Well, I’m home from my quick jaunt to Lodi.   It was splendid.   After a couple weeks of scheming and planning, we managed to pull off quite the surprise for my niece, Hannah.  It was her 10th birthday and we wanted to do something extra special for her.  She goes to a private school and she’s one of only 6 girls in her class and has struggled to make friends from the get go.   She is an incredibly sweet little girl, likes to read more than anything else (my kind of gal!), is imaginative and funny and kind and I truly don’t understand why she hasn’t found a bosom friend yet.  But there it is.  And as her birthday approached, her tenth (a big deal – double digits), she was increasingly sad about the prospects for a birthday party.   So when my sister sort of wistfully asked if there was any chance I’d consider flying down for a surprise, I said yes immediately.  You know I like pulling off a good surprise.  And it was a great chance to visit the rest of my fam, too.

I flew in on Saturday night and my parents picked me up from the airport.   I slept at their house that night and in the morning we drove over to my sister’s house for the big surprise.  My mom and I were absolutely giddy with excitement.    We arrived at 9:15am, parked out of sight, and creeped up to the house.  I brought a big bouquet of flowers (picked from my parents yard – thanks, mom and dad!) and held it in front of my face.  When she opened the door, I said “Flower Delivery for Hannah Eby” and waited a couple seconds before lowering the bouquet and revealing myself.  I’ll let the video speak for itself.  (My nieces call me “Aunt Vicky” btw – long story).  It’s more audio than visual but you’ll get the idea.

Once the excitement wore off a little, we wasted no time lavishing Booge (Hannah’s nickname) with all sorts of surprises for her big day.  My dad and brother-in-law left for a day of fishing and the rest of us (me, my mom, my sister, Hannah and her sisters, Emily [8] & Mary [6]) set out for a “day of the ladies.”    Here’s what we did…

  • First stop: Pete’s coffee for Hannah’s first-ever coffee drink.  She picked a vanilla freddo.  It had just the slightest hint of coffee flavor and she relished every drop.  And about 15 minutes later, that caffeine hit her system with gusto, let me tell ya!
  • Second stop: Barnes & Noble, where she got to pick out a new book.  We consulted and discussed many possible options and she finally settled on a “choose-your-own-adventure” book.  Remember those?
  • Third stop: Old Navy, where my mom gave her a shopping ticket good for “one thing for school, one thing for fun, and one thing to wear when you run.”  Hannah recently started running with my sister a few mornings a week and she’s very excited about it.   She asked my mom if she could exchange one of her items and get something for her sisters instead.  How sweet is that?
  • Fourth stop: Lunch at the place of her choosing.  It took all of 2 seconds for her to decide.  Noah’s Bagels.  So we schmeared it up for an hour and then headed back to my sister’s house before the…
  • Fifth stop: After dropping everyone off back at the house, Hannah and I headed out for yet another treat – her first pedicure.     She really poured over all the color options and finally chose a very light pink and asked for one of those flower designs they can paint on your big toes.  She was very excited about it all but also a little nervous.  She hardly spoke while the woman massaged her feet and rubbed her calves.  Just sat wide-eyed and staring.   Later, though, on the way home, she declared “that felt sooo good, Aunt Vicky!”
  • Sixth stop: Back to my parents’ house for the big birthday dinner.  We had all her favorite foods.  Flank steak, artichokes, baked potatoes and french bread.  For dessert, my mom put together a candy buffet complete with cellophane bags for the girls to fill up to their heart’s content.
  • Seventh and final stop: We all put on our PJs and snuggled up for a movie.  Hannah picked the first episode of Little House on the Prairie and we re-watched the part where Pa falls out of the tree about 6 times and laughed uproariously every time.

It was such a good day.  I’m so happy that I went, so glad we were able to pull off the surprise and completely lavish Booge with love and treats and laughter for her birthday.   It’s cool to think that this is one of the first birthdays that she will remember in years to come.   I hope she remembers it with as much fondness as I will.

Now I’m home again, settled back in with the boys and Jason and our routine, and this afternoon I got yet another surprise – this one not so happy as the first.  My mom contracted hepatitis C 33 years ago, when I was born, because she needed a blood transfusion following a profuse hemorrhage.  We had no idea.  It has been dormant in her system until this year, when her routine blood work came back with the news of a possible problem with her liver.  We were initially told that it was likely no big deal but after a trip to the specialist we’ve discovered that it is a big deal.  She has genotype 1 and will have to undergo a year of combination therapy to (hopefully) rid her body of the HCV.    It’s a 50/50 chance of recovery.  And the treatment sounds a lot like chemo, in terms of it’s intensity.  It kills off the virus but kills a whole lot more in the meantime.   And since her stroke 8 years ago, she’s on several other medications that might further complicate her treatment.  I feel pretty shocked.   And pretty downtrodden this afternoon as I take it all in.   I have no idea what this next year will look like for her and for all of us or what the final prognosis will be.   When we were talking about it a couple weeks ago, before we knew the severity of it, my mom told me that she is not afraid of dying.  And in theory, theologically, I guess I’m not either.  But I feel pretty scared right now.  This isn’t the kind of surprise I relish.  And it’s hard to wait – wait for the treatment to start, wait to see how her body responds, how she feels and so forth.  For now, I guess I’m going to try to remember my trip home last weekend and all the joy that day brought all of us and give thanks that my mom was able to enjoy it all before this next year fraught with treatment and upheaval begins.

Some photos from my trip…
Right after I walked in the door.
Hannah enjoying her coffee drink
Walking with her mama at Barnes & Noble
Emily (left), Hannah in the hat, and Mary on the right, posing with the manequins at Old Navy.
All 6 of us squeezed into a TINY dressing room at Old Navy.
All of us, except my mom managed to try on some clothes!

The birthday table set for dinner at my mom and dad’s house
My dad slicing Hannah’s favorite bread
Sars and Steve, married 13 years this year

Mary, in her leotard, showing me her gymnastics moves.
We also squeezed in the new American Girl movie about gymnastics while I was there.
Just say gymnastics and I’m all in.  This movie was…well, awful, but hey, it had gymnastics!

Emily & Hannah had me do a photo shoot with ALL of  their American Girl dolls
so they could have a yearbook for their “classroom” which they have set up in the guest room,
complete with lockers and grade books

And my mama, known to almost all as Muti, also an avid reader,
looking over books with Emily while we waited for Hannah to make her birthday selection.