Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Memories of Grandma

Grandma Shirley and Evelyn

My Grandma Shirley slipped from this world to the next this morning. It was expected, but it still doesn't feel like she's really gone. I've been thinking about her a lot, memories of her, singing her favorite hymn to myself as I drive or get ready for the day (How Great Thou Art).

Grandma always kept us well fed with only the most delicious things. Some people may joke about the contents of her ritzy potatoes, but they were heavenly. A typical meal at Grandma's house was ham (her favorite), Jello jewels, rolls, green salad, and of course a relish tray with plenty of black olives and sweet pickles. There was also usually Krazy Krunch (like caramel popcorn, with cashews) and chocolate covered jelly sticks (orange or raspberry). At Christmas there would be a puzzle table, aunts and cousins drifting to and from the folding chairs surrounding it throughout the night. We'd usually have a musical program. I remember one year singing "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" with some cousins. If we were lucky, Grandma would pull out her bass clarinet and play "The Teddy Bear Picnic." And for most of my childhood, there were gifts. She was so thoughtful and generous. When we stayed overnight, we'd have cold cereal for breakfast, but the coffee creamer in the fridge was just for Grandma to put on her cereal.

Grandma was one-of-a-kind. She was a realtor, and at one point decided that she wanted to get a concealed carrier permit and learn to shoot a gun (this was after an incident where a man met a realtor at a vacant house and some violence ensued). She had quite a collection of guns and pocket knives (how many people can say that about their grandmother?). I remember going to a gun show with her, and she bought me a tiny little pocket knife with a pearl handle. She also taught me that they have the best beef jerky at gun shows. She also had a necklace and earring set with tiny little pocket knife charms, also with pearl handles.

Grandma and more Nelsons at our wedding reception.
Grandma always had beautifully manicured acrylic nails, and for years kept them painted a deep, sparkly burgundy. I always admired them. Last I saw her, they were electric blue on the tips. She was also wearing lipstick last time I saw her, in her hospital bed.

Grandma had an excellent sense of humor. She was the queen of forwarding emails, and pretty darn tech savvy for a woman of her generation. I remember her playing all sorts of teasing games with us grandkids. She'd offer me a stick of gum in her outstretched hand, and just as I was about to take it, would split her fingers, catching the gum in her other hand. This would go on and on, and she thought it was hilarious. There was also the little bunny that couldn't find a place to go to the bathroom game, ultimately ending with the bunny "peeing" on your hand (with the assistance of a strategically hidden wet paper towel).
I'm so glad these two got to meet.

Grandma was a believer, from lizard men to the perils of MSG.. I'm sure she's figuring it all out up in heaven as I type this.

Grandma always had fun and interesting things for us to do at her house. She had a pool table and air hockey table for years, and all kinds of little doodads for us to play with (a Newton's cradle, various magnetic trinkets, a bin of marbles). She was also extremely proud of her family. She filled the surfaces in her home with pictures of her family, and even covered the kitchen table with photo frames in recent years.

On the subway with Grandma and cousins Tonya and Johanna.

Grandma took me and my cousin to New York City the summer before I started high school. We visited my uncle and his family, and saw the town. We saw a broadway show (42nd Street), went to the Metropolitan, ate seafood on an island somewhere, and went on an open air bus tour. 

Grandma helping light candles on my 12th birthday cake.
She was very particular about how things should be done. She would save plastic bags and hang them up on a little clothesline above her kitchen sink to dry after she washed them. She scraped the butter wrapper before throwing it away. When I was there on Monday to visit her, she had fallen asleep with some gum in her mouth (the pain medicine she was taking made her mouth extremely dry), and it had gotten on her pillowcase and shirt. She instructed me specifically how to remove the gum (just put an ice cube on the back of the fabric under the gum, then scrape it with a butter knife), and I'm pretty sure she wasn't totally satisfied with my attempts to follow her instructions. She also had me arrange the blankets on her bed, and then pulled out a telescoping back scratcher and used it to make minor adjustments after I was done.

My parents stayed overnight with Grandma and Grandpa on Friday, and when they returned on Saturday they said she was nearing the end. My mom was worried she wouldn't make it through the night when they were there, her breathing was so labored. I decided I needed to go visit her. I'd been meaning to do it for weeks, but was intimidated by the idea of driving to Logan with a on-year-old by myself. I decided to go, and really my whole week was open, but for some reason I felt like I really needed to go on Monday. I didn't recognize it at the time, but that was the Spirit prompting me. Monday morning, I got up and quickly got ready to go. I didn't go to the gym like I usually do in the mornings, I felt compelled to get going. When I arrived at my grandparents' home, Grandpa was watching TV in the family room. He told me Grandma was asleep, so we chatted for just a few minutes. Then we heard a ringing, or some kind of alarm. Grandma had called Lifeline, the emergency service. We immediately rushed to her side, and she was gasping for air. She managed to communicate to us that she wanted us, or Lifeline, to call her daughter (who had been her primary caregiver, but had gone home to shower that morning). I talked with the lifeline operator, and they did call my aunt. I held Grandma's hand, gave her a sip of water, and we waited. She calmed down a bit, and then my aunt came.

It was no coincidence that I arrived when I did. She had apparently been calling to my grandpa, but he couldn't hear her. He really did think she was asleep, and I don't know that he would have known what to do when she called lifeline (he has Parkinsons, and was quite confused when Lifeline called). I visited with Grandma and Grandpa, they watched Evie toddle around and play, and she wanted to be close to Grandma for most of the visit. She asked me how our trip to Disneyland was, and commented on how precious Evie is. I brought a camera, but it just didn't feel like the right time to take photos. As I was leaving, I knew it would probably be the last time I would see my Grandma in this life. We hugged, I held her hand, and looked into her eyes. We said I love you. She expressed her love for our whole family, and her desire for us all to be happy. She mentioned that she thought that I arrived when I did for a reason, and I said something like "God was watching over us." She said that she knew he was always with her. And I think he was, especially these last few days.

She had her first dose of morphine on Monday right before I left. It calmed her significantly, and helped her to rest peacefully until she passed away this morning. I think I was able to visit her in some of her last few lucid hours, and I feel so thankful for that. She died peacefully, in her home, surrounded by family, my grandpa holding her hand. I will miss her, but I know this life is not the end. I know she is joining family and friends that have gone before her, anxiously waiting to be reunited with Grandpa. I'm excited for them to have a conversation in heaven where neither one has to talk loudly or say "What?" I am thankful that she is no longer in pain. Most of all, I am thankful for her example of unconditional love. She loved and supported her family through good times and bad, and faced some judgement because of it. But really, family is what is most important, and as I look at my little daughter, I understand completely. and I hope that I can embody that same love and compassion. Matthew 7:9 says, "Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?"

The last thing that has been on my mind this verse from the song "A Day In Spring" by Ralph B.

Tis come the hour when now I must depart.
Oh do you know? Oh do you know it burdens me?
But still a song will live within my heart,
As I recall this day of treasured company.
And as the days go by I'll not forget to sing,
Though seasons change and flowers fade from view.
For when we meet again 'twill be a day in spring,
And I'll stay and sing another song for you,
And I'll stay and sing another song for you.

Thirteen Months

We're one month into year one, and so far it has been so fun.
Evie is so busy, walking all over, opening and emptying cupboards and drawers, exploring the garbage,  and finding every little thing on the floor. She's like human vacuum. 

She is also talking up a storm. She says mama, dada, baby, cheese, me, amen, shoes, go, hot, hat, milk, dog, bye, book, no, yeah, up, out, all done, and eat. She also signs all the time, and we can usually tell what she's saying (drink, water, more, all done, eat, dog, wash hands, please, thank you, stop, banana, cracker, hat, hot, fish, and baby). She surprises us by repeating something we say almost every day.

My favorite new thing that Evie does give hugs. I'll be working in the kitchen, and she just walks up to me and hugs my legs,  or leans her head into me when I'm holding her for a snug and a kiss. It is heart melting.

She absolutely adores Baby Signing Time, and asks for it quite often. When I turn it on, she laughs and smiles, claps and signs along. It is seriously cute. 

I'm still nursing her, but she's down to one nap per day (has been for just more than a week). We're also working on not nursing to sleep. I try to put her down drowsy but awake, then I sing to her for a bit and sit by her crib until she falls asleep. It is going really well, and she's transformed from being ornery at night to being really sweet.

Evelyn is more fun by the moment. I feel so lucky that I get to be her mom, and see her learn and discover every day.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nielsen's Take Anaheim Part 1 (or how we survived a 9.5 hour road trip with a one-year-old)

(I wrote this post months ago and never posted it! No idea why, so here it is.)

Yup, we're Those People, the ones who are crazy and take a baby to Disneyland. I'll be writing more about visiting the parks in future posts, this one is about the drive.

Things really couldn't have gone any smoother. We broke the 9.5 hour drive into two days on the way there, which was the perfect length of time for Evie. Here's what I packed that made our drive go oh-so-smoothly:
  • Favorite books with lift-the-flap and tactile features
  • Stacking cups
  • Wooden puzzles, the kind where the shape lifts out like this
  • Shape sorter similar to this one
  • Felt quiet/busy books
  • Magnetic toys and a small magnetic white board or metal cookie sheet (we borrowed some magnetic spinning gears from a cousin)
  • DIY pompom sorting game (cut some holes in the lid of a plastic container and get some pompoms from the dollar store, let your little one poke them into the holes)
  • Matchbox cars
  •  Koosh ball
  • Stacking toy
  • Favorite shows on the iPad, with a handy car mount so the rear-facing passenger can watch (four episodes of Baby Signing Time saved us!)
  • Kids music ready to go on your phone with Spotify Premium (we like Disney's Greatest and Dan Zanes best)
  • An app or two your little one likes (Evie likes Baby Phone)
  • Snacks, snacks, and more snacks! Here's our list: Goldfish crackers, Teddy Grahams, Fig Newtons, freeze-dried fruit, Pop Chips, baby food squeeze pouches, and plenty of water in a straw-cup
 We tried to find places for Evie to walk around and play at every pit stop. The options in Barstow were grim, but we made it work! She got so excited to walk around, she was all smiles and would clap as she toddled. It was adorable.

On the drive home, we got ambitious and decided to do it all in one day. It was a mistake. While she was happy at the halfway mark, by the time we were about 1.5 hours from home, she was just done. She ended up falling asleep in the car when we were about 15 minutes from home, which made our arrival quite traumatic. We made it, it wasn't horrible the whole time, but there were probably 2 hours of badness, which felt like forever. As much as I wanted to be home, next time I'll definitely stick with the two-day journey!

What are your road trip tips?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Baby Turns One

Well, it happened. Evelyn is a one-year-old. Her birthday was on a Tuesday  in December, and we had a party for her with our family on the Sunday before Here's how it went down.

The Decorations: I made a few garlands for her polkadot-themed party. Two were these darling baby face banners (inspiration from here). Each had twelve baby faces, and varying polkadot party hats. I disassembled one of them and sent a baby face as a thank you to each guest. I also made a dot garland that you can see above the cake spread below (I used a circle punch, then just sandwiched two circles around a string with double stick tape). You can also see the pompom #1, cut from a cardboard box and covered with dollar store poms (inspiration here). We got a bag of polkadot ballons from Zurchers, and filled them ourselves at home with a DIY helium tank, and those were the centerpieces (also on the front porch, and behind the high chair with a big #1 balloon).  Last decoration went on the high chair, just some polkadot bunting taped on with a satin ribbon trim.

 I made this tiny baby crown at the last minute (inspiration here). I just freehand cut the points, covered it with shiny paper and cut again, added the tissue trim to match the baby face garland, and a stripe of polkadot washi tape. I glued it onto a felt circle attached to a hair clip.

 Here's the front porch decor. The E is from the nursery, and I just tied the balloons to it.

 Sweets Table: Homemade funfetti cupcakes (I used the King Arther Flour Golden Vanilla Cake recipe, and added 1/2 a bottle of wafer sprinkles) frosted with White Mountain Frosting (like marshmallow cream, and dairy free!). The #1 on top of the cake is encrusted with sprinkles too. I just spread a layer of tacky glue on it and dumped the sprinkles on (inspiration here). The dotty candies (sour balls, snow caps, and jelly bellies) are from the bulk food section at Winco, and I found darling polkadot napkins at Walmart (you can't really see them in  detail in the picture).

 Party Favors: I found three varieties of the dipped animal crackers, and the sprinkles went along perfectly with the theme! The dark chocolate ones are definitely the best.

 The Food: I decided to do snack/finger foods for the party, since we wouldn't have space to seat everyone at a table, and I didn't have much time for food prep on the day of the party. I got several dips (guacamole, salsa, hummus, artichoke dip, ranch dip, cheesey queso) and things to dip (celery, carrots, cucumbers, corn chips, pita), plus a few sides (olives, clementines, grapes, crackers+cream cheese+jalapeno jelly). I also had a hot cocoa bar with candy cane stirring sticks, whipped cream, marshmallows, and chocolate chip gingerbread boys.

The Activity: We took advantage of the Christmas season and decorated graham cracker houses as an activity. It was a hit! I assembled the houses in advance, using royal icing. The cousins got to decorate their own house to take home with as much candy as they liked (which for some was a lot). I think they loved it, and we might make it a birthday tradition. The best candies were: Necco, gumdrops, Sixlets, Christmas candy corn, and licorice rope.

Here's the Birthday Girl enjoying her cake. You can see the bunting on her high chair, the other baby face garland, and the giant #1 balloon. She was seriously diggin' the cake. We had to take it away, or she would have eaten the whole thing! Next baby will probably only get a cupcake. The whole cake was a bit much.


 Happy Birthday Evie! Can't believe you're already one, practically a toddler. I hope you enjoyed that giant cake, and the excitement of having a party with lots of energetic cousins who simply adore you.

say what you wanna say

I've been putting of posting (birthday, Christmas,  etc.) but this can't wait. Evie has had a communication explosion!  She doesn't speak many more words, but she signs like crazy.
She says mama, dada, baby, cheese, yaya (yes), nana (no), pretty, milk, happy,and eat. She tries to say grandma and grandpa.
She signs more please, all done, wash hands, water, hat, eat, thank you, baby, shoes, milk, dog, and bird.
She folds her arms when we start to pray, and is  practically running around the house. She throws balls. She cries when I leave her at gym daycare (a development I'm not thrilled about). She recognizes tunes and starts doing signs or actions, like clapping for If You're Happy And You Know It,  or signing to Baby Signing Time.songs. She has little gibberish she says along to the alphabet song, or counting, or just when looking at a book.
It is amazing the sudden changes that have happened since this little girl turned one. We think she's pretty smart.

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