Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April Was Family Month

Flung far south in Dallas, Texas, we don’t get a lot of opportunity to see extended family in the north. Our last Pennsylvania trip to see our son Jon, his wife Leanne and their children Hannah and Isaac was September 2010. Our last Midwest trip to see Candy’s Dad in Minneapolis, my Mom in Batavia, Illinois and our son David, his wife Rachel and their children Sam and Elizabeth was June 2011. What a treat to connect (well almost) all of these dots in April 2012.

We concentrated some important extended family interaction in just two weeks. Leanne and Jon, Hannah and Isaac came to Dallas April 2. I drove them to the airport early the morning of April 10 and Candy and I headed north that afternoon. Our purpose was to see my Mom as at 92 her health and strength are noticeably declining. As several days of prolonged conversation was just too exhausting for her, we headed to Milwaukee for a couple of days to see David’s family and give Mom a break. They had just returned from a trip even farther north that included a couple of days with Candy’s Dad in Minneapolis. They connected that last dot for us.

For mechanical convenience, I have posted about each part of this journey separately and chronologically. Thus, three posts follow this introduction.
  • Exploring Together with the PA Stolpes
  • In Solidarity with my Sister for our Mom in IL
  • Serendipitous Side Trip to the WI Stolpes

Exploring Together with the PA Stolpes

Hannah (14) and Isaac (turning 12 on May 6) missed a couple of days of school to see us, so we planned some educational events which also served to get us out of the house every day. Young adolescents do not fare well sitting around a cluttered house with 60s something grandparents.

Their family had enjoyed Geocaching (if this word is new to you, go to geocaching.com on the web, of course). They introduced us to this outdoor tech sport which took us exploring around White Rock Lake in the center of Dallas on a beautiful day. This got them their most southerly and westerly finds to add to their record.

 Riding the DART train (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) was part of the adventure of downtown Dallas. With Grandpa on senior citizen fare, the train cost less than parking for the two cars we would have needed. We started at the John F. Kennedy sites and memorial but also saw some of the earlier history of Dallas and Rosa Parks Plaza. I think all agreed that the highlight was the visit to ThanksGiving Square. I had served for a few years on their Interfaith Council, which happened to meet that day, so our children and grandchildren got to meet some of these interesting people. Lying on the floor of the chapel to look at the stained glass spiral ceiling windows was a bigger hit.

We ate lunch at the Pei Wei Asian Diner where Uncle Erik is the Assistant Manager so they could see him at work. We played a couple of rounds of croquet in memory of my Dad. Hannah and Isaac wanted to dye Easter eggs for me to hide so they could hunt. I must not have lost my touch as a 14 and 12 year old had to search pretty hard to get the last half, and I had to show them where the last one was hidden. Perhaps a form of entertainment more than altruism, Hannah and Isaac washed the Blazer.

Of course, we enjoyed showing off our grandchildren (Leanne and Jon too) to the people of First Christian Church of Duncanville. The Maundy Thursday communion (and hand washing rather than foot washing) service was informal enough to allow plenty of conversation. Good Friday Tenebrae was somber and silent, so less social. Easter morning was a delight that included a baptism at the second service.

In Solidarity with my Sister for our Mom in IL

My sister Elaine lives about 15 minutes from the Holmstad Retirement Community in Batavia, Illinois where my Mom is in the Michaelsen Health Center (skilled care). She has been responsible for Mom’s day to day affairs since Dad died five years ago, and she had the power of medical attorney. A degreed nurse, my sister recently left a more administrative job to become the day nursing supervisor for the assisted living unit at Holmstad, which is adjacent to Michaelsen. That means Elaine sees Mom every day. I really appreciate that she has handled this responsibility so well and willingly, and I try to make sure she knows I support her. Her husband Max has had some persistent health concerns the last couple of years and is starting early retirement. Elaine’s proximity to Mom and her nursing profession is a real gift to Mom and to me, though I know at times this gets stressful.

So when Elaine called me the week before Holy Week to ask that Candy and I come up to see Mom, we had to do some juggling so we could come right after Jon’s family left. The people of 1st Christian Church in Duncanville were amazingly generous and encouraging in their support and prayers to facilitate us making this trip on such short notice.

On Thursday morning, April 12 we all participated in Mom’s quarterly care conference with the staff of Michaelsen. This helped give us all a better picture of Mom’s situation and made us even more thankful for the care she has receive there and how positive she feels about that care. We enjoyed visiting most of the rest of that day. On Friday she needed a rest, but we had a wonderful afternoon and evening. Before leaving that night, I read St. Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders from Acts 20, and we talked about the spiritual legacy Mom has left on three generations.

During Mom’s Friday afternoon rest, our niece Helen (Elaine’s youngest daughter) came down from Madison, WI. She and I had a nice chat while Mom slept. Helen was also with us for Friday dinner (as was our brother-in-law Max) and for our prayer together at the end of the day.

In keeping with Mom’s level of strength, Candy and I had brief visits with her on Saturday morning before driving to Milwaukee to see David’s family and on Monday early afternoon as we began our return journey to Texas.

Serendipitous Side Trip to the WI Stolpes

Rachel and David had invited us to come up to Milwaukee for a visit while we were in Illinois, but we did not make a definite decision until we were in Illinois and saw that Mom could handle a few shorter visits better than longer one. This turned out to be an unexpected and happy surprise for our trip.

 Rachel and David, Sam (10) and Elizabeth (5) had just returned home after their own northern trip. First they went to see Candy’s Dad in Minneapolis. This was Great Grandpa Miller’s first chance to meet Elizabeth. He told us by phone how much he enjoyed her lively, friendly personality. He also told us how impressed he was with Sam’s maturity. By having them debrief their visit with Grandpa Miller and talking to him by phone ourselves, we felt we connected the dots with the whole Midwest branch of our family.

Grandpa Kent entertains Elizabeth and Jenna
 They also went to Ashland at the northern tip of Wisconsin to visit friends from their Milwaukee church who have moved up into the north woods and to enjoy climbing around on the many waterfalls of that area.

After visiting with Mom on Saturday morning we headed to the South Shore WMCA in Cudahy, Wisconsin where Sam had a swim meet. He started the opening medley relay with the back stroke and opened up such a lead the other teams had no way to catch up. He swam well in a couple of other events as well.

That evening we all went to Rachel’s parents to celebrate her birthday (which was actually on Sunday, April 15 – tax day). Her Mom made a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting covered with chocolate chips. Get the idea?! The top was surrounded with yellow “Peeps”® (yes you read that right) so it looked like a sunflower. Such fun to watch Elizabeth and her “twin” cousin Jenna (Rachel’s brother Nigel’s daughter)!

At Rachel and David’s we got to see their wonderfully remodeled kitchen, which features the sun painting I did in our first apartment 43 years ago. It fits right in with the d├ęcor. Now that it is much more spacious we enjoyed not only eating there but also playing games together.

Rachel and David are active (and in leadership) with Milwaukee Mennonite Church, and we enjoyed worshipping with them on Sunday afternoon. They meet at 4:00 pm in a Lutheran Church’s building. We’ve come a long way in church unity since the 16th century!