A lovely end to a long week

I was away in Indianapolis on a working vacation this week. On the night of Friday, April 17, I drove up to Kentucky so I could spend Saturday with my family. Then on Sunday, Mom and I drove up to Indy together to meet up with her sisters Bev and Sally.

The four of us stayed in a house on the northwest side of town that I found on Airbnb. It had two and a half bathrooms and a bedroom for each of us. There was a kitchen table that we used as a computer desk and a dining room table where we ate meals (when we didn’t eat at our computers). The house also had a comfy living room, a sunroom, and a pretty outdoor gazebo with a fire pit. The kitchen was well stocked with dishes and pots and pans. In sum, the house was perfect for the purpose of our trip, which was to sit around talking, cooking, eating, watching movies, and playing on our computers—basically, to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. (We all live very far apart from each other.)

I was able to go on the trip because I combined it with work. I worked normal days, 8 to 5, from Monday to Thursday. The work I was doing was both mentally and physically draining for me, and I worry that I wasn’t very good company in the evenings. But everyone was very understanding, and I was at least very cheerful on the last day ;)

Mom and one or more of my aunts would always come up to see me at lunchtime. One of the days, we went to the Dairy Queen next door. The next day, Mom packed a lunch, but we ended up driving back to the house to eat it. The day after that, we went to an excellent Mexican place near my work, and on my last workday, we ate at the house again.

On the Sunday we arrived, Mom and I met up with Aunt Bev and Uncle Josh, who were staying in a hotel that night. We all had dinner at a nearby Cajun restaurant; it was decent. Once Uncle Josh had headed off on some business travel, Aunt Bev joined us at the house, and Aunt Sally arrived, and after that, dinners were all cooked at home. On Monday we had two small dinners: first roast chicken, then roast pork. On Tuesday Mom made her amazing chicken and dumplings; we also used the fire pit for the first time, though we didn’t have anything to cook over it yet. On Wednesday I was supposed to make almond chicken, but unfortunately I was exhausted that day…the thought of doing anything made my brain shut down, and I ended up just going to bed. I got up at around midnight after everyone else was already asleep, discovering graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey bars laid out on the counter in the kitchen. I microwaved a couple marshmallows and had s’mores, then warmed myself up some more chicken and dumplings. I piddled around online until around 3:30, then went back to bed. Thursday we had hot dogs grilled over the gas stove, as it was too rainy to use the fire pit. I think Aunt Sally thought Mom was crazy for grilling hot dogs on the stove, but I thought it was awesome. (I’m pretty sure we have done it before, too.)

On one of the nights, Mom, Sally, and I played spades online with my uncle Tom (their younger brother), who lives in Brazil. That was pretty fun, even though my team lost both games. (I only play spades like once a year. At least I succeeded in getting a nil and protecting my partner’s nil!) On another night, we watched two movies: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and An Affair to Remember. I’d never seen the former before, and I was pretty unimpressed with it. Of course, I adore An Affair to Remember, and I was pleased that everyone else enjoyed it as well. (I was a little surprised at how ableist it is, though…this is not something I had picked up on before.)

We left on Friday morning; Aunt Bev’s flight was at 8 am, and Mom and Aunt Sally didn’t see a point in sticking around, as we had to be out of the house by noon anyway. So Aunt Sally drove off north and Mom and I dropped Aunt Bev at the airport and headed south.

Since we’d left so early, we had a lot of day left when we got back to Kentucky. I ran some errands with AJ and we talked about music and home improvement stuff. Logan came over when he got out of school and we played pool and cards, and then Mom, AJ, Faye, Connor, Logan, and I all went to Cracker Barrel for dinner. It was really good; Connor and Logan each had a piece of Coca-Cola cake, which I shared with them :3

On Saturday, I packed up, goofed off online for longer than I really needed to, then hit the road a little before noon. The drive was decent; it was raining at first, but soon cleared up, and the weather was warmer and warmer the further south I got. I made it home at around 7, feeling very energetic and happy. When I finally pulled into the parking lot, I decided not to bother unpacking yet, and just see Sean first. I’d been looking forward to it for days.

The deadbolt was locked, and it took Sean a little longer than normal to open it for me. He raced back to his computer, apparently in the middle of something in his game.

“Busy?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Well, that’s a shame,” I said. “I had plans for you.”

He glanced up. “It won’t be much longer.”

I went back up to the parking lot and got my stuff out of the car, then set to work unpacking things. I had gotten mostly done and was hanging up shirts I hadn’t worn in the closet when Sean appeared.

“I guess it doesn’t happen very frequently that I’m ready to get you right when I get home,” I said.

“It never happens,” he replied in mock exasperation. “You’re always too tired.”

“Well, it happened today,” I informed him as we melted together. Eventually standing in the closet was no longer conducive to what we wanted to do, and we moved to the bed.

Afterwards, we took a shower together, kissing and talking. He was interested to discuss feminist issues and the film Maleficent. He also mentioned how I have ruined all movies for him by making him notice the treatment of female characters ;)

Finally, we got dressed and went to the car to head to Haru Ichiban for dinner.

“I’m so glad I’m home,” I said as he drove, taking his free hand.

“Me too,” he answered.

“Do you know what my home is?” I asked him.

“What?”

“You.”

I laid my head on his shoulder, and he leaned his head against the side of mine, and I closed my eyes and smiled.

Dinner was lovely; we had sushi and talked some more about movies and articles and what we’d done all week. Afterwards we went to Baskin Robbins, where Sean had a Reese’s shake and I had a soft-serve cone.

I was so happy, I ended up staying up really late last night chatting with a friend and reading fan fiction. When I was ready to go to bed, I went out to Sean’s desk to say goodnight, wrapping my arms around him and kissing his neck. When I started to pull away, he said, “Hold on,” then told his online friends he was going to bed too. We retired together, snuggling lightly and falling asleep.

This morning I awoke several times to the pleasant feeling of Sean’s hand on my ribs. I thought about getting up, but I didn’t want to move him, so I each time I stayed and slipped back into sleep. Eventually Sean was the one to get up. Watching him as he rounded the bed, I asked, “Are you getting up?” He stopped, came back to the bed, leaned over me.

After our second happy reunion, we went out for brunch at J. Christopher’s, holding hands across the table and chatting and smiling. I told Sean that my friend Kathryn thinks we are adorable. “Me being grumpy and you being cute is adorable, huh?” he said. “Hey, sometimes I’m the grumpy one, and you’re the cute one,” I countered. “We balance each other.”

In the car I kissed his knuckles and the flesh of his palm and he let out an extremely satisfying sound of appreciation and need.

It’s been really nice to be home, to be with Sean. I feel so happy and comfortable. I’m really glad I went on the trip, but I’m so glad I’m home.

Genealogy

I’ve added a Genealogy Resources list to my links. I’ve always been interested in family histories; my grandfather put together a 72-page book charting our family from Wales across Virginia and Kentucky when I was a kid, and some years ago I was contacted by a distant relative in Texas who sent me a huge printout of his own Aubrey family tree research going back even further. (Unfortunately, I lost all that stuff in the fire.) I’ve used Ancestry.com off and on for a few years, messing with a couple trees here and there, but that was about the extent of my forays into genealogy until today.

Yesterday on Twitter, my friend Chris linked to a site I hadn’t heard of before: Find a Grave. It’s an amazing resource, containing listings for 95 million grave sites. I spent some time there today, putting in entries for my grandparents and great-grandparents and a great-uncle and creating “virtual cemeteries” (groups of family members) for Dad’s family, Mom’s family, and Sean’s family. I barely scratched the surface of what’s available, but I’ll need to do more in-depth research to continue.

In the course of searching for information to put in the listings, I discovered this detailed description of Grandpa’s book, which filled in some gaps in my memory. I had been pretty sure my immigrant ancestor’s name was John, but that was all I could remember.

Henry Awbrey (d.1694) immigrated from Wales to Rappahannock County, Virginia about 1663. John Awbrey (ca.1623-1692), brother of Henry, immigrated from Wales to Westmoreland County, Virginia. Descendants of the brothers (chiefly spelling the surname Aubrey) lived in Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and elsewhere. Includes family history and genealogical data about ancestors in Wales, England and elsewhere to about 1066 A.D.

I’m really happy to have this information. Hopefully someday I can find an actual copy of Grandpa’s book, too. When I do, I’d love to put it online, but I’m not sure how copyright works for something like this. Grandpa didn’t make his book for profit. He and Grandma have passed away, so I’m not sure who the rights would fall to. I do recall Grandma telling me that someone from Grandpa’s family had asked for all his research; perhaps that person was given the publication rights as well? I’d love for Grandpa’s book to have a broader audience than just the few who managed to snag copies of his hand-typed, photocopied, center-stapled self-publication.

I’ve been thinking recently that I’d like to design a robust genealogy web application. There are many features I’d like to incorporate, like family home information (pictures, locations, the dates family members lived there); the ability to create/generate matrilineal trees; information and timelines on events that involved multiple family members, with general summaries for everyone and the capability to add notes specific to each person; and whatever else I can think of, with all data cross-referenced and available in an API. Of course, something like this may already exist; I’ve barely dipped my toe into genealogy. I’m just fascinated by the idea of archiving lives in creative, robust ways.

Thanksgiving #1

Thanksgiving is pretty spread out for Sean and me this year. We spent Thanksgiving Day at home watching TV, then going out for sushi. Family Thanksgivings were scheduled for different dates.

Our first Thanksgiving of the year was really just mine. I was home in Kentucky for a visit from October 31 through November 8, and as we were celebrating Halloween, Connor’s birthday, and Daphne’s birthday, we decided to throw in a Thanksgiving dinner too. (Sean didn’t come on this trip as he had to work.)

I helped Mom decorate the dining room, setting up the dining table and the card table with placemats and accessories.

table and buffet decorated for ThanksgivingMom made her signature rolls (and I helped). She also tried a different, faster way of cooking the turkey.

rollsturkeyme and the finished turkeyI made the corn casserole, a tradition we’ve had since I was a teenager and we first got the recipe from a lady at church. These days Connor often makes it, but as this dinner happened on a Thursday during the school year, he didn’t have time. I also made the pumpkin pie. I forgot to turn the heat down after the first 15 minutes, but it seemed to turn out fine anyway.

pumpkin pieAt dinner I sat with the boys at the card table.

Logan and ConnorDinner was great. Mom, Dad, AJ, Faye, Connor, and Logan all came. (I got to see Ben, Manda, and Daphne the next day when I went up to the farm with the parents for Daphne’s second birthday.) While it wasn’t a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner, it was close: turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn casserole, rolls, pickles, olives, pumpkin pie, and blueberry pie. An amazing spread and a wonderful time with family :)

Our second Thanksgiving of the year, the one with Sean’s parents, hasn’t happened yet. Stay tuned! ;)

So long, 2011. You were pretty awesome.

As the new year approached, I saw more and more of my friends posting status updates about how they were ready to see 2011 go. In many ways, I guess it has been a rough year. But I can’t help but think back on it fondly, despite the bad things that happened–the desperate situation our country is in, the hate and pain and suffering and disasters breaking out across the world. For me, 2011 was a year of growth and change and renewal and family and generosity. It was a year filled with love and hope. I want to take the power of what 2011 ignited in me and go out and share it with everyone.

I feel refreshed. I feel empowered. I feel ready.

We started the year embroiled in change. Sean had accepted a new job, and we were in the middle of a long period in which he commuted to Atlanta from Augusta for a week or two at a time. In February I hit the five-year mark at my own job, and wrote about it here. We moved to the Atlanta area at the beginning of March. I took a week off from work to coordinate the move, then went back to Augusta for a week to wrap up loose ends before beginning an approximately three-month-long period of telecommuting. I got a red velvet See You Soon cake :)

red velvet cake
After that week was over, it was back to the new apartment, which I had spent several weeks towards the end of 2010 selecting from the plethora of choices near Sean’s workplace. I wanted new or renovated apartments, nice facilities, a good location, and access to nature. I found everything I wanted, and we’ve been very happy with our new home this past year. Here’s a little something I wrote about it at the end of March.

We slowly started exploring our side of town and discovering new haunts. One of our first discoveries, Hashiguchi, ended up closing, much to our dismay. There are several other Japanese places in the area, but none have the same feel. We also discovered an Italian place, though, Scalini’s, which quickly became a favorite. And at our friend Will’s recommendation we checked out J. Christopher’s, a breakfast and brunch place, and fell in love. It’s currently my go-to restaurant (assuming I break for lunch early enough), just as the Boll Weevil was my go-to restaurant in Augusta. (They even have a door that creaks the same way!)

There’s a lot of shopping in our area as well, and as time went on I started to explore more and more of Vinings, Smyrna, and Marietta. One of my favorite landmarks is the infamous Big Chicken. Sean loves the Micro Center, which is kind of reminiscent of CompUSA. They pricematch, so he can get his quick technology fix.

Of course, there’s plenty to do in the rest of the Atlanta area. We’ve been to a comic book store in Buckhead; a Japanese restaurant, Korean barbecue, and Fry’s in Duluth; Super H-Mart, which is like Walmart for Asian food, off Peachtree Industrial; charming downtown Decatur; the aquarium and the World of Coke; the Atlanta History Center; and more. One day I drove around looking at all the furniture stores I could find, including IKEA…that was an adventure! And still so much more awaits us.

One great thing about living in Atlanta has been seeing our friends Charles and Heidi so much. I had taken several road trips from Augusta to Atlanta to visit them in the past, but now we’re free to do stuff together whenever we want! We have lots of dinners out, and we love going hiking and to cultural or interesting Atlanta destinations as well.

Heidi and Charles
For the next few months, my life consisted of telecommuting, trying to get the apartment in order, and exploring Atlanta. In May, since I was telecommuting anyway, I headed up to Kentucky and surprised Mom for Mother’s Day.

Then, around the middle of June, the station hired my replacement, so I went back to Augusta for my last two weeks to train her. On my way, I took a detour for a weekend in Savannah and had myself a nice little mini-adventure.

It was wonderful to see everyone in Augusta again. I stayed with Sean’s parents, which was really nice. I tried to get together with as many friends as possible. Brandon even managed to pull together some of the old lunch crew from years and years ago…it was awesome.

the old lunch crew
I spent some time on my last day running around getting pictures with everyone. Then, for my last night in Augusta, I spent the night at Brooke and David’s, and had breakfast with them at Cracker Barrel the next morning before heading home to Marietta.

Brooke and David
It was a wonderful last two weeks of work and a wonderful two weeks in Augusta.

Sean’s friend Adam came to visit while I was still out of town, and when I got back we took him around the neighborhood and out for sushi and frozen custard.

After that, I went back to Kentucky for the 4th of July. The fact that I was able to see my family so much was a big part of why last year was so amazing. On this visit I went swimming; I helped my brother with some sod on an area he’d leveled around a tree for seating; I spent lots of time with my nephews, including an awesome camping trip to Natural Bridge with their family; I ate ribs and fried chicken and corn on the cob and watched fireworks; I took a zillion pictures of my niece; I went shopping and out to eat with Mom; I went up to the farm and took awful pictures of the moon…basically, I had the best time ever.

And then I went to New York!

Sean’s job sent him up to the West Point area, and I got to tag along. I spent a week exploring the towns and villages along the Hudson River, including Highland Falls, Newburgh, Fishkill, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie. In Fishkill, I found a sign for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path, which ends in Augusta. Here’s the sign and its Augusta counterpart:

Fishkill signAugusta sign
I have a few detailed summaries of my adventures around “downstate New York” that I wrote back in July. I will be posting them here shortly. In brief, my first day was spent exploring Highland Falls and Boscobel House; my second day, I went to the West Point Visitors Center and Museum, then Sean and I checked out Washington’s Headquarters. The third day was quite busy. First I went to the Van Wyck Homestead, where the above Warrior Path sign stands, then explored the lovely city of Beacon. After that I headed over to the Samuel Morse house and museum, where I also took in a car show. After that I had the singular moment of the whole New York trip, an unplanned visit to the Eleanor Roosevelt home, Val-Kill. I’ve written much more on that experience in the upcoming post; suffice it to say I’m not the same person I was before I went. I also checked out the FDR Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion grounds, then finished up my day on the Poughkeepsie riverfront. This day might possibly be the best day I spent in New York state; it is rivaled only by the next glorious day, when I took the train down to New York City.

At Grand Central Terminal, I met up with my friend Matt, who I hadn’t seen since our very first (and my last) Governor’s Scholars Program reunion, a zillion years ago. (Here we are on a boat.)

Matt and me
Matt was an amazing tour guide. I got to see so much. Since we only had one day, we concentrated on Manhattan. Matt’s recommended three-hour boat tour showed us many of the sights with views we couldn’t have gotten up close. The angles we saw of the Statue of Liberty (starting here) were spectacular.

Statue of Liberty
After the boat tour, Matt and I walked and rode the subway to a few places I was interested in seeing. This included…the apartment building used as the exterior shot for Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends!

Friends apartment
We also went to Times Square and Central Park, then walked up 5th Avenue to get back to Grand Central Terminal and head off our separate ways.

I hope to write in much more detail about this part of the trip later. It was a long, wonderful day, and an excellent endcap to my time in New York state. I spent the next day relaxing and recovering from two whirlwind days of awesome, then had one more mini-adventure in Cornwall-on-Hudson before Sean and I headed home.

After we got back from New York, Sean’s parents came to visit us for the first time in our new apartment. It was great to show them our place and give them a feel for our neighborhood. We took them around to our favorite haunts, and the next day we did some touristy things. It was a good visit.

Finally, there was a lull in the whirlwind of travel and visits, and I took that time to resume looking into weight loss surgery. The original plan had been to do the surgery once we lived in Atlanta, after all, and various health issues were making it obvious that the time to act was now (if it hadn’t already passed). Unfortunately, just as I started doing the paperwork for a local surgeon, we ran into some difficulties that meant it was impossible to have the surgery done here. This culminated in a trip to San Francisco as soon as I got all my medical clearances out of the way, which ended up being the end of September.

I was blessed to stay with family and thrilled to get to see much of San Francisco before my surgery date. I had never been there before–until then, the furthest west I’d traveled in the United States had been Texas–and I was excited to see everything I could. I was awed by the natural beauty of the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods and the sculpted elegance of Golden Gate Park. My uncle even took Mom and me on a drive down the famous Lombard Street on our way to an open-top bus tour which later offered us an excellent view of same.

One great thing about being in San Francisco was that I got to see my friend Hai again.

Me and Hai
We hadn’t seen each other since our first in-person meeting in Cincinnati back in April of 2008, though we’ve known each other for far longer than that thanks to the AMRN. We met up at Hog Island Oyster Company for lunch, and it was awesome. Hai is a fellow foodie, so he and Mom and I tried oysters, lobster, and a grilled cheese sandwich–an excellent last big meal before weight loss surgery ;)

The next few days were taken up with surgery prep, the surgery itself, and in-hospital recovery. I was eager to go back to my relatives’ house, so I pushed myself to walk as much as I could as soon as possible. The surgery was September 26, and I was released on the 29th.

I wrote a little about what I expected the surgery to be like here. I may write what it was actually like someday, or I may not. I never really have been one to dwell on that sort of thing. I don’t care to write about all my experiences when I had leukemia, either. Frankly, I don’t fully remember them, and I don’t really want to. Yes, I’ve had cancer, heart problems, sleep apnea, obesity, weight loss surgery–but these things don’t define me. They’re just things I’ve gone through. They are a part of what has made me what I am, but what I am has also been a part of what defeated them. Their role in my life is (or will soon be) over.

However, I will probably write about how weight loss surgery has changed me, because my approach to food is completely different now. I have a tiny stomach. I don’t absorb nutrients well, so I need to focus on getting as much protein as possible. Sugar and carbohydrates can shoot my weight loss in the foot. And white bread, white rice, and artificial sweeteners other than sucralose cause unpleasant gastic side effects for me.

These factors mean I don’t eat at all like I did before. Now I go for the meat first. I don’t eat much bread, and when I do it’s whole wheat. I don’t typically have, or even want, dessert, because by the time I’m done eating my few bites of dinner, I’m full. But I’ll get hungry again in a few hours, so I’ve started trying to keep higher-protein snacks around, like nuts and edamame. I also rely on Atkins shakes and bars for the times when I need protein fast. Since an all-protein diet can cause hard stools, I’m working to incorporate fiber when I can. I also have to make sure to drink a lot of water, not only because my new gastrointestinal configuration leeches it away, but because I’m taking a diuretic to treat my pseudotumor cerebri until I’ve lost enough weight to “cure” it permanently.

I also take a lot of supplements to get vitamins and minerals. I have to take a particular kind that my intestines are able to absorb. This will continue for the rest of my life.

Despite these constraints, you have no idea how freeing it is to not be a slave to food. I had no idea how much control food had over me. I thought I did…but I didn’t. I knew I was miserable. I knew I felt trapped. I knew I ate emotionally, or out of habit, or whenever someone else was eating, or because something looked delicious. But it never sank in just how addicted I was to food until, suddenly, I wasn’t anymore.

I told Sean, “I wish there was a surgery to help people stop smoking.”

This is not to say that going through weight loss surgery and recovery is easy. It is not. It is a lot of work, and you have to have the right attitude going in–the attitude that you are going to kick ass and take names because you are awesome. You have to know your stuff. And there will be times, many times, when you don’t want to eat, and you will have to force yourself to do so.

This concept is so alien to the former me that I don’t think I could even begin to explain it to her.

No, it’s not easy, but it works. If you know what you’re doing, if you have the right attitude, if you follow the steps you need to follow…you will lose weight. And you’ll keep losing weight. You’ll feel better than you have in years. The fact that it actually works will keep you positive, and you’ll keep going, and you’ll keep losing weight, until you hit your healthy balance and stop. I’m not there yet, but as of today I’ve lost 64 pounds…more than I’ve ever been able to lose trying to diet on my own. On my own, I had to battle my food addiction every day. Now, with this surgery, that enormous factor is simply gone. I still enjoy food…but I don’t have to have it, and I often don’t even want it.

I’m free.

Immediately after my surgery, I had to rest and recover, but also keep myself moving so I wouldn’t lose muscle strength. I felt good the majority of the time and it wasn’t long before I was off painkillers–a benefit of laparoscopic surgery is that fewer nerves get distressed. Of course, this can also be a con, if you feel so “normal” that you try to do too much too soon and end up injuring yourself. Since I’m the go-getter type, I was in danger of just that. The day after I was released from surgery, I went on a shopping trip with my mom and aunt! It was brief enough, but I tired out extremely quickly. Thankfully I hadn’t messed anything up, but looking back on it now, I’m sort of surprised at myself. I took a weekend off and relaxed with family, but then I went crazy again and accompanied my mom and aunt to Costco! Actually, I did far better than you might expect, and only felt like falling over and dying towards the end of the excursion. We sat down at the little cafe to give me time to recover, then headed back to the house.

After a checkup the next morning, my mom and aunt and I finally got the weather we were after for some Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline shots.

Golden Gate Bridge
After that we sort of just drove around looking at things. We had lunch in Sausalito, which is awesome because I’ve always wanted to say I’ve been to Sausalito (the name is cool!), and then we did a tiny bit of grocery shopping. I was getting stronger and stronger. Still, the next two days were spent relaxing and recovering from all that wandering around. Then my aunt’s dear friend came up for a visit–I’d previously met her on my first trip to Savannah–and we had a lot of fun going around the area with her. (Enjoy this nasty picture of my lunch from our day shopping in Mill Valley…I was still getting the hang of ordering protein-rich food.)

Thus ended my first-ever visit to San Francisco. So much more happened, and there was so much more that I wanted to see. Hopefully someday I will write in more detail about the trip, and I definitely plan to go back!

Obviously, after having surgery, I wasn’t really up to my usual sort of self-reliant behavior. I had to lean on Sean a lot for help with the most simple of tasks, like getting the laundry out of the washer and dryer, putting away the dishes, bringing in the groceries, moving things, etc. It was a little frustrating not being able to just do everything myself, but I persevered. While I wasn’t supposed to carry much weight or reach over my head, I was allowed and encouraged to go up and down stairs, which was good, since we live on the “garden level” (below the first floor). While I recovered I focused on walking for exercise. I did a lot of reading, breaking into the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin for the first time. I also did a little more writing in November than usual.

I did leave the apartment for one event while I was still in the recovery and adjustment period, and that was A Web Afternoon on October 22. I saw my friends Chris and Will, and organizer J. Cornelius apparently recognized me from when I attended the Webmaster Jam Session back in 2008, which is pretty cool of him. The event was really inspiring and interesting; the speakers had somewhat diverse messages and delivery methods, but they were all very enthusiastic about the web.

The end of November heralded a weeks-long flurry of travel for Sean and me. First, on November 22, we headed to Augusta for an early Thanksgiving with Cheryl and Reid, plus Cheryl’s brother Michael and his girlfriend Michelle. I made corn casserole, and I swear Michael ate about half the pan! Michelle is from China, and I got to hear a lot of interesting stories from her past–how she was sent to work on a farm by the government as a child, and how she worked hard to help her family. It was a nice visit, and the food was great. Cheryl really pulled out all the stops.

Sean, me, Reid, Cheryl, and Michael
After a brief stop in Brooke and David’s driveway to say hello, we headed back to the ATL. But I turned around the very next day and drove to Kentucky!

One of the highlights of the visit was seeing my beautiful niece, who turned 1 on November 5. She’s grown so much!

Daphne and Ben

Daphne and Ben

Given my new post-weight loss surgery reality, I wasn’t able to eat much at Thanksgiving dinner–here’s my plate. I ate all the turkey, and maybe half of everything else. It was great to just be there with my family though…I love seeing everyone!

Uncle Steve stopped by during my Thanksgiving visit home, which was great; he’s always a trip.

The day after I got back from Kentucky, I jumped into the car again for a quick weekend in Augusta. I’d been wanting to visit Brooke and hang out with people for awhile, and this was the only weekend left in the year that would work for both of us. It may have been a mistake to try to squeeze it in there–I ended up exhausted and unable to do nearly as much with Brooke as I’d hoped–but I was at least glad to see her, and to visit my friends at the station and have Teresa’s with Brandon, Ed, and Arturo. Brooke and I had dinner with Mari at Kinja, too, which was great.

Mari and Brooke

Mari and Brooke

I squeezed in a quick breakfast with Chris and Kenny and a stopover at the in-laws’ before heading back to Atlanta on Saturday. My biggest regret from the trip is not spending more time with Brooke…that will be rectified next time.

After the Augusta trip, I mercifully had two weeks in which to relax…theoretically. In reality, I had to decorate the apartment, wrap Christmas presents and prepare holiday cards. Yes, even though we were going out of town for Christmas, I still put up our tree. It was beautiful, so I think it was totally worth it! (Technically it still is beautiful…I need to take it down…) These activities brought me much more joy than annoyance. I was thrilled that I could finally give decent Christmas presents to family members; it had really been too long. I had a lot of fun selecting everyone’s gifts.

Sean and I also went to his work Christmas party the weekend of December 10. It was held at Stone Mountain Park, and we decided to spend the night at the hotel and go see the sights the next day. It was an utterly romantic weekend. I’d lost enough weight that I needed to buy a new dress, which I did. I also wore a new perfume, Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Nude, which is now my fragrance–we both love it. The party was elegant enough, and the hotel common areas were beautifully appointed, but my favorite times were when Sean and I were alone–in our room, or out exploring the park. We went down to the village after the party and wandered around looking at all the Christmas lights. The next morning we had room service in bed and a bath in our in-suite jacuzzi. We rode the skyride to the top of Stone Mountain and I got amazing views of the huge carving in the face of the rock. After we’d explored to our hearts’ content, we descended and found hot cocoa for Sean inside an exhibit hall and way too much lunch for us to ever eat at Miss Katie’s.

A particular highlight of our trip was watching a glassblowing demonstration. We saw an artisan create a decorative flower and a very unique vase. We’d already explored the shop, and nothing had quite struck our fancy there. The vase we’d just seen created was unlike anything in the store. Sean asked if we could buy it then and there. It was finished and delivered to us three days later!

After that, we had a snack and then got onto the little train that circles the mountain, watching the lights come on and listening to Christmas carols as the sun went down. When we got back, it was dark and Christmas-y in the village once again. Sean pulled me under a huge ball of mistletoe for a kiss–the perfect end to our romantic weekend away.

The week before Christmas, we headed off to Kentucky. I guess my crazy holiday running around, plus the fact that I was still recovering from surgery, caught up to me, because I felt like I got worn out pretty quickly. Still, I was able to do a lot with my nephews, including getting some one-on-one time with each of them, which I think is important. I also spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad. I didn’t get a chance to go to the farm, but fortunately Ben and Manda and Daphne came down twice while we were there.

I had a wonderful Christmas. I loved seeing everyone open their presents. I think I did well with what I picked for everyone. I had trouble coming up with ideas for a couple of people, but it all seemed to work out in the end.

I love gift-giving. I love how personal it is, how it shows what you feel for the other person. I’m so glad we were able to give gifts this year.

Before everyone dispersed on Christmas Eve, Dan was kind enough to snap some photos of the family for us. It’s hard to get this many people into a picture, but I think it worked out okay :)

my family
Would you believe even that isn’t the end of 2011? After we got home from Kentucky, Sean had his friend William over for a few days of gaming and fun.

William and Sean
William is a charming guest and a funny guy, and it was great to have him around. We’re looking forward to meeting his fiancĂ©e when they both come to visit us sometime this year.

After William headed home on the afternoon of December 31, Sean and I quietly rang in the New Year watching Smallville season 10. (I belatedly noticed the clock had ticked over and mentioned something on Twitter; I have no idea if Sean was even paying attention. Similarly, I just realized we both forgot our ninth wedding anniversary, which was yesterday.)

And that was 2011. It was a big year in so many ways, full of friends, fun, travel, and change. I loved it.

Here’s to more of the same in 2012!

Unicorns

When I was very young, my Uncle Steve gave me my very first unicorn.

She was small, maybe two and a half inches long, in a resting position with one foreleg curled back and the other in front, her tail swept up along the same side as her back-turned leg. She was white in color, with light brown highlights along her mane and tail, and she was rough, not smooth. It wasn’t long before her horn broke off–I don’t remember how–and I glued it back on, ineptly, a gop of glue squishing out around the break. I managed to keep her safe after that, until she was lost with all my other possessions in the apartment fire of 2005.

By then I had other unicorns. I’d taken to exploring the gift shop area of Nicholasville’s Dish Barn whenever Mom took us by, searching for them. I also found statuettes of ladies in beautiful dress and cute animals and furniture for my doll house. I bought my treasures with my allowance, or sometimes received them as birthday or Christmas gifts. My newer unicorns were all larger than the first. One was tall, reared back on its hind legs, with a smooth finish and a blue tint to its mane and tail. One wound up and played music–I also loved music boxes, though I was somewhat particular about them. I had a statue of a mother and child unicorn, both with reddish mane and tail. All my unicorns were lost in the fire, of course, but I still remember them as they were for years, lined up nearly (though packed in tight) on my dresser beneath my bookshelf in my room at my parents’ house.

I had other kinds of unicorns as well. Uncle Steve gave me unicorn stickers, in the flashy, hologram style that was popular in the 80’s. And a teacher I loved in the first grade gave me an absolute treasure: my first book about a unicorn. (It may have been Misty Morgan. I do remember that book, and the lesson it taught me about selfishness and respect for others.) We had The Last Unicorn on VHS and I loved to watch it. I was terrified by the Red Bull and I found the butterfly tiresome, but the prince was brave and good and the unicorn was heartbreakingly beautiful, even as a lady.

I loved unicorns; I loved the magic of them. I loved the idea that they might have existed, that their horns might have had special powers, that they might not really be gone, but just hiding somewhere. I wanted to meet one, to know one. I wanted my unicorns to come to life.

Sometimes it feels as if unicorns have gone out of style, that now they’re something to be mocked rather than adored. I wonder what sort of magic my niece Daphne will grow up believing in and loving? If not unicorns, then maybe dragons…those seem to be enjoying quite the resurgence in popularity. Whatever it is, I hope Daphne wishes some wonderful wishes and dreams some wonderful dreams. And I hope I can contribute to her fun, like Uncle Steve contributed to mine.

I have a niece!

Ben and Manda had their first child, Daphne Rose, on November 5.

Daphne
I was unfortunately unable to be there for her birth–I missed it by a week! I’d had it all planned out; her due date was October 27, a Wednesday, so I took my last three vacation days for the year and went to Kentucky. I had a great visit, getting to spend time with Mom, Dad, Ben, Manda, AJ, Faye, Connor, Logan, and Uncle Steve. I helped Mom out by doing a little painting, I hung out with AJ while he worked on a construction project, and I spent time with Faye and her sister Viota after all their kids went trick-or-treating on the 30th. But I had to leave on Sunday, October 31, and there was still no baby.

Manda actually had to be induced on November 4, and she was in labor until Daphne was finally born at 12:26 am the next day.

I was pretty dejected towards the end of my trip and during the week until she was born, but since then I’ve been able to see lots of pictures and a couple of videos, and I know I’m going to get to hold that sweet baby over Thanksgiving, so I’m feeling happier. I really wish I lived close enough to pop up to Kentucky over a normal weekend, though.

While I was up there waiting for her to be born, I dropped off a few presents. One was a funny puppet I bought at Arts in the Heart while Yoko was here visiting. The other two were Totoro products, since Ben and Manda have a Totoro theme in Daphne’s bedroom. The first one they opened was a pretty little jewelry/music box that plays the theme from the movie and has a little Totoro who spins in a circle. The second was a stuffed animal Totoro, which both Ben and Manda was completely enamored with. (“I didn’t know I needed to get three of them!” I said.)

Now that Daphne’s here, I’ve been thinking more and more about what her life will be like and what sorts of things I can do for her. I’m hoping one day to be able to help all my nieces and nephews study abroad (assuming their parents are cool with that), but that’s way down the road. This past Saturday I saw the Columbia County Ballet perform The New Nutcracker at the Imperial Theatre, and it was so neat to see all those kids dancing so well, I started to wonder if Daphne might try ballet. I was in ballet classes for awhile as a kid, but for some reason I hated it. I was very shy back then and preferred to be at home with my family rather than out with strangers, and I was terrified of performing…so that’s probably why. But Ben and Manda aren’t shy people, so their daughter might not have the same hangups I did. If she would enjoy ballet lessons, I’d love to help out with that too.

But even that is still way in the future. For now, she’s a tiny, beautiful baby :) I can’t wait to meet her.

Daphne

Grandma Aubrey 1919-2010

Grandma

I last saw Grandma three weeks ago, on the final day of my most recent visit to Kentucky. She seemed…like Grandma. Perfectly lucid, dressed nicely, smiling, happy to see me. She gossiped about her neighbors and talked about gardening just as she’d always done as we sat at the patio table in her backyard with my mom and Uncle Steve.

Yesterday, unable to do anything for herself, she was admitted to hospice care, and this morning, she passed away.

I was on the treadmill at the gym when I saw Mom’s note to me on Twitter: “Call me this morning.” It was 7:49. I spent the next hour in a kind of Schrodinger-inspired denial. As long as I didn’t call, there was a chance Grandma was still alive. I finished up on the treadmill, went for a dispassionate swim, came home and took a shower. Throughout these mundane activities my mind whirled with tangential, fragmented thoughts: things I wanted or needed to get done at work, what I needed to do to get home for the funeral. Finally, at 8:47, I called.

“You probably know what this is about,” Mom said.

Eula Florence McCormick Aubrey died at the age of 91 with her daughter Evelyn at her side. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. She was preceded into death by her parents, her brothers Bill and Lewis, and her husband Walton, and is survived by daughter Evelyn, sons Ronald (my dad), Stephen and Jeffrey, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Grandma grew up on a farm in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky with her two brothers. She did farm chores and cooked and cleaned and secretly wished her mother would let her sit on the nice couch reserved for guests. Eventually she moved to Lexington to go to school, taking out a room at the YWCA. After marrying my grandfather, who served in the military, she lived in Texas for a time in a white shotgun house. Later the couple moved back to Lexington and Grandma took an accounting job at Bryan Station High School, where she worked for decades.

Grandma was unhappy as she entered her 90s. She was used to doing everything for herself: writing checks, tending to the garden at the very back of her long yard, cooking Sunday dinner. As the years passed she lost not only the ability to do those things, but even the strength to get herself around the house. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for such a self-reliant person to be so dependent on others, and how strongly she must have felt like a burden on her children. “I didn’t know it would be like this,” she told my uncle Steve despairingly. She was independent and strong to the end, her mind perfectly clear as long as her heart was pumping enough oxygen, and she knew she was ready to be done with such frailty.

I will always remember my grandmother as a sweet, kind, gentle woman who never raised her voice. Any time she had to scold my brothers and me as children, she did so in a strong but caring voice that evoked sorrow at disappointing her rather than terror. We always felt we could snuggle into her arms.

As children, my brothers and I spent a lot of time at Grandma and Grandpa’s. One of my strongest memories is Grandma gumming at us, “No teeth!” She’d lost her teeth in her 20s, and usually wore false ones.

My brothers and I inherited the habit of humming thoughtlessly to ourselves from Mom, and Ben still does it to this day. But when we were kids, having dinner around Grandma’s table, and we were all humming different melodies to ourselves at once, it was Grandma who suggested that maybe we shouldn’t hum at the table. It was only then that I even recognized I was doing it; I was so embarrassed that I’ve been conscious of it ever since.

When I was quite young, I had an insatiable sweet tooth, and one day while staying at Grandma’s I snuck a large spoonful of sugar from the sugar bowl she kept on the table. I’d just finished licking the spoon clean (and placing it back in the bowl!) when I heard Grandma behind me.

Guiltily, I turned, head lowered, eyes downcast but flicking up every now and then to gauge the expression on her face. She gave me a gentle smile.

“You don’t need that,” she said. “You’re sweet enough.”

I’m glad you thought so, Grandma. I hope someday I’m even a tenth as sweet as you.

Click here to see a collection of photos of Grandma from 2001 to 2010.

Rest in peace, Pepaw

Sean’s grandfather, Pepaw Lewis, passed away this morning.

We didn’t spend much time with Pepaw, despite the fact that he lived so close. He was a hard sort of man, a little gruff, but also sweet in that old man way. There was some family history that I never fully grasped. We did see him at Christmastime or Thanksgiving some years.

The last time I saw him was at the hospital, where his son, Sean’s dad Reid, was getting ready to have open heart surgery. I saw him the day Reid was admitted, and then again a couple days later. He grinned at me and said, “I saw you the other day!” Not realizing what he meant, I said, “Really? Where?” And he responded cheerfully, “The hospital!” Maybe I just have a thing for Meadows men; I found this to be absolutely adorable, and I gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek.

Mema, Reid’s mother, says Pepaw had told the family he was ready to go. He would have been 85 next month; he lived a good long life.

I do wish, though, that I’d gotten to spend more time with him.

Aunt Carol update

Mom went to Peoria this past Tuesday to be with Aunt Carol, and she tweeted me this morning to let me know what’s going on. She says Carol is doing much better. Thankfully, it wasn’t Respiratory Distress Syndrome after all. Carol is off the ventilator and sat up in a chair for two hours this morning!

Thanks to everyone for your well wishes!

(Previous Aunt Carol post is here.)

Aunt Carol

(Update: Click here)

My aunt Carol, Mom’s oldest sister, tripped and fell last Wednesday, hitting her head. She is now in the hospital in a great deal of pain, on a ventilator. At first they thought something was wrong with her bowel, so they did surgery, but found nothing.

She was moved to what Mom says is a better hospital, and now they have found pancreatitis. Unfortunately Aunt Carol has also entered into Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. They’re not sure of the cause.

Originally we were hoping that Aunt Carol could be weaned off the ventilator and sent home in a few days, but now it’s uncertain when that might happen. Mom may go to be with her (Mom’s in Kentucky and Carol’s in Illinois).

This is the same Aunt Carol who had a heart transplant. The Aunt Carol who suffered gangrene and had to have a toe removed. The Aunt Carol who lost her husband to a stroke. The Aunt Carol who lost her only son when he was just a teenager. The Aunt Carol who sacrificed so much to take care of her ailing mother.

My Aunt Carol has always only ever wanted to live quietly, love her family, and do her own thing–write, paint, and enjoy life. But she keeps having obstacles thrown in her way.

She’s a fighter. She’s gotten through everything up until now. She can get through this too.

But if you could keep her in your thoughts, we would all really appreciate it.

A lazy day

Today, I was supposed to look through boxes of stuff sent to me from my aunt Carol, but I didn’t. Instead, I spent some time on the computer, and ate a delicious turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich Mom made. Then I showered, and then I played pool with Dad. After that I watched a bunch of Smallville with Sean, and then I went over to play with Connor and Logan before bedtime. After that I went to Ben and Manda’s and forced them to watch Kyou Kara Maou. (Ben said it was “interesting” and “different”. Not really a resounding endorsement…however, he did have a lot of fun repeating Japanese phrases, such as “Maken da te?! Now I know what to say if I’m ever in Japan and someone gives me a demon sword.”) We watched the first 7 episodes (the beginning and the Morgif arc), and then episodes 45 and 42, just because they’re two of my favorites.

And now I’m home. If I’m not too tired, maybe Sean and I will watch more Smallville. We’ll see.

Oh, I didn’t manage to get a family portrait like I was hoping, but I did get some representative Christmas shots yesterday. They start here in the December gallery. Check out this picture Mom took of me and Sean! I cropped it and adjusted the color levels.

me and Sean in Mom's dining room

Mom says we look cute together, but then again she’s biased ;>

I think we’re visiting Grandma tomorrow. I’m not sure if we will get to see Jeff and Mavis after all; it sounds like they’re not coming in until Tuesday, and Sean isn’t the type to stop on his way out of town :/

The visit is almost over. I’m not really looking forward to going home. We’ve decided to stay with Cheryl and Reid for another six months, like they offered. Originally we were planning to hurry up and get a rental instead. Having looked over our finances, though, it’s really prudent to just stay and save our money. Sean’s car is considered a loss by the insurance company, so very soon we’ll have a new payment to deal with. Bleh. At least the insurance payout was a decent sum…

Traditions under the moon

Today, Dawn wrote about the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own childhood traditions. Fireworks on the Fourth of July were always a big thing, whether we set off our own in front of our house or drove up to Lexington to watch the big show from Doris’ farm, sprawled out in the back of a banged-up pickup truck. Dawn’s discussion of lanterns made me think of Woodhaven, where Granny and Aunt Carol used to live; they had strings of lights running along their trailer in the shape of Chinese lanterns, and I loved their bright colors lighting up the porch at night. I sat out there with my aunts and played board games, or watched over my baby cousins (who are now all teenagers!), or played house with the myriad collection of toys Granny kept in her outdoor tent in the yard. We rode bikes at Woodhaven, too, all around the narrow, winding roads. Woodhaven was a private retirement community, and there wasn’t much traffic. It was very rustic and peaceful there; it felt like a chosen, comfortable seclusion.

Summers are what I remember most from my childhood, because summer was always the time for adventures. Piling into the car to go to Uncle Lewis’ place on Lake Cumberland was one of my favorites, because we got to go swimming, climbing, picnicking, and exploring, and in the morning Uncle Lewis always made us his famous “greasy eggs”. I think I miss having his place to go to the most; I don’t have any real memories attached to Ma’s farm in Mt. Sterling, and there’s not much to do there. And of course, we always went to Illinois in the summer, whether to Woodhaven, or to Big Rock, or to Wilmette…but once my parents started the business, we weren’t able to all run off on jaunts anymore, and so the adventure chapter of my life was closed. I think maybe that’s why I didn’t mind driving eight hours to see Sean for a weekend…travel has been in my blood since I was little.

Christmas is another tradition I’ve had since childhood, but until we had the business it wasn’t a truly large affair for us. We typically went to Uncle Jeff and Aunt Karen’s house on Eastin Road in Lexington, a beautiful, large, stately house that I felt I could get lost in. Their tree was always splendid, with more gifts beneath it than I could count. Everyone brought food, and we all ate dinner and then exchanged presents. That tradition died off when people began realizing they couldn’t afford to buy presents for everyone, and now if we go anywhere it’s to Grandma’s for dinner, with no formal gift exchange. It’s nice, but it’s not the same. Our party at home is bigger and better, though, with lots of presents, and the little joy that is Connor running around brightening everything. This year, when Sean and I go to my parents’ for the holiday, there will be another little one to cuddle.

Traditions don’t really die; they just change. They’ve shaped who we are, and who we are shapes what we do.

Dawn also wrote today about how she finished up her festival day, a quiet, more muted celebration, tinged with melancholy. I know how it feels to be lonely on holidays. I think the song Dawn chose to quote at the end of her post was a wonderful choice, especially because it reminded me of something that happened yesterday.

Out of the blue, I decided to call Connor. I miss that little sweetie. We had a good conversation; he told me to come over to his house “tomorrow” but I said it would have to wait until Halloween. Then he asked me, “Can you see the moon?”

I went out on the deck and looked, and there it was, Mars hanging just below and to the right. “Wow,” I said, “it’s really orange, isn’t it?”

“Yeah!” Connor said. “And it has eyes and a nose and a mouth! But it doesn’t say anything.”

“The moon’s pretty quiet,” I agreed.

At that moment, I remembered the song, “Somewhere Out There”, from An American Tail…and so for me it was doubly delightful to have Dawn think of the same song for a completely different reason.

I miss everyone…but it is nice to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.