Sunday, June 29, 2008

Paying Our Respects to Uncle Gary Johnson

Kori and I both have ties to central Illinois. Kori’s mother Pam (Puma) lived in Illinois and continued to do so as she attended Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), and she met Bill while they were working together in Illinois. Kori attended IWU, living there (Bloomington-Normal) while school was in session. My mother and her two brothers were raised in Peoria, and my maternal grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all lived in the area and stayed in Illinois until recently. Uncle Ron and Aunt Kathi still live in the Peoria area, while everyone else has scattered. Even my sister’s husband has sisters, nieces, and nephews who live in Mendota, which isn't too far away.

We have made a few trips to Illinois over the last several years for funerals and weddings and to see relatives. In 2004, in the middle of a trip to northern California to see Kori’s youngest sister compete in Junior Miss, we flew out to attend my grandmother’s funeral in Peoria in a whirlwind visit that included an hour with the Johnsons in Bloomington-Normal and a night in Mendota. In May of 2005, we took a longer, more relaxed trip so that Kori could be a bridesmaid in sorority sister Kelly’s wedding, and we took the opportunity to visit the Johnsons and Bloomington-Normal, the IWU campus, and my relatives in Peoria. In June of 2006, we had a short trip to Peoria for my grandfather’s funeral.

This time, we went back for a funeral. Gary Johnson, D.D.S., was “Uncle Gary” to Kori, though not actually an uncle through marriage or birth. As the story goes, Pam was living in Illinois and decided to attend IWU. She and Chris (short for Christine) ended up being sorority house roommates, and became best friends. Thus, Chris became “Aunt Chris”. While in school, she started dating local football hero, frat boy, and dentist’s son, Gary, whom she married. Pam was the Maid of Honor.

Gary and Chris raised 5 children – Marnie, Gary Shaun, Ashleigh, Tyler, and Dylan, and were surrogate parents to Kori while she was attending IWU. Uncle Gary and Aunt Chris made it out to California for both our wedding and Kendra & Steve’s which was less than a year later.

Word came last Monday that Uncle Gary had passed away suddenly and quietly in his sleep. It was unexpected as he was still relatively young. Coincidentally, Pam & Bill had been there for a weekend visit, so they changed their plans to return to California in order to stay in Bloomington-Normal for Aunt Chris and the family. Kori planned out our trip, reserving the flights, hotel, and rental car.

Wednesday morning, Kendra and Steve dropped the three of us off at the Long Beach airport for our flight to Chicago – or rather, they rode with us in our minivan and drove it off, taking Shelby to the vet to be boarded.

The airport is a tiny one by LAX or O’Hare standards, but it does have honest-to-goodness major air carriers. Jet Blue flies out of Long Beach, and we like their cheap rates, leg room, and entertainment, which helps the flight go by faster. Fortunately, we had a non-stop flight. Jet Blue now sells headphones instead of giving them out… but the price is only a dollar and the headphones are standard in that you can use them with your own electronic devices. So, you can bring your own to help you enjoy your choice of XM radio or Direct TV channels. Don’t expect pillows or blankets.

Traveling with a baby or toddler is no fun. Fortunately, Keelie is generally very well behaved (at least, according to what other people tell us), though when she gets bored she snatches our glasses from our face and tugs on our earphones. The biggest hassle is getting through security, because you have to take off your shoes, put everything on the conveyer belt, hold the toddler, break down the stroller/car seat combo, and then they have to examine the stroller separately because it is too big for the scanner. Meanwhile, if one of you is pulled off to the side because you set off the metal detector, that leaves the other person to collect everything, including the stroller, while shoeless and holding a toddler. The stroller/car seat combo gets checked at the gate, which is good because it doesn’t count as a carry-on and it can be used up until boarding.

As it turned out, our flight’s departure was delayed for over an hour as there was weather hold-up in Chicago. We would allow Keelie to walk around the waiting area as we closely followed her, keeping her from most perils.

We had an uneventful flight to Chicago, save a dirty diaper.

From the airport, it was a two-hour-plus drive to the Bloomington-Normal area, with much comfort from the warm sticky weather, thanks to the air conditioning.

The viewing for Uncle Gary had started at 3pm and was still going strong after 8pm, when we arrived. Clearly, Uncle Gary was a very loved, respected, and admired man. He had taken over his father’s dentistry practice, serving an area in which he had lived all of his life, save dental school. Being the guy that he was, father, local boy, football hero, and supporter of local causes, he had made a lot of friends in the area.

We made our way to check in at our hotel from there.

After the services Thursday morning, everyone headed to the Johnson home. With so many people wanting to be there (I did mention that he was loved, respected, and admired), everyone parked in a large nearby parking lot and members of the football team shuttled people to the home, a beautiful place on a private road. Uncle Gary was the “team dentist” for these boys and a huge general supporter, so they were there paying their respects.

The home, inside and outside, was packed. Biaggi's, a local Italian restaurant in which the Johnsons invested, catered with a seemingly endless supply of delicious food. (There are barely 20 Biaggis now – they are taking a slow-growth approach to preserve company control and the quality of the dining experience.)

People traded stories about Gary’s antics and generosity. Slideshows and videos played in different rooms.

We stayed as long as we could, until there were only a handful of people sticking around.

Friday, Kori’s sorority sister Kelly drove down with her 5 week old baby boy Jonathan to meet us at our hotel and join us for lunch at Steak & Shake. Steak & Shake is a must whenever we are in an area that actually has them. Cracker Barrel usually is, too, but we just didn’t have time for it this trip. Steak & Shake originated in Bloomington-Normal.

Later, we dropped in to see the Johnsons again for a little while.

Saturday, we were able to drop in on the Johnsons again, bringing Gondolas from Avanti’s and getting our fix of that other local must-do food place. Kori needed their pizza bread. She probably would have kneaded it, too, if they would have let her. We couldn’t stay at the Johnson’s long, though, because we had to make it back to Chicago for our flight.

As it turned out, the weather delayed our flight again. As we were waiting at the gate, it even hailed. The weather had been so good for the whole drive in, but it didn’t hold up. Our plane wasn’t able to land, and with fuel running low, they pulled up and went to Peoria, which I’m sure was probably the destination for some of the passengers to begin with. It took a while for the refueled airplane to get clearance from Chicago to take off from Peoria to fly to Chicago, thus our flight was delayed for something like 3 hours. (Jet Blue handed out water and comped drinks and the in-flight movies and headsets to make up for it.)

While waiting at the gate, and in between following Keelie on her toddler adventures, we talked with a couple next to us and found out that the gentleman also works for Los Angeles County and had worked under my father, and that they were in law school together. They were great in helping to pass the time and in keeping Keelie entertained.

Keelie fell asleep as we stood in line waiting to board, but she awoke not long after we sat down – quite a short nap for a very tired girl.

The plane touched down in Long Beach after 11pm, and after the curfew for the airport – they had to ask for permission to do so. Kendra and Steve were kind enough to greet us with our minivan.

It was nice to see the Johnsons again, although we were sad that it was to say goodbye to Uncle Gary. They were so sweet and gracious and Keelie was happy to meet them. They told us how munch Uncle Gary loved us, and we hope they could tell it was mutual. There was no need to swing by Peoria – Uncle Ron and Aunt Kathi are the only close family members left there, and they were out here in California during our time in Illinois. Go figure! (Okay, technically cousin Jeff and Anna are still in the Peoria area, but they're getting ready to move and so we let them be.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Grad, Dads, and a Birthday!

So hard to believe it has been over a year since Keelie emerged into the world!

Keelie is doing well as far as height, weight, head size, and developmentally. She got her latest round of shots and was really upset about it but was fine after a couple of minutes.

We tried to surprise my father with dinner out the Friday before Father’s Day. All of us – Kathleen, my dad, Kori, Keelie, and I - hadn’t been together since Easter Sunday.

In this picture, you can see Keelie’s technique of getting everything from the bottle without using her hands, which she likes having free to pick up things and to point.

These days, if you pick her up, you are almost guaranteed to get her to point to something and say, “Muh!”

Here she is having a good time sitting next to Grampa. Notice the bottle.

For Granddaddy, Kori’s family - all of us but Toby and Kirby, who couldn't make it - got together at Marie Calendar’s on Father’s Day.

Keelie has become obsessed with patty-cake, and will grab your hands or wrists, no matter where they are, so she can get you to perform for her. Like so...

Shelby and Keelie are interacting more, with Shelby being more willing to allow Keelie to put her hands on her. But it sure looks like she’s tired.

My nephew Blaine graduated from SPHS, my high school alma mater, and the ladies and I joined my entire family at the graduation ceremony. At an SPHS function, you’re just as likely to recognize a face because of their appearance in film or on television as you are because of family resemblances. “Do I know you? Or do I just know your work?”

As always, the grads are reunited with their friends and family on the baseball field after the ceremony.

Here they are all together – Mike, Blaine, Kim, and Macon. In the background, you can catch a glimpse of the high school’s pool, where I spent much of my childhood and adolescence engaging in recreational swim, swimming lessons, swimming practice, races, and community service. And sunbathing. Ah yes… soaking up the deadly rays of the sun and going through puberty in a Speedo.

We did go swimming after the festivities… but that was back at Nanny’s condo complex. Here you can see Keelie in a rocking chair at Nanny’s that is a family heirloom. My mother was counting up the generations that had sat in that chair as of Keelie’s use… I think it was six.

Keelie’s birthday was celebrated over at Puma & Granddaddy’s. Here’s Keelie about the moment she reached a full year.

Keelie and I enjoyed the pool. I have been taking her “swimming” at our condo, too.

After dinner but before presents, Keelie got to enjoy a cake, albeit with everyone standing around - two big, flashing cameras, and a video camera pointed at her.

She probably expected me to take the cake away and clean her hands and face. She seemed a little hesitant.

She did manage to get into it enough to make a little mess. Such a cutie.

Thanks for stopping by! Please let us know how you are doing. You can leave a comment for us here or e-mail us at KEPellman [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Services Today For Lynn Casani

Today in my home town of South Pasadena, there will be services for Mrs. Lynn Casani. The obituary in the Los Angeles Times is here.

She was quite a woman, one who was surrounded by boys! Very active boys! Poor woman never had a daughter of her own, but she played "mom" to so many, I'm sure she has plenty of "daughters" out there in addition to her daughters-in-law.

When Kori and I first tested and found out Keelie was on the way, we drove around town to tell our family. We went to visit someone on the hospital to tell her, and there was Mrs. Casani, visiting our family member. It seemed perfectly natural for Mrs. Casani to be among the first to find out our news. She reacted as though we were making her a happy grandmother, though she had already been through this with grandchildren of her own.

Her hospitality was legendary, especially on December 31-January 1, as her home was located in the perfect spot to enjoy some of the annual festivities in Pasadena.

There was a time during my youth during which her sons were like cousins to me. One of them was my age, so that worked out well, especially when you added in my second cousin Shannon (may he rest in peace), who was also our age and was my best friend.

Mrs. Casani will be missed by many.

I'd like to note the following from the obituary:

In lieu of flowers the family would like to establish a scholarship fund at Loyola High School. If you care to contribute, please make a check payable to the Lynn Casani Scholarship Fund, and mail to: Loyola High School 1901 Venice Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90006

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Heading For Her First Birthday

It's hard to believe it has almost been a year since Keelie was born. This time last year, Kori was uncomfortable and asking Keelie to "come out!" Keelie was content to stay in and rest her foot on her Mommie's liver.

She's too cool for the room.

Since our last update, we’ve been over to Puma & Granddaddy’s a couple of times, and both times we took Keelie to the park. She hadn’t been introduced to grass before, and so the first time, she wanted no part of it. She felt better about it the second time.

Here she is below with her Daddy and her Uncle Steve.

I had to entice her off of the blanket.

Ah, the daydreams of Daddy and Keelie...

I like this shot below, with Granddaddy watching Keelie in the background.

And below is Puma enjoying her granddaughter.

We also took a trip to Pasadena to celebrate Binky’s birthday, where Keelie spent some time in the smimming pool. I found it to be a little cold, but she didn’t seem to mind.

Here she is with her cousins, Blaine and Macon, who are almost all grown up. How did that happen? There's a 15-year gap between when Macon was born and when Keelie was born. Auntie Kim and Uncle Mike are almost empty nesters!

Here's Keelie with her Aunt Binky.

Keelie has developed a preference for Daddy, since she really hasn’t been away from Mommie at all lately, while Daddy will be gone for various amounts of time on any given day. She is very happy on the days when I’m home as she wakes up, and when we need to get her back to sleep, she’ll calm down more quickly and will stay asleep longer if I’m the one rocking her to sleep. Also, when she hears me at the front door coming home, she will make her way there with a big smile on her face. Not sure how long this will last, but I'll enjoy it as long as she does it.

This has not lessened her attachment to Mommie in the slightest. In fact, when I will be watching Keelie and Mommie is in the other room, Keelie will often go to to the gate and cry in protest for her Mommie.

Here she is asleep on her Daddy's ample gut.

The other day, she wanted to follow her Daddy outside as I was going to run errands. She got between me and the screen door. So, Kori came over to get her, but every time Kori would reach for her, Keelie would sit down by the screen door. As I would open the screen door, she would stand up again and press against it like she was going to leave with me. She'd sit down again when Kori would bend down to pick her up. How do they figure these tactics out so early?

Life since our last update has mostly been about the basics. Not too much exciting to write about, although we did meet up with Craig, Kristen, and their kids for a dinner out.

Please keep us up to date on how you are doing. Thanks for stopping by. You can leave a comment here, or you can e-mail us at KEPellman [at] yahoo [dot] com.

One last thing, since you've been so good. Below is a short video. We had to get Keelie on camera reacting to her Mommie eating a Skinny Cow fudge pop. Turns out Keelie likes the taste, and the cold probably feels good on her gums, too.