cold.  Kitty (and Muffy too) insisted that Grandma had to have certain flowers, chocolates, balloons, and sparkling cider in little cups for the perfect toast.  Dad/Grandpa even footed the bill!  Mom loved it.

Anabel: "Why is Grandma the best grandma?"
Kitty: "Because we love her."
Muffy: "Cake."
Mom got released a day or two later, and we were able to celebrate one more time with the entire family together.  It was lovely.  My sister-in-law Deb went to this wonderful cake shop in Wilmington and bought her a delicious chocolate cake- her absolute favorite.  I can't say, under the circumstances, it was the best birthday she ever had, but I can say it was probably the one I will remember the most.  

It was unnaturally cold in Wilmington last January, and the house lost power and heat on a couple of occasions due to ice.  It sounds crazy, but it was actually warmer in Boise on many days.

David, Calvin, and I drove up to Charlotte for our niece Lily's christening before David flew back to Boise for work.  It was a beautiful baptism and the very special christening gown Lily wore in the ceremony was truly gorgeous.  I was so overcome by the emotion of the event that David and I discussed it and decided that it would be nice to christen Calvin as both our mothers suggested they would like it done.  And frankly, my mom more than suggested that it was important to her.  Before we left Charlotte, Helena and I took the opportunity to do a baby photo shoot since we had the baby cousins together- I'm sure our little Smurfs will hate us for this one day... but it sure was fun and so cute!

A day or two later our dear friend/my Idaho family Mary Wilcomb came out to Wilmington to visit and relieve some of the pressure I was feeling.  She was there for about ten days and honestly, it felt like a vacation for us all!  Mary cooked amazing food and lightened the mood and the load just enough.  Thank you Mary.  You truly made our last days with mom extra special.

February 2, Mom started to go down hill fast.  We thought she was dehydrated, so we rushed her to the ER to get her back on track.  Unfortunately, mom's cancer had progressed and there was nothing we could do.  They couldn't get an IV in her veins to work.  The Hospice Care and Doctors asked us our goals for the next few weeks and we told them out goal was to have Cal baptized with her there.  It was planned for Sunday February 16, and the doctors all thought she would easily be able to be with us until then.  My dad arrived the next day on an open ended ticket to be sure he could be there for mom until the very end.  Unfortunately for all of us, that end came much sooner than expected.  My adoring mother, Julianne Kaeser Manchester passed away (click here for her obituary) surrounded by the love of her family on February 6, 2014.  Life will never quite be the same.  We miss her every moment of every day... I will miss you always Mama!

I'm still so envious of my brother of this experience with our mom.  He was so lucky to have had this moment with her.
This photo just didn't do her justice.  Despite being gaunt and uncomfortable, she looked absolutely gorgeous- her hair was like a silver halo.
Much of the next few weeks are a complete blur.  My mother's brother William and my sister and two older brothers arrived in the next couple days so that we could all be together to privately remember and hold her in our hearts.

Family time.
We also went ahead with Calvin's christening on February 16th as planned.  David's family and my sister-in-law Helena's parents all arrived in Wilmington to be part of it, and mom's spirit was all around us.  It was a beautiful day.

The next month was filled with packing.  We brought way more things with us to Wilmington than we should have, which was my fault.  I truly believed that my mom was going to kick Pancreatic Cancer in the butt and we would be there doing active things with her.  Plus, my brother Morgan and I had zero interest in going through her things so instead, we pack them up too and shipped them to Boise.

Saying good-bye to these two little ladies broke my heart. I wish they lived closer!
David and I returned to Idaho in mid-March.  We had rented our little house on 15th Street out for a year, so we decided to rent a small apartment near David's office to make having only one vehicle easier.  It was a fairly comfortable little place with the exception that it was on the 3rd floor and there was no elevator.  Lugging an increasingly heavy infant and groceries and etc. up and down three stories was a HUGE pain, but I certainly got my exercise in doing it!

May 1st Calvin and I flew to Madison to put together the final preparations for my mother's memorial which was held on May 10th.  We had a wonderful long visit with my Dad and even got down to Dubuque, IA to visit with David's sister and her family for a night and I also got to visit with some old friends and their families while in Wisconsin.  My Dad's 80th Birthday was on April 12th, but because we were all getting together one month later we decided to celebrate then.  Everyone else flew in on Thursday and Friday and we had a huge family feast on Friday evening.  My dad's sister - my Aunt Kathie and her husband my Uncle Jim were able to be there too which was especially fun for my dad.  He hated birthdays and big to-dos... being the center of attention was not really his thing, but I know he could really feel the love that night and he enjoyed having all his kids and grandkids around him.

Playing in Grandpa's yard. "Auntie Bel, we LOVE boxes."

Cal and the girls and I all took a fun visit to the Madison Zoo before Grandpa's Birthday Party.
Because of her love of the outdoors and her gardens, we chose to wait to host Mom's memorial in the spring so we could be outside.  It was a lovely day- the day before Mother's Day.  We held the service at Hoyt Park in Madison in the Shelter there which was open to the outside, but covered in case of inclement weather.  There was a large turnout of friends and family from all over the country.  It was a very special day.  I knew I wanted to speak that day, but I also knew I couldn't get through any speech without sobbing uncontrollably, so I planned to read a children's book my mom gave me a few year's ago. It was called Wherever Your Are, My Love Will Find You, by Nancy Tillman.  Mom gifted the book to me long before I'd even gotten pregnant... and before she got sick.  I remember getting it in the mail and crying as I read it because it so clearly put into words how fully I always felt my mother's love.  My dear husband once again came to my rescue at the memorial, and read the book for me because I had trouble even explaining to the audience why I wanted to read it.  While David was reading, "And if someday you're lonely, or someday you're sad, or you strike out a baseball, or think you've been bad... just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.  That's me my sweet baby, my love is right there.",  a huge gust of wind swept into the park shelter and knocked the projector screen down on top of me and David.  Everyone there started murmuring, "There's Juli." And I knew she was there with us in that moment.  Our Sunday evening departure got all messed up and we ended up having to leave out of Milwaukee.  Dad drove us to the airport there, and were were home by midnight.  We got lucky too, because many of my family members got stranded for a day or two... but knowing what I know now, I kind of wish we had gotten stuck there for a few more days.  I cherish every moment I had in Wisconsin on that trip.

Upon our return to Boise I happened upon a house in the Boise Foothills for sale in the hills with a view and a layout and a price that were all right up our alley.  It needed work... more than we expected in retrospect, but it was perfect for our needs and wants.  It's been a project.  And at the time one that I was looking forward to in an effort to keep myself busy from dwelling on my mother's passing. It certainly did that.

July is our month.  David and I met in July... we got married in July... Calvin was born in July... our dog Linus was born in July... July is a lovely month for our little family unit.  Well, we had a lovely wedding anniversary.  David and I hired a babysitter and we went to sushi dinner in Eagle.  It was AMAZING!  We celebrated Calvin's 1st Birthday kind of last minute due to our work on the house... but we whipped together a strawberry shortcake and found a candle and sang to him and he was as happy and excited as could be.  It was lovely.

Happy Birthday Calvin Stewart!
Playing with the incredible bubble machine from Auntie Blake
July 14th we moved into our new house on Spring Mountain Drive.  There was and still is a huge amount of work to do, but everyday we still comment on how lucky we were to find this house and how perfect it ended up being for us... despite still living in a construction zone.  That week was so hot I prayed everyday, "Mom, if you want me to feel welcomed into my new home... help me out and send us some rain to cool things down with." Friday, July 18th I called my dad before going to sleep and I told him about my daily prayer to cool the air with a nice summer thunderstorm.  He and I reminisced about the old days at my childhood home Cactus Acres and watching the rainstorms come across Lake Wisconsin.  I said goodnight and told him, "I love you Daddy.  I'll call you tomorrow." He said, "Goodnight Bird (my nickname). Love you too." And that was the last time I talked to him.  My dear Daddy passed away (click here for his obituary) peacefully in his sleep on July 19th, 2014.  The night after he died, I got my thunderstorm.  I will miss you always Daddy!

H. Stewart Manchester - my Dad.
Meeting Calvin for the first time.
If I thought the weeks after my mother's passing were a blur, boy, remembering the latter half of July, and the month of August was even worse.  If it hadn't been for Calvin and David, I might not have gotten out of bed most days.  My best friend was so worried about me that she flew into Boise from California as soon as she could to make sure I wasn't in a coma. Blake was a much needed distraction and she definitely put a smile on my face.  Thanks Love!

I must say, despite the incredible holes I have in my heart, I feel so lucky to have so many many many wonderful friends and family around me to support me during all of this.  Meals dropped off, friends dropping in to take me and Cal with them on hikes and help run errands or work on a project or two.  I couldn't be more grateful.  Thank you all. August 19th was not only my brother-in-law Andrew's Birthday, but my brother Morgan and his wife welcomed their third child, a son- Eric Kaeser Manchester, into the world.  He was born exactly one month after our dad's passing which was extra special for Morgan.

In late August-early September we flew to North Carolina for my father-in-law, Damaso's Birthday.  We were in the Blue Ridge Mountains at my in-law's cabin with the entire Lopez Familia. One of Damaso's good friends surprised him with fireworks, and it was fun watching Calvin and Lily play together as they had both started walking... and seeing their older cousins play with them too was pretty special.  We even got a lovely professional family portrait taken because it isn't often we are all able to be together.

Since we were in North Carolina I couldn't go without stopping in Wilmington to spend some time with Morgan's family.  David had to fly back for work, but Calvin and I drove from Charlotte to Wilmington to see Morgan, Deb, Kitty and Muffy and meet baby Eric. Seeing Calvin reunite with his "cuz girls" was such a treat for me- they were SO excited to be together again.  Cal and Kitty, in particular, have an incredibly special relationship and watching them interact together was wonderful for me.  They kept hugging each other and they were just buds.  It made me feel my parents' spirits around us.  Muffy had grown and changed the most and was quite the little lady now.  Baby Eric was/is absolutely adorable and looks just like Deb's dad and her brother.  Kitty just started kindergarten and Cal and I were allowed to go to school and have lunch with her.  She was thrilled to show her "Baby Cuzzy Boy" to all her school friends and she seemed so grown-up... it's amazing how quickly it happens.  Luckily, Kitty is just like her Gee-ma in so many ways, and her memory of Gee-ma is still so crystal clear- right down to knowing the names of all the plants in the garden that Gee-ma taught her.  We also drove Muffy to her preschool and I was able to say hello to all the teachers and parents I knew from before.  It was really fun to reconnect with the friends I'd made while we were there.  I hope y'all come visit us in Idaho!

Lunch at Kitty's school
Kitty and Cuz
Muffy and Baby Eric
Watching Frozen with princess tiaras, sleeping bags and cuddles
Baby Eric
Sunday, September 7th, Cal and I flew into Madison from Wilmington to prepare for Dad's Memorial which was held on Saturday, September 13th at Maple Bluff Country Club.  I'm glad I flew in early to take the time to be in my dad's space and to say goodbye.  I got some great time in with childhood friends and their parents and also my family in WI.  I even got to watch one of my nieces play some awesome volleyball and my Uncle saved me when the car ran out of gas on the side of the road.  It was quite the week.  Calvin was a real trooper and so good the entire visit.  It was especially difficult to say goodbye this time.  It felt so final.  I can only imagine how my mom felt the last time she was in WI in August 2013.  You really become the grown-up when you can never "go home" again.  Because, let's face it, home isn't a place as much as it is a feeling.  Your parents really are "home."

It was nice to see so much family again so soon despite circumstances.  We all have such a lovely time when we're together.  I even got to see a cousin I hadn't seen since I was about 2, and meet her husband. And I briefly met another cousin as well.  It's amazing that we are all connected, and yet not. We flew home to Boise on Monday following the memorial.  We were only home for a week though and then were off again... this time on a vacation we'd planned before my mom passed away... Hawaii!

Landing in Madison
Watching the guys set up the greens behind Pop's condo
Reading a new book with Auntie Katie. I don't think I got any other pictures from this weekend... hoping someone else did?
We flew from Boise to Portland and Portland to Oahu.  When we arrived we transferred to a puddle-jumper and flew from Oahu to the island of Molokai.  I practically kissed the ground when we landed - it was such a small plane the pilot had the window open and I could feel the rain on my face.  Cal was such a great traveller.  He and I both fell asleep for most of the ride from Portland to Oahu, and once we were on the puddle jumper I handed him a lollypop and he was happy for the entire 30 minute flight.  Once in Molokai we met up with my best friend Blake and her husband and 3 year old son.  What an adventure!  We celebrated Blake's birthday and made lots of delicious food, hung out at the pool, and went to the beach.  It was very relaxing.

We all had a love-hate relationship with Molokai.  The beaches are like from a dream- there is practically no one there!  We literally had an entire white sand beach all to ourselves for one whole day.  It was like something out of Blue Lagoon- without Brooke Shields covering herself with leaves.   Although I did get a couple "full moons" if I remember correctly! That particular beach was not particularly easy to get to, so that is why it was only a one day experience.  When we first drove into the main town on the island, my initial impression was, "Wow, there are a lot of people on meth here."  Everyone in our group thought I was reading into things, but as it turns out, we met a cop on our last day in Molokai and he actually told us that something like 80% of the population is on drugs- mostly meth, and its such a bad problem they don't report it because it would completely halt tourism to the Hawaiian Islands.  He also told us that most of the island is on welfare and the people of Molokai have no interest in working.  They have actively shut down most of the commerce on the island.  In fact, there was only one real grocery store and only about 3 restaurants on the whole island, and the fisherman can get such better prices selling their catch on Maui or Oahu that we were not actually able to buy fresh fish the entire time we were there... on an island... in the Pacific Ocean.  Crazy!  The natives recently turned a small cruise ship away by creating a chain of surfers so the boat couldn't go into port.  They really just think tourism is ruining their culture.  Maybe they are right.  However, they'd rather get high and live in huts on the beach and collect welfare checks than figure out alternative methods of making an income.  They were all the most friendly and kind people, though.  It truly is the "Friendly Island." I'm pretty positive with a little strategy and some capital they could have their cake an eat it too as many of the Native American tribes have done... capitalized on being real "authentic" Hawaiians... But I think to do that, they have to get off "the sauce" first.  The VRBO condo we rented was very nice, but NOT even close to the "Ocean Front" we were promised.  Ocean view, yes. Ocean front, no.  It was about a half mile at least, to the ocean and there was almost no breeze... ugh!  The condo complex was mostly a ghost town and buildings were literally falling down from rot.  What was once a gorgeous golf course was now something out of a post apocalyptic movie.  In fact, the entire island was that way to some extent.  I kept thinking zombies were going to pop out of one of the falling buildings and attack us.  That said, to me, there was something really special about Molokai.  Maybe its the nature of all of Hawaii... a magic to it.  The vibe is very healing, exciting, but also relaxing.  Interesting that the island of Molokai is was once just a leaper colony... I mean it was so beautiful and we even got within about 5 feet of 2 Monk Seals (an endangered species).  As Blake pointed out to me after I forced her husband to 'Go see the incredible farm stand', my ability to see the world in Technicolor was wonderful, but to everyone else, it was just a dumpy building or a farm stand or butcher shop...  Either way Molokai is worth spending time on, if only to disconnect for a while.  We also had a fabulous time with our dear friends and can't wait to meet them for another adventure!

Our return trip to Boise from the islands was not as smooth as our way out.  One of our flights was canceled and we had to fly into Seattle instead of San Jose just to get home, and then the flight to Seattle got in late and we missed the last flight to Boise and had to sleep in a hotel by the airport and then be up at 6am to get our flight into Boise.  It was little bit of a nightmare, especially with a baby who absolutely refuses to sleep, but we made it home safe and sound.

Much like August, however, October was a blur.  Calvin started Infant Self Rescue swim lessons.  He is an amazing little swimmer.  Despite some tears at first, he's loving it now!  My Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Mike and their sweet dog Keena came into town to visit on their way back from WI to their winter home in AZ.  We had a blast showing them Boise and I hope we can convince them to visit again.  We even got to watch a BSU football practice when I took them to see the blue turf... we weren't supposed to be there and we got kicked out after a bit when they noticed us, but it was fun nonetheless!  After last Halloween and the incredible Garden Gnome costume my mom made for Cal, I knew we had to do something special again this year.  With the sewing help from my talented friend Janny, I dressed us as Pinocchio, Geppetto, and The Blue Fairy.  It was so fun.  We had some friends over who have a daughter Cal's age who he likes to play with and we ate and then took the kids treating.  I'd never actually walked on Harrison Blvd. on Halloween - I've driven it, and knew it was a mad house, but I'd never actually walked it.  What a crazy place!!! Whoever hired the fire dancers though ... WOW!  What a fun night.  And because we have small children... an early night too.  Honestly, having a baby is such a good excuse to go home early and not wake up with a hangover!

At Cal's 15 month well-baby check-up in October, Cal's pediatrician decided to elevate the lump on his shin from "not serious" to "we need to check it out." So Cal had to have an MRI.  It was horrible having to put him under, but it's the only way to get babies to keep still to see what is going on.  Luckily it was not as serious as it could have been.  It's called a Venous Malformation.  He will probably have to deal with it once in a while over the course of his life, but as of right now, it's not involving any arteries or causing him growth problems, so we are monitoring it and waiting until he is about 50 pounds to do the procedure.  We got a record breaking snow storm and extremely cold weather around that time.  I did not have Calvin properly outfitted for the weather so I did my best to keep him warm and dry with what we had until I could figure something out. The snow melted before the gear came in, but it was fine because we were all set up for the Christmas snow storm (which he love!)  We spent Thanksgiving with our Idaho family, the Wilcombs and the Holts.  Cal entertained everyone with his antics... and his love of their sheepskins.  It was hysterical!

December we got to go on a date night to a BSU football game... the Mountain West Conference Champion game actually... and we won!  We also did a lot of decorating the house and tree for Christmas.  My mom loved Christmas and because she loved it, I have enough ornaments to probably fill three Christmas trees and decorations for everywhere.  I maybe used a third of them this year.  Maybe next year when Cal isn't so interested in yanking on the branches I'll bring out more of them!  We got to go to a couple fun Christmas parties and see good friends new and old.  Cal also graduated from his ISR swim lessons by going in fully clothed with boots and a jacket, and he was able to save himself.  So cool.  And on December 20th Calvin got his first haircut.  My wonderful stylist Brianne trimmed him up for us.  He was getting dreadlocks and the curls were flattening out and just looking straggly.  His curls are mostly back... but this dry weather and hat-wearing-cold doesn't help.  Christmas Eve day we had a special visitor... an owl perched on our deck rail for the entire day.  It was so cool!  Many cultures feel that owls are the guardians and guides of the dead.  It was super cool to have it visit on a day that I so desperately missed my Mom and Dad. That night David made our traditional meal of Hawaiian-style Poke and other yummy seafood.  It was fantastic!  I'm a lucky lady.  Later we laid by the fire and watched old movies.  Christmas isn't Christmas without Bing Crosby and Jimmy Stewart, right?!

Idaho Botanical Gardens Winter Garden aGlow 

Santa Torture!
See... curls are still intact!

Christmas morning was really special.  It was just the three of us again, and we had the best time.  By about the end of the stockings Cal figured out that he got to tear the paper off all the presents and he liked that more than the actual gifts.  David got me an iRobot Roomba and you'd have thought he got me diamonds I was so excited... The house already looks cleaner and I'm not doing it!  The thing is amazing.  It has to learn your house, so it gets better each time its used.  David was so thrilled by the technology he could hardly contain himself.  In the evening, we were graciously invited to dinner at our friends George and Janny's home.  George is a fabulous cook, so its a rare day we turn down an invitation to dinner at their house.  Janny's parents were in town and her grandma flew in that night as well, and we had a wonderful evening of great food, great friends and great family.  What more could we ask for?  Great day.

The next morning David had surgery.  He had a deviated septum and polyps completely blocking his sinuses causing him to be chronically ill.  Cal and I dropped him off and when we picked him up it didn't even occur to me that Cal would be upset by David's post-surgery appearance, but he was.  Poor little man did not like seeing his daddy all drugged up with a bandage under his nose to stop the bleeding.  He wouldn't go near his dad or move from my lap, which if you know one thing about Cal, it's that he LOVES his Dada and he hates to sit still.  He loves me too, but he LOVES his Dada.  He was so upset he put his face on my chest and fell asleep until it was time to go.  David's surgery went great.  The doctor said it was actually much worse than he thought once he got in there and he was as aggressive as he could be, but David will probably have to return to have more polyps removed in another 5 years or so because he couldn't get them all.  It sounded like a bummer, but when the stints were pulled out of David's nose on Monday after the surgery (David's Birthday) he could breathe so clearly he could hardly stand it.  He said he was getting an "oxygen high" from all the air.  It was really great to see him feeling so good again.  It's been a long time coming.  That night we cooked up a yummy meal and celebrated being together. Cal also had two firsts... first finger painting and first time sledding solo... he tried to eat the paint and the snow.

First time letting Cal finger paint... Success!

First time sledding solo!

David felt so good, in fact, that we decided to have a few friends over for New Year's Eve last night to celebrate the start of 2015.  We are all still recovering I think.  David and I fed Cal and put him to bed and then everyone started to arrive.  It wasn't too many people, but George and Janny brought the game Cards Against Humanity and everyone wanted to play it.  We all laughed so hard we cried.  Great night.  Lucky to have such wonderful people in our lives.  The baby slept through the entire night with hardly a peep.  AWESOME.  He even slept-in for us this morning... didn't wake up until 8:50am!  I can't speak for David, but I'm happy to host parties like that more often.  Good friends and good laughs and my baby slept through it all!  Woohoo!  We ended 2014 with Boise State winning the Fiesta Bowl and we started 2015 with Wisconsin winning the Outback Bowl.  I think it's bound to be a good year.

Nail biter!
Well, here's to 2015! Love and blessings to all!