Sunday, April 23, 2017

Last Dance

April 15, 2017: Teacher Chaperons at BRHS Junior-Senior Prom
From left: Lori (English), Tasha (social studies), Sherri (math), Mary (English),
Brandi (P.E. & freshman university), and Kay (culinary arts).

Last weekend I enjoyed another "last" on the countdown to retirement: My final opportunity to chaperon Prom. While I don't mind the chaperoning duties associated with being a high school teacher, I wouldn't say it's high on my list of favorites. However, I happily volunteer to chaperon Prom every year. It's such a big deal for the kids, and I love seeing the creative Prom decorations and the students so formally dressed and coiffed that I barely recognize them.

Prom came at the end of a very busy Saturday. My day began with doing bills for the second half of April, along with preparing Mark's and my tax forms to be mailed off. Next came two hours of the shopping I'd put off all week, including picking up everything we needed for Easter dinner the following day, all while battling the other hordes of last-minute Easter shoppers in the Walmart aisles, which seem to shrink in width every holiday.

Sarah and her violin in concert on Saturday afternoon.

From 3:00 to 5:00, Mark, Chris, and I went to enjoy Sarah's concert of the White Mountain Symphony Orchestra. Their performance was amazing, as always.

I can't recall the exact Prom theme. Something like "Never forget" or "Always remember."
I have no idea what it was they were supposed to always remember or never forget.
However, the decor was sort of Moroccan, as in "Welcome to the Kasbah."

After the concert, I hurried home to grab a bite of dinner, refresh my makeup, and spend way too much time wrestling with the pantyhose I haven't bothered to wear for a very long time. I confess that I shed some tears (requiring some makeup repair) and said some words I don't allow my students to say, as the hose twisted this way and that, strangling my knees and thighs. Eventually, I got them smoothed out enough to provide some level of comfort, and at 7:15 I was on my way to the Convention Center at Hon-dah Casino on the nearby Apache Reservation, where Prom was held.

Tables await the arrival of Prom dancers needing to rest their weary feet.

Every year, the first thing I do is take pictures of the decorations before the room is filled with all those excited young bodies. Then I check on my assignment, which has always been to monitor the kids in the main Prom area: the dance floor, the tables, the refreshments area, and so on.

Then, while we wait for the kids to make their way through the line and into the ballroom, after having their tickets checked and apparel choices approved, I visit with the other chaperons and admire the beautiful suits and tuxedos and Prom gowns as the students enter.

The photographer had her set all ready for the Prom attendees.

By the final hour of the three-hour Prom (8-11 p.m.), after the crowning of the Prom royalty and other traditional events and music, I'm starting to feel ready to go home. It was especially true this year, knowing the next morning would be Easter and I'd have lots to do before the family gathered for dinner. At least this year I had no Easter baskets to prepare, now that I have an empty nest!

These two girls were first in the door, both from my English classes.
The one on the right graduates next month. And so do I!

I left the Prom feeling a mixture of excitement and nostalgia. Excited to move on to the next phase of my life, and nostalgic about the things I'll miss when they're over. As I left, I walked past our high school principal and said goodnight. He thanked me for chaperoning, and I grinned and said, "Last one!" He pretended to scowl (he asks me every couple of weeks if I won't change my mind about retiring; it seems that teachers who are certified in both special education and secondary English aren't that plentiful) and asked, "Are you sure you don't want to come back for next year's Prom?" I paused and said, "Well...I might if someone calls and invites me..." Now it was his turn to grin. "I'll remember that," he said.

So now we'll wait and see...

Dancers begin trickling out onto the dance floor while the night is still young.

Halfway through the night, the room is packed and growing quite warm.

The refreshments area was another popular place.

Beautiful dresses everywhere.

A little taste of loud Prom music and young people in motion.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter Dinner

Chris, Jake, Dylan, and Sarah enjoy a hand of Uno Dare after dinner.
April 16, 2017

I am falling so far behind on my blogging! Somehow it seems that my final semester of teaching has been more hectic than ever...or maybe I'm just running out of steam, which only confirms my belief that it's time to retire! There just isn't enough energy to meet all of life's demands on my time, and thus my blog has taken a hit. Only six more weeks of school left, though, and then my time will be my own!

So here I am with the tale of our family Easter, 2017, six days behind schedule!

Sarah prepares to enjoy her dinner. By the way, she has lost 40 lbs so far!
She's very motivated by the David Archuleta concert coming in June!

Not that there's much to tell. Dylan, Jake, and Mark had to work that day. Thankfully, Mark got off work by noon so he was home to help with the cooking. He made the mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, as well as slicing the ham. Plus Sarah and Chris came over around 4:00, meaning they were able to help in the preparation, too. Sarah was my right-hand gal, making the green bean casserole and preparing the corn and dinner rolls. All I had to do was get the ham in the oven and put the chocolate cream pie in the fridge to thaw. Oh, and wash up the meal-prep dishes!

Chris, Jake, and Dylan have their meal at the kitchen table.

Once the food was ready, I asked the kids if they wanted to dine formally or casually. After a few minutes of, "I don't care, whatever you want" and "It doesn't matter to me, what do you want to do?" it was finally agreed to eat casually. Dylan, Jake, and Chris sat at the kitchen table together while Sarah, Mark, and I took TV trays into the living room. We even used plastic cups rather than glass, in order to cut down on dishes to be washed. In the past, I've never used paper or plastic dinnerware for holidays!

It isn't a real meal until Dylan shares a view of his chewed food.

I think my family was trying to make it easy on me, rather than pulling out the table from the wall and bringing in the card table and extra chairs and all. It had been a very busy weekend, with lots of shopping on Saturday, followed by Sarah's orchestra concert and then the high school Prom that night. After Prom, I hadn't gotten to bed until about 1:00 a.m. but then I still had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to drive Mark to work. I was pretty tired by Sunday afternoon, so I appreciated having less work and less clean-up.

I guess in the end, formal or casual doesn't really matter, as long as we can be together and enjoy building the memories that bind us together as a family. And I do love my family!

All the ingredients for Easter dinner. That ham was amazing!

As you can see, our menu was basically the same as it is every Easter:

Baked Ham
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Pork Stuffing
Green Bean Casserole (low-carb version, better than original!)
Buttered Corn
Dinner Rolls
Chocolate Satin Pie

Plenty of food for just six of us! My usual brand of ham was sold out by the time I went shopping, so I tried this little 6.5-lb hickory-smoked Kentucky Legend ham instead, and I loved it! That's the one I'll be looking for from now on. Mark really liked it, too, which made me happy since he's been asking for ham ever since Christmas. What can I say, we had a free turkey in the freezer at the time...

My dinner plate with everything but the stuffing (don't care for the stuff).
And I prefer butter on my mashed potatoes rather than gravy...
I was so stuffed, I wasn't even able to take seconds!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Last Mock Crash

Cars totaled in drunk-driving collisions are parked in front of the high school
as a reminder to make wise choices on Prom weekend.

The end of the school year is fast approaching. Seven weeks more and then summer will be here. Twenty-seven days of school remain, and then my teaching career will have reached its end. Knowing this, I find my perspective has shifted somewhat. I've been viewing so many things through the lens of "I may never experience this again."

One of those "lasts" will be tonight's Prom. I have chaperoned Prom for more than the past ten years. I love seeing the kids in their finery and the hard work that goes into decorating the venue to match the annual theme. I was there for Sarah's Prom during her senior year (2008) and for all three of Jacob's Proms (2008, 2009, 2010) and for Dylan's Prom (2015). You can bet I'll have my camera in hand for tonight's event, the last for me.

The whole student body fills three bleachers in the parking lot.
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Another major high school event, which happens in conjunction with Prom every three to four years, is the "Mock Crash." It's been about three years since the last Mock Crash was presented. The one before that was in 2010, when my older son Jacob was president of SADD Club (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and he put together the entire event almost single-handedly. Let me just say, he did an awesome job and it was very well-received by his fellow students. I was so proud.

So this year was a Mock Crash year again. What is a mock crash, you ask? A day or two before Prom, the first-responder heroes of our community work with SADD Club to plan and present a program that reminds our future Prom attendees and other youth of the very real consequences of choosing to drink and drive. It is a shockingly intense experience that makes a lasting point.

Firemen and paramedics race to free and then revive the "victims."

This year, the event began in the gym, where first-responders shared statistics and their own experiences with the injuries and loss of life that too often occur with driving under the influence. After a thirty-minute presentation, the student body of about 800 students was ushered to bleachers set up in one of the parking lots, overlooking a vehicle that had actually been wrecked in a drunk-driving incident. Inside are student volunteers posing as the victims of the crash.

A life-flight helicopter comes over the trees and lands nearby.

While students and staff look upon this gory tableau, the keening of emergency vehicles is heard in the distance, growing louder and louder as they draw nearer and then burst onto the scene. Police cruisers, firetrucks, and paramedics reach the scene and rush to the aid of the kids in the vehicle, working to free them from the wreck and treat or revive the injured. Police officers take statements from survivors and witnesses, who are visibly shaken.

The helicopter kicks up dust as it lands on campus.

One student is so badly "injured" that she must be airlifted to a hospital. Her parents arrive on scene just as she is being rushed on a gurney to a helicopter that has landed nearby. The mother sobs as they lean over her and give her a quick kiss before she's loaded into the helicopter and borne away.

The badly "injured student is loaded into the life-flight helicopter.

Another "victim" of the crash does not survive her injuries. Her mother arrives just as they've placed her on a gurney and covered her with a white sheet. (During Jacob's Mock Crash in 2010, the "deceased victim"--who was the daughter of one of our teachers--was actually zipped into a body bag. Now that was an intensely emotional moment...) The woman who portrayed the mother this year was the actual mother of the girl who played the deceased teen, and she was amazing. Her wracking sobs and hysterical pleading of "I want to see her" were so convincing that it really struck a chord, and there were few dry eyes in the place. I had to keep wiping away my own tears, sliding down the grit left on my face during the copter's landing. Meanwhile, an officer physically held up the distraught mother while her daughter was placed in the back of a hearse and driven away.

Yes, we all knew it wasn't real. These students will surely be back in school on Monday, sharing memories of the fun they had at Prom and happily anticipating the delivery of their Prom pictures. Still, the Mock Crash is a sobering reminder of what one bad decision can do, of the heart-wrenching pain it can bring to real families and real communities. Thanks to SADD Club and our first-responders for bringing Mock Crash to life.

A life-flight helicopter carries the badly "injured victim" away to the hospital while her parents watch.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Fifteen Years Ago Today

1954: Jane Butler (Hazel Jane Haley Butler) at age 17, already a young wife and mother.

When I was looking at the calendar a few days ago, it suddenly hit me that the fifteenth anniversary of my mother's death at the too-young age of 64 was almost upon us. And now it's here. Fifteen years ago today she left us. Ironically, she passed away on what would have been her own mother's 96th birthday, April 7th. I imagine their reunion beyond the veil was a joyous occasion.

The headstone my dad chose for Mom has weathered the time well.

As it happened, my youngest brother, Darryl, and his wife, Tamera, came for a short visit while I was still on Spring Break three weeks ago. During their visit, we went to visit Mom's grave site, along with Darryl's  two daughters (and my nieces), Brittany and Savannah. Even though I live only 7-8 miles from the cemetery, I hadn't been there in years. We found her headstone already festooned with bouquets, so she has not been neglected. I know Savannah visits her grave often.

My offering. Mom's favorite color was the same as mine: blue.

It's hard to believe fifteen years have already passed, that it's been that long since the last time I was able to talk to her. The truth is that, although my mom was a practically perfect mother to my four younger siblings, she and I had some serious issues that started when I was twelve and lasted until perhaps the last five years of her life, when I was married with children of my own. We made a peace of sorts, though we never really recaptured what was lost over the years. In some ways that made it more difficult to lose her, the final death-knell for any hope of reclaiming the closeness we should have shared, at least in this life. I've often thought that we'd have been good friends if we hadn't been mother and daughter, because we were so much alike. Nonetheless, despite the issues we had, I find sometimes that I still miss our long conversations. She was the queen of common sense and inspired wisdom.

She loved being a mother, and the back of the headstone honors that fact
with a family photo and all six of her children listed by name in birth order.

I'm 62 now, just two years shy of the age at which my mother moved on to Paradise. I have no idea how much longer I'll be around. My kids tell me I'm not allowed to die until I'm about a hundred years old. (I tell them not to wish that burden upon me!) I'm hoping for maybe twenty more years, enough time to perhaps enjoy some grandchildren someday and to realize my dream of becoming a published author. I'm relatively healthy, so it could happen. 

But sometimes I also wonder what it will be like when my time comes to cross the veil, and what kind of reunions I'll experience. Will my mom be one of the first in line? I'd like to think so. At any rate, I'm sure she knows she's loved and missed by the children and grandchildren she left behind. How grateful I am that families are forever.

We all commented on how well this porcelain portrait has withstood the ravages of time.
Mom, Dad, and me in the back; Darryl, LeRoy, Karla, and Jeff in front.
June 1, 1968 at the Oakland Temple in California.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

All My Valentines

The Yummies of Valentine's Day 2017!

I meant to post this a little closer to, you know, Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, the card reader on my computer decided to stop working when I tried to download these pictures from my memory card. Dylan and Jake came over and spent a couple of hours trying to figure out the problem, but no luck. According to my computer, no card reader even exists in my desktop's little world!

So Dylan and Jake joined us for dinner after they declared my "ancient" computer hopeless (I think I bought it almost eight years ago, which is about eighty in computer years), and today I reverted to downloading my photos using a cable direct from the camera to the hard drive, like in the olden days. 

Anyway, Valentine's Day was, thankfully, a low-tech and low-stress event around our house. All the kids came for Sunday dinner and exchanged goodies. Mark bought cute sucker "bouquets" for each of the kids, and even sent one to Jacob when he was in the Phoenix area last week to see his friend Sean, who'd recently had his first baby. Or, rather, Sean's wife did. Dylan and Jake got to take time off to spend three days with Jacob at our Phoenix resort, but I couldn't get away from my responsibilities. It was so sad to have Jacob just three hours away and not get to see him!

As for me, I got each of the kids a small box of candies, as I do every year, and each of the kids got a small box of candies for Mark and me. The two smaller boxes in the top photo were the ones Sarah and Dylan gave me. I thought it was sweet that they both chose roses. I gave Mark the big heart box of Hershey's "Pot of Gold" candies, and he gave me the cute little teddy bear.

There's something about that greasy Chinese food...

The actual Valentine's Day fell on a Tuesday this year, of course, so I went off to work while Mark spent the day at home, what with Tuesday and Wednesday being his days off and all. He sent me a very sweet text at school to wish me a happy Valentine's Day. After I got home, we went to dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, China Wok, and left an hour later feeling uncomfortably stuffed, as always. It is so yummy!

No, there were no fireworks and there's no great romance, but my life is nonetheless richly blessed. I feel so privileged to spend my life with people who love me and treat me like I matter to them. My sweet children are the light of my world, always there for me when I need them, and even Mark blesses us with his patience, kindness, quirky sense of humor, and upbeat attitude. And those are the things that speak love to our hearts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The House

The House, a "burger joint" located in Show Low.
January 31, 2017

Last night Mark and I decided to check out a restaurant we'd never tried before, based on recommendations from friends and family. The House is located next to the KFC in Show Low and features a small menu of "burger joint" foods which center mostly around, not surprisingly, burgers and sandwiches. 

Most of the burgers offered were quite creative, featuring interesting ingredients and combinations (such as the Margarita Burger). Mark, however, wanted a plain old-fashioned burger, so he ordered the Burger Barn with pepper-jack cheese. As for me, I got the Chicken of Clubs sandwich which was, interestingly enough, served on a burger bun. It was quite good, rather spicy, with a large chicken fillet, pepper jack, avocado, spinach, tomato, and red pepper aioli. 

All burgers and sandwiches at The House come with a large side of their home-cut and home-fried potato chips. I loved them. They reminded me of my beloved original Lays chips, which I crave often. Mark liked them, too, but he's more of a french fry kind of guy, so he would have like to have the option to order fries instead.

I apologize that I forgot to get pictures of our meals, which were served in cute little folded brown boxes with a long pickle spear. By the time I remembered, we were down to not much more than crumbs.

Next-door is the Red Barn Creamery, owned by the same family.

Right next-door to the restaurant is a little ice cream shop called Red Barn Creamery, and we headed there for dessert. Owned by the same family, this shop also offered an unusual array of flavors, such as a bacon and pinon nut ice cream, which they mix and freeze by hand themselves. Mark tried a sample and said it was pretty good, yet he still chose the more traditional flavors for his bowl. I wasn't brave enough to try the bacon but I did try a couple of others. I've never liked my sweet and savory flavors mixed. French fries dipped in a chocolate shake make me shudder! Fruit mixed with cottage cheese makes me gag (but I like tomatoes with cottage cheese). Even barbecue sauce is too sweet to go on meats, in my opinion.

I did remember to take this shot of our ice cream,
although Mark was pretty well into his bowl by this time.

We both ended up with the same two flavors: strawberry cheesecake and cookies-and-cream. Except Mark wanted his cookies-and-cream on the bottom and I wanted my strawberry cheesecake on the bottom. The last few bites absolutely must be your favorite!

We felt the ice cream prices weren't too bad. The large bowl was $5, the medium was $4, and the small was only $2.50. We chose the medium because we were pretty full right after eating dinner, even though the large size was clearly the better deal.

Cute displays in Red Barn Creamery.

We both felt that the food was quite tasty, so we would recommend checking out The House, if you haven't already. Just don't expect a huge menu with tons of selections, and don't expect it to come cheaply because it's "just a burger joint." Our meal of burger-with-chips and sandwich-with-chips and one very small soda in a plastic cup (I usually just have water when we eat out) came to $24, not including a tip. Even so, I'm already thinking there are a few more sandwiches on their menu that I'd like to try out someday! 

And a display of old ice cream scoops.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter White

The pond near our house is nearly frozen over.
January 21, 2017

Three storms passed through California and into Arizona this weekend. The first left us with only a few inches of snow during the night on Thursday, although our district cancelled school for Friday. I'm not sure it was enough to be worth wasting a snow day for, although they were concerned about icy roads.

The second hit us here in the White Mountains on Friday night and lasted until Saturday evening. In the end, it dropped more than eighteen inches of snow, and even more for those at higher elevations. During the storm, visibility was often severely limited due to heavy, blowing snow, and the roads were slick with slush. Everywhere I drove, there were vehicles stuck in snow banks, having either slid into them or foolishly attempted to drive into the parking lots of businesses that hadn't been plowed yet.

Not too far south of us, just past where my son-in-law Jake works at WorldMark Pinetop Resort (probably close to 1,000 feet higher elevation than my house), the highway was closed due to the heavy, slick snow, preventing skiers and snowboarders from making the drive to Sunrise Ski Resort on Fort Apache Reservation. One of Jake's guests who attempted the drive told him how she saw nearly a dozen rolled-over vehicles on the side of the road.

Icicles hang from my side view mirror at Jake's place of employment.

Obviously, yesterday was the kind of day to stay inside, warm and toasty, to enjoy some hot cocoa, a good book, and watching the snow fall on the other side of the window. My day was not quite so picturesque, though. As always, I had to drive Mark to work before 6:00 a.m. At that time, the snow plows had just started on the shopping center's parking lot, so I was able to pull in, but Mark had to hike about half a block across the parking lot to Denny's.

Two hours later, I left the house again to pick up Dylan and Jake, who couldn't get either of their cars out of the deep snow. Two hours after dropping them off at their jobs--Dylan's three miles north to Walmart and Jake's uphill about eight miles south to the resort--Mark called to tell me he was already done for the day. Apparently not very many people wanted a Grand Slam breakfast badly enough to risk the roads. 

Then, a little more than three hours after bringing Mark home, we headed back to the resort to pick up Jake, and then the three of us drove back down the mountainside to Walmart and spent an hour shopping while we waited for Dylan to get off work. After we dropped the guys off at their apartment, finally, we were able to kick off our boots and spend the rest of the day at home.

Driving back into our neighborhood.

I don't really mind driving in this weather when it's necessary, although it can be nerve-wracking and stressful. You never know what other drivers may do; there's always someone driving far too fast or following too closely for the circumstances. Thankfully, my new Traverse has proven itself more than able to handle the deep snow and ice. It gets great traction and I never had a single moment in which I was nervous about getting stuck or sliding off the road, not even on our own unplowed dirt road. The car pushed right through, without a hint of futilely spinning tires.

Looking south down our road. The green trash can on the right is ours.

No, my most harrowing moment came when I walked into my own house. After dropping the guys off at their jobs, I drove back home, kicked the snow off my boots before mounting the steps to the porch, and then scraped the packed ice off the soles before walking in the front door. My efforts proved to be fruitless. The instant my left boot hit the smooth kitchen floor, it slid out from under me, and when I tried to balance on my right boot, it slid in the opposite direction. I went down hard on my left knee and landed with my right knee twisted away from me.

I sat there and cried for a few minutes, afraid to move. It had been a year and six days since the surgery on my right knee. And my left knee has something floating around in it that was causing clicking, pain, and swelling a few months ago. It finally started to improve just a month ago, so it looked like maybe surgery wouldn't be necessary. Now I was terrified of the damage I might have done to either or both knees.

So I scooted into the living room where I could pull myself up using the couch. I was relieved to find that the pain wasn't too bad and I could walk okay. As the day wore on and I had to keep wading out to my car through the deep snow, I began to feel the effects more. The area of my pelvis ached from having been jerked in two directions, and both knees were sore. The right knee recovered quickly, which was awesome. The left began clicking again, accompanied by a sharp pain right below where I'd landed, but it was bearable. 

The good news is that neither knee ever swelled and today the pain is better. Just a light-blue bruise and a slight pain when I bend the left knee to remind me to be more careful, but hardly even a limp. So it's all good!

Looking toward my backyard and outbuildings from the driveway.

Looking toward my house from the road.

Today, it's chilly out (in the 20s) but the sun is shining.
January 22, 2017

Now there is just one more storm coming our way. It is supposed to hit us either tonight or tomorrow morning, mostly rain to start with. Rain can help melt down some of the snow, but it also turns to ice when the sun goes down, so not really a good thing. Then throughout Monday they're saying another six to ten inches of snow. Hmmm... I wonder if we'll be in school any time before Wednesday!

The sun makes the snow glitter like a greeting card.
I wish I could capture it on film somehow!

Meanwhile, the sunshine is welcome. I love the snow, but I also love the fact that we get sunshine and warmth between storms, unlike many other states who live with deep snow, slick ice, and bitter cold throughout most of the winter. We have the best of both worlds.

The critters start coming back out, like this little squirrel in our yard.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 Revisited

Minutes of the School Board meeting addressing my retirement!

I'm never really sad to see the end of one year and the start of a new, because there's always so much promise in a fresh beginning. Yet it can also be fun to look back and revisit the joys and accomplishments of a year well spent.

My first act of 2016 actually set the stage for one of the greatly anticipated promises of 2017. Early in January, I submitted all the required paperwork to retire at the end of the 2016-17 school year. And now, here I stand just 22 weeks away from retirement! And that includes two weeks off for Spring Break!

January 15: Laparoscopic photos from my knee surgery.

Not long after applying for retirement, I went in for knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my right knee. It had been causing me pain and some serious hobbling since the first week of September 2015, so I was anxious to have it taken care of. The surgery went well and my doctor gave me the good news that my joints are actually in great shape, with no signs of arthritis or serious wear. However, the recovery was much slower than I'd hoped for. It took most of 2016 to reach a point where I could walk without much of a limp. Heading into 2017, though, it really is much better.

February 4: Mary buys a "new" 2009 Chevy Traverse.

Three weeks after the surgery, I decided it was time to buy a new car. With retirement and so much traveling in my future, I wanted something with more room and more power. My dream SUV was a Chevy Traverse and, as luck would have it, someone had traded in a 2009 model (exactly in my price range) the day before I went car shopping. I went in tough, talked the price down a couple thousand dollars, and got an amazing interest rate, so I was pretty pleased at how it all turned out. 

Of course, there was that little episode where the power steering reservoir cracked and left me stranded in Mesa on the weekend of my sister's wedding less than two weeks after I purchased the car, which was mega-stressful, but the dealership handled it and paid for everything, so it had a happy ending. And the Traverse truly has been great for traveling so far.

March 25: David Archuleta in concert.

Other than driving to Mesa for Karla and Steve's wedding, our second trip in the new car came at the end of March when we headed to the Valley again. This time it was to enjoy a concert by David Archuleta in Queen Creek on Friday night, and then spend the next day at the annual Renaissance Festival in the desert outside Apache Junction. Jake, who is not an Archuleta fan, did not join us for the concert, but we were all there for the Festival fun. Except for Jacob and Danielle, of course, who live too far away, but I'm glad to say they were able to join us for Karla's wedding in February.

March 26: Mary at the Renaissance Festival, holding her new wand,
wearing her new circlet, with her favorite Drabbit on her shoulder.

May 27: Dylan graduated from high school.

After a little lull in April, May was a very busy month. Dylan finished up four years of high school, traveled to Southern California on the senior trip, and then walked across the stage to receive his diploma from the hands of his waiting mother. It was the last of my three opportunities to enjoy that privilege.

Jacob at top, Dylan in the center, and Sarah at bottom.
Yes, Jacob and Dylan wore the same shirt for their pictures.

And now, thanks to the events of 2016, all my kids' photo walls are complete: the wall of senior photos next to my bed (above) and the wall in the living room featuring each of my children on their 4th birthdays and at their graduations (below).

Sarah, Dylan, and Jacob at age four and age eighteen.

May 29: Dylan, Mary, and Jake on the guys' wedding day.

Just two days following graduation, Dylan got married and moved out (not too far away, thankfully). I'm not sure any mother is ready to have her nest emptied quite so suddenly, but it all worked out. Dylan and Jake had a simple but lovely wedding in my front yard, filled with their closest friends. Even Jacob and Danielle were able to come join us all the way from Utah for the graduation and the wedding. In fact, they made the huge wedding cake that became a striking centerpiece for the "To the Moon and Back/Star Wars"-themed celebration.

Danielle and Jacob with the wedding cake they created for
Dylan and Jake's wedding.

June 21: Cars lined up to leave town during the Cedar Fire.

Mere weeks after all the fuss of graduation and wedding, our area was struck by the Cedar Fire, located just a few miles due west from our home. And the wind was blowing it our direction. We spent weeks under evacuation warning while ash poured down on us like a light snowfall. Many people packed up and left due to breathing issues or just to beat the crowd. The hospital three miles from my house was evacuated. Our usual summer vacationers were warned to stay away. As for myself, I was already fighting a respiratory infection when the fire started, so it made for a stressful episode during a summer I'd so much looked forward to enjoying.

July 12: Mark is ready to check out of Banner Medical Center.

In the midst of the evacuation threat, Mark and I made a two-day trip to Phoenix, where on July 11th he finally had a badly needed ablation to correct his atrial fibrillation, a dangerously irregular heartbeat caused by areas on the heart wall discharging incorrect electrical cues for the heart to contract. The operation appeared to be successful, but less than two weeks later he was back in the emergency room with a pulse of 184 beats per minute! In danger of imminent stroke, the doctors administered an electrical shock to his heart, which they allowed me to witness. Not sure I ever want to do that again, but it worked. So far, his heart is beating correctly and steadily.

July 15: Sarah, Mark, Jacob, Danielle, Jake, and Dylan in front of
Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah.

Just three days after Mark's ablation procedure, we all (except Chris, who stayed behind to work) piled into the Traverse and headed for northern Utah to spend five days with Jacob and Danielle. They came to see us in Midway, where our resort was located, and we had a belated Fathers Day and belated birthdays for Mark and Dylan, since Jacob and Danielle had missed those events with us. Then we explored the rustic little resort town of Midway in Heber Valley. On another day, we all drove over the Wasatch Mountain range (beautiful!) to explore Jacob and Danielle's turf in and around their hometown of Midvale. We saw where they live and work, met their new pets, and enjoyed the places they go to dine out and to have fun. We also spent a day together on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

September 9: Jacob surprised us with a weekend visit.
Jacob, Mark, Mary, Jake, Dylan, Chris, and Sarah.

One very wonderful thing about 2016 was how often we got to see Jacob and Danielle. When they moved to Midvale, Utah, in late September 2015, I figured it would be like they dropped off the face of the earth. But then they were able to join us for my sister's wedding in February, and they came back in May for Dylan's graduation and wedding. Then we went to see them in Utah for five days in July, and of course we were all together again in October for our family vacation in Southern California. We even got a surprise visit from Jacob in September, when he came to attend a friend's wedding. We were so thrilled to see him, but so mad that he didn't bring Danielle with him! I know every year won't bring us together so often, but for our first year living in different states, it was awesome to see them on five different occasions.

Sarah, Chris, Mark, Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, and Jake on Seal Beach Pier.
October 3, 2016

Other than the big holiday season that winds up each year with Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December, our last big event of 2016 was our annual family trip in October. We had such a great time visiting several beaches along the Pacific Coast, doing two days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood, spending almost three hours on a whale watching cruise, dining out at various fun restaurants, and just plain relaxing together at the Anaheim resort between the good times.

2016 was a full year, a good year, and the thing that made it most wonderful was being able to spend so much of it with the people I love most in the whole far-flung galaxy. May 2017 be just as amazing, for both my family and yours!