Double Birthday Celebration

It’s incredible to believe that we are back around to the July birthday celebration for my Uncle Rex and Aunt June. Much has happened in the past year to make today’s party even more precious. Rex and June are the last two surviving members of their original family. Gone are their parents and their four siblings. At ages 83 and 81, I love that they enjoy celebrating together and having the attention and well wishes of the family gathered around them. 


Joining in the festivities today were both of my sisters, Linda and Debbie, my cousin Michael who is Uncle Rex’s son, Aunt Mary…Rex’s wife…and my cousins Denny and Alan, the sons of Aunt June. Everyone contributed food and paper goods, drinks and desserts. Michael and Alan earned high praise for contributing made-from-scratch birthday goodies…making blueberry pies and wacky cake with chocolate buttercream icing, respectively. 


I enjoyed an afternoon of visiting with my older family members, and chatting with my sisters and cousins. Uncle Rex and Aunt June were so cute together as they blew out candles on their birthday cake. While they ate a hearty and savory lunch, they were excited to sample the cake, pie and ice cream. I caught Uncle Rex having a second helping of cake. 


Watching their antics, and listening to their humorous stories, I realized that this brother and sister have reached the age where their inner children are more apparent. I’m writing with heart-aching transparency as I share that Uncle Rex, Aunt Mary and Aunt June are all experiencing memory loss. That was very evident today as they repeated stories and forgot what they were talking about or wondered about something that had just been discussed. 

What was also evident was how in the moment they were, how full of laughter and love and joy, and how easily they dipped into sorrow occasionally as they remembered those who are now gone. My family is amazingly supportive and offered only love and patience and acceptance to these dear elders. No one stopped a story that had been told already, several times. To Rex and June and Mary they were fresh tales, everytime. No one corrected information or expected anything other than what we were experiencing…a family celebration, a rejoicing that these sweet people are still here with us. 

Being with my aunt and uncle reminded me that my father, their brother, is no longer with us. I don’t know how many more of these double birthday parties we will get to create, or how many more times we will gather together to laugh and talk and tell stories. As long as they enjoy the festivities, we will continue to meet, for their sakes and ours, and for the love of family. And…for the love of pie and cake! 

Journey 64: Happy Birthday Linda

Lindas birthday

This evening, eight family members joined my sister, Linda, to celebrate her birthday, which actually is today. We are always a lively and talkative bunch where birthdays are concerned, and even more so when the object of our celebration is my sister. Seated around a long table at Cracker Barrel, in Joplin, we laughed and chatted and enjoyed home-style meals. The birthday girl finished our time together with a piece of double chocolate Coca-cola cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Linda passed the cake around so that others could share in the chocolaty goodness.

And that is very typical of my sister, to share what she has, without expectation of getting anything in return. This fun loving, good natured, big hearted woman is one of the most generous people I know. What she has, you can borrow or share it with her. She enjoys a good laugh, and loves to play board games, go on outings, watch movies, and learn about interesting things.

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Her two great passions are her children and grandchildren, and animals, especially dogs. She has long been an advocate for pet health and wellbeing and was the director of an animal shelter in Oklahoma for years. She has not only cared for dogs and cats without homes, tending to them, fostering them, making sure they were adopted by loving, caring families, she has gone on many rescue missions to bring abused or neglected animals to a safe place. One of her dreams is to form a “no-kill” sanctuary in the Joplin area for homeless dogs and cats.

She is Gigi to her grandchildren, three granddaughters and one grandson, and one could not ask for a more fun and loving grandmother. She is playful with her grandkids and loves seeing the world through their bright eyes. My grandchildren and my younger sister’s grandsons call her Gigi as well. We are a big, active, nurturing family, and Linda loves being in the middle of that happy group of souls.

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Being the eldest child in my family, I have journeyed with my sister since her birth. I’m told I really wanted a puppy when she was born, and supposedly slapped her when I met her. I’ve done my best to protect her since, both literally when we were kids growing up in a neighborhood full of children, and emotionally and spiritually as well, as adults. You don’t mess with my sister….or any of my family members.

I had the privilege of selling Linda a house in Joplin a couple of years ago, and I have so enjoyed having my sister nearby. This past year, as I moved beyond by experiencing something new each day, she was often my companion, happily trying new things with me. And so we watched a college basketball game together and sipped wine while we painted a picture downtown. We attended a weather spotting class and also watched a hypnotist at work. We did chalk outlines on the side of a downtown building as part of a living art project that honored a Joplin tornado victim, and tried chemical peels for the first time. If I needed someone to go with me on a first, she never hesitated to volunteer. I also had the joy of being at the finish line as Linda participated in a first of her own, a 5K run.

Linda 5K run

I look forward to our continued journey together. Life isn’t always smooth or perfect, but one thing is true, my sisters and I always have each others’ backs. Cali Rae Turner said, “The best thing about having a sister was that I always had a friend.” I am so glad to call Linda my sister….and my friend. Long may we journey together, even into the twilight years of our lives. A sister is the first friend we make, really, and perhaps the last friend that we have at the end of our journeys. Happy Birthday, Linda…I love you!

RSVPaint class 2

Day 268: Happy Birthday Mom

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The September birthday month continued with a celebration today of the matriarch of the family, my mom. It was a small party…my mom and stepdad, my sister Linda and me, at one of my mom’s favorite restaurants, Golden Corral, located at 2415 S Range Line in Joplin. But we partied big with an all you can eat buffet, wonderful conversation, and an abundance of laughter.

It’s always fun when any members of my family get together. We just know how to make the most of that time, whether we are dining, playing or partying. Birthdays are especially meaningful. It is a time to honor and celebrate the one marking the passage of another year. And for me, a time of reflection on the life of that person.

I am so grateful for my mom! So many of my best traits are a refection of her. She raised my sisters and me to be strong, independent women with “can do” attitudes. My mom is one of the strongest women I know. I’ve watched her throughout my life, more than she realizes.

From the example of her life I’ve learned resourcefulness and how to accomplish much, sometimes with little more than determination and creativity. I’ve learned to go after what I want and to enjoy what I do have, along the way. Mom has owned and operated several businesses, including a video store and a pizza restaurant. My children loved how their Mimi had the biggest selection of movies imaginable when they visited! I learned how much hard work goes into being the boss and how important customer service is. I also learned to make a mean pizza with my mom’s secret recipes!

My desire to travel has to flow from my mom to me. She’s a seasoned traveler, visiting all 50 of the states in the US, and many countries around the world. I have a ways to go to catch up with this adventurous lady! She gardens, sews, creates amazing treasures from ordinary items, makes her own laundry soap. She has a soft heart for abandoned dogs, teaches toddlers in Sunday School, bakes treats when family visits. I participate in Zumba because she encouraged me to join her in class. She understands how to live life to the fullest and I so humbly follow in her footsteps, seeking the same.

Most of her life, my mom has been a teacher, to her daughters and to others, an artist, a writer. She was a storyteller first. We three girls would lie awake in our beds at night, after lights out, and listen as my mom spun fantastic stories that sparked our own imaginations. Her grandchildren received written stories from her when they were small and she lived for a time in Yuma, AZ. Each child received stories, with themselves as the central characters, thinly disguised as other people in other lands and eras. The kids grew up yet Mom kept writing. She’s published numerous stories in well known books, such as the Chicken Soup series, and three children’s chapter books. My desire to create stories, and write, is a gift from her as well.

We laughed over some of our amusing mom stories, over dinner. I won’t share those. There are lots of humorous tales around Mom because she doesn’t mind laughing, especially at herself. Just mention a certain bachelorette party that my mom attended and rather enjoyed and my whole family will dissolve into laughter. She created good memories that evening.

Actually, she’s created good memories all my life, with an energy that can make me tired, and a mother’s love that knows no bounds. I am who I am, because of her, and that deep love. I am thankful, and challenged to keep living large. Happy birthday, Mom. I love you so much!

Day 139: Dayan’s 15th Birthday

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What a fun first for today, celebrating my oldest grandchild as he turned 15. While celebrating birthdays in my family is not new, during this year of firsts, I acknowledge each milestone birthday and the specialness of each of my family members. Dayan’s birthday, which actually is today, is a big one for him as he is now old enough to get his driver’s permit, a first for him and a first for me….a grandson old enough to begin driving.

From the moment of his birth, Dayan Aaris Reynolds has been creating firsts for me: first grandchild, first grandson, first to call me Yaya, first school programs and band concerts and art competitions, and many first opportunities to see the world afresh through a child’s eyes. When he was a small boy, we began a tradition called “The Adventures of Dayan and Yaya” where we created stories together, each of us contributing a few sentences at a time to the story as we took turns narrating it. We’ve been happily creating adventures ever since.

Dayan was a joyful, loving , bright child who was always quick to laugh or dance or sing. He was a friendly boy who never knew a stranger and was gifted with the ability to see the best in people, in all people, and compliment them in the most sincere way. I have learned so much about life from this amazing child, who is now a young man.

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Dayan, age 1, experiencing bubbles for the first time. He’s been laughing ever since.

A few years ago, when he was about 8 years old, the trolley system came to Joplin. Wanting to experience a trolley ride, Dayan and I stood with a group of people outside the Joplin Public Library, waiting for our turn . As we watched for the trolley, a man moved slowly down the sidewalk, in a wheelchair, toward our group. He was a double amputee, missing both legs from the thighs down. The adults all carefully averted our eyes, out of pity or discomfort. I glanced at Dayan. He was watching the man intently. I thought, “Oh Dayan, don’t say anything…” and tried to distract him, fearful he might ask embarrassing questions. As the man stopped near the edge of the group, Dayan stepped toward him, bowed at the waist, and said in a bright, cheerful voice, “Good day, good sir, how are you?” The man’s face lit up. As he and Dayan had an animated conversation the adults looked at each other sheepishly. While we tried to pretend we didn’t see the man, Dayan not only saw him, he engaged him. When the trolley pulled away, that man energetically wheeled away in his chair, waving to Dayan. I learned a huge lesson that day, one of many from this kid, about really seeing people and recognizing their shining souls.

I continue to watch this young man study people and find the perfect words to draw them out or light up their faces. He doesn’t engage in flattery, he engages hearts and encourages others by pointing out what’s true. I once thought he had encountered a person who could not be encouraged. She was frazzled by a day of running the register at a busy store and her words, demeanor and appearance all suggested she had had a bad day. I didn’t think even Dayan could find anything good to say. How shallow of me! He studied her, while I studied him, hoping he would just let this one pass. I had heard her sharp words to the customer in front of us and I didn’t want her to snap at my grandson. Suddenly Dayan said softly to her, “You have beautiful eyes.” She melted….and her eyes, which were indeed beautiful, once I really looked at her, filled with tears. This dear woman transformed before me, chatting easily with Dayan as he loaded our purchases into the cart. As we left, she told me what an amazing boy he was. I agreed.

And I believe that still. I am proud of him for all his accomplishments, in school and beyond. But even more so, I am grateful for Dayan and for his perspective on life and his compassion toward others and his fearless way of speaking up. I am grateful that I am his Yaya. And I am grateful for the way my heart and life have opened and expanded because of him.

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Birthday dinner at Red, Hot & Blue