Sunday, November 26, 2017

Things I Almost Remember

I cried watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade when they featured a song from the Broadway musical, Anastasia.  Full disclosure, I cry every year watching the Parade.  I've toyed with the idea of making a career with Macy's in order to obtain a seat in the grand stands.

I've loved the song, "Once Upon a December",  from the first time I saw the movie, Anastasia. 

There's a haunting, magical beauty to this song.  It communicates a truth.  Like Anastasia, we were meant for something far more glorious than this cold, impoverished life.  We are princes and princesses, sons and daughters of the Most High King, unable to remember from where we come and to whom we belong.

Dancing bears, painted wings
Things I almost remember
And a song someone sings
Once upon a December

Someone holds me safe and warm
Horses prance through a silver storm
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory

We now have less time with our children before eighteen than we have spent.  Our time is rushing away, like a snow filled whisper.  Fleeting, fast, signficant.  It has already been four Decembers since Esther's stem cell transplant. We are about to step into the fifth. 

Like Anastasia, many of the specific memories have faded, but my heart remembers.  Decorating the Christmas tree begins this journey into the remembered past.  Our family's tradition of choosing ornaments sparks this once lived reality. 

This year's stones are a soccer ball, a rolling pin, a created sign, a cha-cha dog, and a macaroon.  

Rourke loved this soccer season.

Zinnia is the life of our parties, always looking for fun. 

Lydia loves us with her baking. 

Franne loves to create beautiful things.  

Esther discovered macaroons.  They are delicate,
complicated, and have the perfect crust on the outside
to protect the beauty inside.
That's like her. 
Not hardened, but strong. 

I love unpacking the ornaments.  

We delight in the reflection of each treasure.  We giggle at the memory of two-year-old Zinnia choosing a dog, then covering that dog with kisses, when she was terrified of dogs.   When she was two, Esther tried to put on a pair ceramic ballet flats.  Lydia has a purse she would sneak off the tree and carry around the house when we lived in the little townhouse on Ross Drive.  Frannie has taken to creating her own ornaments the last three years.  She will not be boxed in nor defined by the store's selections.  A perfect reflection.  Rourke has a line of trucks, planes, trains, and ships, a tool box, and a few sports related items.

These stones of remembrance mark a year I've had the pleasure of loving these souls.  However, there are some, specifically the ones from that December four (almost five) Christmases ago that bring what my heart remembers to my eyes.  I have to concentrate to not let those memories trail down my cheeks.   That December is vivid.  I remember wanting each gift we bought our children to communicate our profound love for them.  I remember letting Esther choose more than one ornament.  She initially chose a lacy butterfly, because she had one for her port, but then she choose something else.  We let her get both.  I remember decorating our home.  Putting up our Jesse Tree by Ann Voskamp, and realizing December 18th, the day Zinnia and Esther were born, was the story of Esther.  I remember our early birthday and Christmas celebrations.  Esther was admitted December 11th for her stem cell transplant.  I remember Esther sitting with my dad, both bald from their tandem cancer journeys.  

My heart remembers our hands, trembling, holding this little girl out to the mercy of medicine and the care of the Lord.  My heart remembers the faithful ministry of the Father, holding us safe and warm.  

The months following this December included a lot of hospital time and Disney's Sofia the First.  Esther loved it.  Sofia, and her friends, brought joy.  That year we started buying Sofia characters.  We have quite the collection.  I think I actually loved Sofia more than she did because it was such a comfort to her.  This weekend, the girls cleaned out their room, and decided they are all too grown up for Sofia. As I packed them away, memories made it to my eyes once again. 

Far away, long ago
Glowing dim as an ember
Things my heart used to know
Once upon a December

These embers of memory are ever present, yet not remembered.  I can still find myself overcome with fear.  I can find myself overcome with mercies and graces experienced during this journey.  I can find myself reacting out of hurt.  Little things, very small, insignificant things remind me of feelings (true or not) of being misunderstood or unknown during that time and the following years.  My capacity for empathy is ripe in December; I just ache for those aching.  My heart remembers and can't help but knowing something of the hurts around me.  I have dearly loved friends who have walked a difficult medical journey through more than one December.  My heart hurts for their Decembers, and I have prayed for an entire year for them to enjoy a hospital free December. Other friends lost their daughter, one of five daughters, this year.  Another friend lost her son.  

Someone holds me safe and warm
Horses prance through a silver storm
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory

Far away, long ago
Glowing dim as an ember
Things my heart used to know
Things it yearns to remember

And a song someone sings
Once upon a December

Anastasia's heart knew her life was not intended for a cold, impoverished world.  She yearns to remember, and not just remember, but to know, and be known.  

I am thankful for the things I almost remember.  I am thankful my heart does remember.  I am thankful for the Decembers past and their memories, which are decidedly brought to life year after year through ornaments hung on a tree.  I am thankful that we have a promised future.  One that makes sense, where we are known and where we belong.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Almost half way!

Tomorrow is the 2016 Kid's Cure Fun Run!  We are so excited and AMAZED at how far we've come toward our goal.  We are almost half way to our fundraising goal and about 1/3 of the way to our team member goal.

 I finished up the t-shirts today!  Purple for Brent's Place and Purple because it's the support color for neuroblastoma.

Here's the deal....I have two blue shirts left over from a couple years ago and two extra purple shirts from this year. For any $93 donation from now until tomorrow morning, we will send you one of these t-shirts!  All donations are of course welcome :).

Purple XL, Blue L, Purple L, and Blue youth L.  If we run out or you need a different size...I will make more, they will just be white :).

I can't wait to share pictures from our adventures in the morning!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Upsides of Leaving Your Deep Freezer Door Open for 17 Days

We've been traveling for the last 17 days and put 3500 miles on the van.  It was great to see family and friends in Washington and Oregon as well as some interesting sites along the way.  While we were off enjoying the Pacific Northwest, our freezer door was cracked open...cooling away.

The Battle of Little Big Horn was an unexpected treat!  I did not realize it was so close to Colorado in Montana just past the Wyoming border.  Here is the site of Custer's Last Stand.

Fireworks in Monroe, Washington are no joke.  Every third house was shooting off huge bombs.  I'm not even exaggerating, well maybe a little, but it couldn't have been less than every fifth house.  Colorado would've been burned to dust.

The Pike Place Market is always fun.  The kids thought the flowers were beautiful and the fish were stinky.

We hiked to a beautiful lookout at the top of Hurricane Hill in Olympic State Park, but the clouds were stage hogs.

The hike went above the clouds at the top of this picture.   It was neat to go through so many layers of atmosphere and ecosystems.


Forts are cool. This was at Fort Flagler.

We went to Mount St. Helen's.  Again...those clouds were needy for attention and blocked the actual crater.  The visitor center there is top notch.

The Umpqua River provided lots of fun.

In-N-Out was something to look forward to after a 13 hour drive.  We all decided it is good, but Big Al's is better.  Fort Collins friends, your craving will be satisfied right here.  Well, maybe not the shakes.

When we got home I went to put the ice packs back into our deep freezer and discovered the goo. Meat and frozen vegetable and frozen fruit goo.  Ew.

While cleaning up the mess, I was cheering myself up with the various upsides of leaving the freezer door cracked for 17 days.
  1. The freezer worked hard for 17 days to keep everything cool (including the garage), so not all was lost.  The bread was cool enough to keep.
  2. That casserole from 2011 needed go!
  3. The next day was trash day, and since we were gone for 17 days, it was ready to receive the contents of one nasty freezer.  Our garbage man hates us today.  
  4. The rum for tiramisu doesn't need to stay frozen.  I can still make tiramisu (or a cocktail).
  5. When do you get a chance to clean out your deep freezer?
  6. My husband loves to shop at Costco with the kids.  We can get new food.
  7. Those super awesome freezer packs from when Esther was getting medicine shipped across the country to our house did an excellent job of keeping the cheese sticks firm!  
  8. Because our daughter had cancer, I'm terrified of chemical cleaners.  BUT...I'm also now a germaphobe, and rest stops are gross, so I had bought a multi pack of chemical filled cleaning wipes.  Turns out many of the rest stops weren't as gross as I was thinking, I had plenty left to kill the germs in my freezer.  
  9. All these reminders of cancer brought to mind that there are worse things than coming home to goo in the garage.  For example, childhood cancer and families that need a place to stay during treatment like Brent's Place.  
  10. And I smiled because we have awesome family and friends who have put Team Esther into FIRST place and we are about 25% of the way to our fundraising goal and 20% to our participant goal!! 
If you're still wanting to sign up, join us!  You won't regret it!  Registration is free.  Raise as much as you can, and come have fun!  You can register here:

Can't walk but want to help? Pick a participant and leave a donation on their page.

Now on the downside...that goo leaked out into the garage, so off to scrub the floor with bleach.  Meat goo is not something you want lingering in your garage!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Four Years Ago

Four years ago, while eating in the cafeteria at Children's Hospital in Denver, our friends sent us this picture.  Look at that sweet little girl.

This picture brought us great comfort as we awaited the answers from the biopsies being taken from her head.  The results were not what we had hoped, and Esther was diagnosed with cancer.  I remember the day vividly.  The doctor was wearing a light blue plaid shirt.

As we are now four years from that dreadful day, I find June 22 less sober.  I can breathe a little.  Even celebrate.  Esther is healthy.  We are still a family of 7.  When I made lunch for my kids while Esther was in the hospital and pulled out five plates, my stomach would be sick because I would need to put one away.  It was a visible reality that I might not be making lunch for five children.

But today, I make lunch for five!  A way we are celebrating Esther's health is with a big fundraiser for an organization that we dearly love, Brent's Place.   You can read all about our goal here, but I've made a few fun ways for you to join us;

  • Join Team Esther:    We are hoping for 109 Team members to represent each of the 109 days we lived at Brent's Place.  So far we're at WE NEED YOU!
  • Donate to Team Esther:  You can just donate the team or pick a fundraiser from the bar that says, "Would you like this donation to be credited to someone's fundraising page?" and give them a donation!  We have a team goal of raising 109 days worth of money for one family...over $10,000.  We can do it with your help!
  • Print out this Team Esther Flyer and collect donations in your 'hood or workplace.  

Thank you for loving us through Esther's journey, and I hope you can join us on July 30th at the Kids Cure!  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

109 people, $10,193, and Fun

Before your summer gets too busy, we would be so honored to have you join us  at one of our family's summer highlights, the Brent's Place Kids Cure fun run.

It is difficult to express the measure of love we feel for Brent's Place.  From time to time I whisper a prayer that God would bring us to Denver for the purpose of regularly supporting and caring for families at Brent's Place.  Here's a few blog posts to refresh your memories.

Moving Along, Breathing Deeply
"I called Anthony as we left and I couldn't even describe the facility to him because tears had taken over. If you could imagine a dream facility to delight children (and their families) enduring such a difficult road, this would be the place you would build."
Let us take care of you
"When I was checking in with Allen from Brent's Place he walked through the financial portion of staying here. Because of generous contributors to the foundation that supports Brent's Place, our stay is free. As I was talking with Allen about this and how amazing it is to be able to offer this facility to families at no charge he told me that right now is the time to "let us take care of you."
Only For the Brave
"Brent's place is a refuge for the parents, the brave kids fighting cancer, and their siblings. It is a place where they don't have to worry about getting sick or having a break down. A place for kids to be kids, to make friends, and for parents to not have to explain because they are understood."
We lived at Brent's Place, a home for immune compromised children and their families, for 109 days during Esther's cancer treatment.

We have a wild goal this year, and we will need LOTS of help to get there.

 109 team members and $10,193.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016
General's Park in Aurora, CO

We would like to have a team member for every day we lived at Brent's Place.  Would you be one of the 109 team members?!

Out of town?  That's okay!  Join the team, make a donation, share your fundraising page, and raise some money.  Then on July 30th, take a fun walk or hike.

Why 10,193?  The cost for one day's stay at Brent's Place is $93.  If every team member raises $93, we will raise enough to provide another family 109 days of safety, healing, and incredible support.

  • Join Team    We are hoping for 109 Team members to represent each of the 109 days we lived at Brent's Place.  So far we're at WE NEED YOU!
  • Donate to Team  You can just donate the team or pick a fundraiser from the bar that says, "Would you like this donation to be credited to someone's fundraising page?" and give them a donation!  We have a team goal of raising 109 days worth of money for one family...over $10,000.  We can do it with your help!
  • Print out this Team Esther Flyer and collect donations in your 'hood or workplace.  

The run is FUN for the whole family.  There's obstacles and dance parties, water fun, a pancake breakfast, and games to play after the run.  Check out this video!

Kids Cure for Cancer Recap from Studio Hippo on Vimeo.

We look forward to seeing you this summer!  It will be as much a gift to to us as it will be to the family whose stay we work together to provide.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


My grandpa passed from this life at the end of June, a little over 5 years after my grandma went before him.  This last month has been flooded with wonderful memories blanketed by a heavy measure of grief.

My grandparents had the coolest attic.  It is like Lucy's wardrobe in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe.  My grandma would lead us past the coats, through the opening, and we would enter a grand new world.  I can vividly recall the sound of wire hangers covered with paper from a dry cleaner and the rush of warm air, thick with the smell of attic.  I love the dry scent of an attic.
Thankfully my cousin, Manda, took lots of pictures!  
She snapped this one before she led some of the great grandchildren though the empty attic.

There were some spectacular clothes in the attic.

I have a horse skull on my head.
Grandma had fantastically odd
Before the sun came up three weeks ago was the first time I've been in that attic without my grandma.  We joined my parents, brother and sister, aunts, nieces, nephews, and cousins to clean out lifetimes of treasures.  Box after dusty box I just wanted to shout "stop."  Maybe, if I closed my eyes tight enough, I could imagine her showing me the hundreds and hundreds of McDonalds toys she'd collected, or the bones she'd gathered from walks through the forest, or the letters my grandpa sent her while he was in the Navy.  But, we had a job to do before the heat made the attic unbearable, so we kept going.  The boxes and treasures from the attic filled the entire backyard, and then some.

We spent the day sorting through these attic treasures, collecting what we might like or what was meaningful to each of us.  Then at the end of the day we went through the house.  It's funny the things that stand out.  It wasn't until the following weekend I found what would be my prize.  

Passing through every room I grew in love for my grandparents.  My grandpa built most of the house himself, adding a basement, bedrooms, and an entire master level to their tiny house on Tennyson Street.  He loved my grandma, like in the movies loved her.  Her heart was sealed with his.  He doted on his wife, giving her the best of everything.  Doing everything he could to make her dreams come true.  The spectacular thing is that her dreams generally involved caring for others.

My grandma collected swans. When my grandpa began a frog collection,
she boxed most of them up leaving hilarious notes.
"This box contains swans.  Moved to make room for frogs.  Too Bad.  Oh Well"

"Swans moved to make room for frogs.  Sorry swans.
Too bad you have to have to stay in a box."

At the end of the day I found myself heavy with grief.  A good cry accompanied me on my drive back to Ft. Collins.  With every room, the reality that my grandparents are gone, and their home is no longer theirs was more than my heart could bear.  I wanted to collect everything, to take everything with me.  There I was, squishing my eyes tightly closed, hoping I could sear the memories onto my heart.

The following weekend there was a big garage sale.  I again left my house before the sun arose.  As I made my way down Mississippi, the familiar glee of the drive to my grandparent's house brought a smile to my face.  I giggled at the thought that there I was, a grown woman, bouncing in my car because I was almost to Grandma and Grandpa's house. you see the love they poured over us?!  At the end of the final day as we were bagging what was left to donate, I noticed a small, black travel alarm clock.  My heart thrilled because this is the clock that sat on the beside table in the guest room.

For several summers before I began working, I spent a week with my grandma.  It began when I was turning 13.  Grandma "needed help" getting ready for a new school year.   She was a media technician at Lincoln High School in Denver.  I helped her clean overhead and film projectors, sort films, set up VCRs, and get all of the classrooms ready for the modern day technology.  My grandpa, a general contractor, was out of town working on a job.  The people he was working for were letting him stay in his camper at their house.  I remember commenting how nice the people were who let Grandpa stay at their house.  At the end of the week when she drove me home, I arrived to find my grandpa's camper at my parents house and when I opened the front door, I was greeted by a new wall in our living room.  The wall provided me with my own room.  

For at least the next two years I spent this week with my grandma.  It was special to spend the week with her and my grandpa.  Their home was always welcoming and refreshing, full of unconditional love.  I had fun helping at her school and happily awoke with the beep of that little black travel alarm clock.  The last time that alarm clock woke me was in 2003, the morning of my cousin Angela's wedding.  It's batteries long spent, earlier this week I put fresh ones in the timepiece set the alarm.  It awoke my tears as I could smell the smells of my grandparent's house, imagine the comfortable bed with fresh sheets, and the anticipation of a day spent with my grandma.

Today I spent much of the day sorting out the things I brought from Grandpa and Grandma O'Neill's home. I was again feeling like I wished I had more.  Things were never all that important to them and will never replace the love they've given, but I am thankful to have some memories from their home.  I can look at these things, close my eyes, and remember.

I began the morning by installing a new flood light.  The sensor on ours was broken.  This came from Grandpa's garage along with a crate of tools Rourke has enjoyed having.  He and Grandma were always providing for others out of their pantry or garage.  They are examples of people who freely, happily gave their time, talents, and hearts to others.  They were thrilled to provide.  While the provision of needs was a joy to them, they were most satisfied when they nurtured.

They built a cabin the mountains for us all to enjoy and even share with our friends.  For their 50th wedding anniversary they rented the best rooms at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs and treated their children and grandchildren to a weekend getaway.  They brought us dinner on our birthdays, even when I was in college.

This is a picture of my old college bike with the squeaky brakes.  Not a fancy bike because my pelvis, broken in a car accident at 16, doesn't sit well on a bike.  It was just sufficient for getting to class.  I was pregnant with Rourke, so there was definitely no riding of this bike!  It was covered in bindweed.  My grandparents were avid bike riders, even biking across Ireland.  Grandma thought this was hilarious and sent the picture she took to her brother, Uncle Louie.  He drew this picture and mounted it to a tiny wood fence.

This painting of main street in Georgetown, also by my Great Uncle Louie, was above the couch in my grandparent's family room.  It looks like it's always been above our piano.

Metal plates from their living room.

I've always loved this big set of silverware.
Today was a mix of smiles and tears.  I think that's how grief goes.  I hope these things hanging in my home will prompt the same emotion in my children (and Lord willing, grandchildren), that their mom was a refreshing source of unconditional love.  Bill and Betty O'Neill are treasures.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A perfect day to turn nine

Oh...these sweet, tiny babies...

Here they are, one day old.  Lydia on the left was just 4 lbs 15 oz and Frannie, the only time she's ever been bigger than her sister, at 5 lbs 8oz, on the right.  

What a telling photo of these two treasures.  Lydia, calm, peaceful, patient.  Frannie, full of passion. 

Tonight we had a small party and look at these beautiful young ladies now.  

Lydia is still calm, peaceful, and patient.  This girl was delighted to receive a wide brimmed hat and a parasol.  

Frannie is still passionate.  Here she is both aware, but blissfully ignorant, of her charm.  Delighting all of us with her joy. We named her "Francesca" because we prayed she would live a life of freedom.  Her name is so fitting.   

Today was a perfect day to turn 9.  

After coffee cake for breakfast, they enjoyed a special date with Daddy.  A trip to the CSU flower gardens and lunch at Bisetti's.  Ravioli's for Lydia and Spagetti with meatballs for Frannie.  They enjoyed their first bites of creme brulee.  

A bright, vibrant cake for our budding artist.

 And a simple, sweet cake for Lydia.  We named Lydia after the generous caretaker, "Lydia" of the Bible.  We've prayed she will care for and serve others with her time and talents.   She has learned to sew.  In fact, the dress she is wearing was stitched by her with her own machine.  Her name means "beautiful light".  Isn't she?

 Along with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, we are thankful that both Esther and my dad are here tonight, cancer free.  A simple picture with stunning significance.

God provided spectacular decoration for the perfect day to turn nine.