And Just Like That, One Flew From The Nest!


It’s a mid-September morning. Kitchen still needs work from all the baking that happened for my Saturday market, already sub-teaching, though it’s not busy the first weeks of school. White bean chili is in the Crock-pot, thinking I should get some exercise at the Y, but instead I’m sitting and talking to myself and you, that’s how I blog. Readers, you are friends with a good listening ear, and I appreciate your time.

Three Saturdays ago, we hugged our little girl goodbye and left her at college. She’s not far away, my friends have been teasing me because she’s embarrassingly close to where we live. But she no longer lives in our house and I miss her, like miss her so much I feel rather bewildered.

I was very good during the college welcome event, felt a little smug that I wasn’t crying along with the majority of parents. Then it was time to dish out hugs and goodbyes.  I looked at Elizabeth’s long curly hair, not much different than her first day of kindergarten, and I remembered the pain of that morning thirteen years ago, thinking her shoulders were too small for her backpack. I whispered this memory to Elizabeth, kissed her sweet head and told her, “I hope your shoulders are big enough now.” And yep, that’s when I cried.

The house is far more quiet, less arguing, less sparkle, and more leftovers.  Elizabeth hasn’t returned home, says she’s too busy, and my older friends tell me that this is normal. Nikolas is probably bored that he can’t tease Elizabeth, and Katerina keeps going through her big sister’s things, asking when she’ll visit.  I now get to make steamed artichokes with aioli, baked feta with tomatoes, dishes Elizabeth wouldn’t touch.  But I walk by her room and suddenly remember she isn’t in there. I almost hear her music playing as she is practicing or choreographing a routine, but if I listen a second more, there is only silence.

On the other hand, I feel chagrined missing my girl so much; Believe me, I know I’m a major dork, and should be reveling in joy that she’s healthy, managed a great scholarship to even have the opportunity for college

Most of you know my mom passed after I was born so I have been blindly playing this role of mother all along. I’ve never known what I’m doing.  I’ve been overly protective, critical, irrationally fearful. uptight, worried about others before my own child, and pretty much was just an idiot.  Geez, if I only knew how stupid and irrelevant most  of my thought-snatchers were back in the day-number of AP classes, benchmark tests, average RBI’s, reading levels, report card grades, goals, scores, ratings, stars-NOBODY FREAKING CARES except Grandma!!

Life is tough, really tough, and I’m over all of the competitive rigmarole. College has turned into big corporate business, and I sure do hope my kids understand there are far more avenues than one. When there’s a small disaster, flooded basement or gas leak, I’m pretty sure the person I called had never gone to college. My beautiful friend Sister Lillie swears that the artists will change the world. I believe her because she knows more than anybody. Most of those artists will need more freedom than the confines of structured walls and lines.

Time had smacked me hard across the face and with it a whole bunch of memories and should’ves possessed me.  On the other hand, Time is my friend, as it has given me greater clarity. My pride is low enough to unveil my true person (most of the time) and not care so much of impression. I’m growing selfish with time, prefer to spend it with my family, and am more mindful of ending conversations with friends and neighbors a little sooner than I used to.

I’d say that Elizabeth was definitely ripped off being the oldest of the three.  I was too neurotic, trying to be perfect, and expected too much from the toddler alongside me. Elizabeth was just perfect being her crazy, imaginative, dress-up playing-well she still does that, passionate, untamed, extremely strong-willed, misunderstood wonderful child.

I regret not standing up for Elizabeth more, I used to be an annoying people-pleaser, that I’m suddenly getting on my own nerves remembering! I should have told that nasty woman in a restaurant in Tucson where she could put her enchilada when she remarked, “Give that baby a bottle already!” I was a shy first-time nursing mom and not quite confident enough to publicly nurse yet, so I scuttled out to the car to nurse a hungry baby girl. Once Nikolas had come along, I remember sticking my tongue out in proper second-grade fashion at some grumpy gawker at Cracker Barrel while I was discreetly nursing him. I should have taken Elizabeth’s side and stood up for her when others were cruel to her, rather than trying to teach Elizabeth to take the higher road. That whole spiel is BS-I was a coward, been so all too often, and thank God Elizabeth has more courage than I’ll ever have! Elizabeth has simply been too much for some, too much for me at times, and that’s okay. Elizabeth is focused, independent and a major feminist. She’s doin’ alright just as she is.

I was folding towels, a mundane task I enjoy, and noticed that I have far less laundry to fold. One day, I’ll only need a basket, that is, if life is kind to our family, and we can send our other two kids off into the big wide world one day as well.

I already miss camping, suppers together, chaotic mornings, snowball fights turned (ahem) occasional fistfights between Nikolas and Elizabeth, handfuls of dandelions with big grins, make-believe tea parties, the comfort of knowing that all are safe and sleeping in their beds at night, togetherness, even if all we did was bicker sometimes. Our little family of five is disjointed momentarily or forever changed, unsure yet, but certainly not in heart.  I’m having a difficult time navigating, feeling like I’m hopping on a chalky hopscotch sketch..

Elizabeth is having a ball in college, has already auditioned and made the dance company, dance team, and snagged a role in a play. She’s made several new friends, particularly with the international students, and she’s studying Chinese. I also hope she fits in some time to study a bit.

I believe that any success that Elizabeth finds is in spite of me. My arms are Finding-Nemo’s-dad  tight around my kids, my imagination allows terrifying scenarios to often pay visits to my head. I just hope my fear didn’t stifle Elizabeth, or my harsh words during arguments didn’t linger. I hope my imperfection has taught her that being flawed is okay, and that she forgives me for my countless mistakes as her mother. Did I tell her that she was smart more often than beautiful? Does she even know she’s beautiful? Does she love herself enough? Did I share enough about the power of faith? Does she understand that her body is powerful, healthy and weight is a number and has no relevance unless you’re a baby with congenital heart disease? Does she understand that if a guy makes her feel anything less than smart, beautiful and special then she’s to turn and never look back?  Have I been kind enough to teach her empathy? Does she know how incredibly much she is loved? Did I spend enough time with her? Did I teach, talk, listen, understand, praise, hug, and defend her enough? Um. I doubt it. I wish I could have a few years returned, to make things better.

As the leaves are turning into their brilliant hues of splendor and melancholic pains sweep over, autumn serves as a reminder that time and change are inevitable. Yes I miss my little girl, I’ll be alright. I wish her joy, resilience through darkness, peace, strength, simplicity, experience, hope, adventure, humility during success, faith, and most importantly, incredible and enduring love. Oh dear God, I hope you have a beautiful life, my Elizabeth!





I Love Paris in the Summer

It had been too long since I’d last visited Paris. I lived in Caen and later Paris after I’d graduated from high school to study French for nearly a year, and it was dumbfounding to travel through time to present day, with my three kiddos in tow!

We were an exhausted bunch, thanks to the cute toddler who cried and then jabbered the entire overnight flight! I gave up and watched a few movies. Katerina at least managed five hours of sleep.

Once we landed and grabbed our luggage, I immediately had to practice my rusty French to find the train station and ticket machine. While at the metro ticket machine, I discovered that my bank card didn’t work. I was forced to exchange my US dollars at the airport exchange booth and was ripped off. For those of you mystical people with the gift of planning, make sure you’ve contacted your bank to allow your debit card to work overseas. I bought our RER and ten-pack of metro tickets and we wheeled our way on the train, which was no easy feat. It was crowded, hot, and I was utterly exhausted, also feeling overwhelmed that my trio of youngins’ fully depended on me. Nikos will meet us later, by the way, in a month.

Up and down the stairs we lugged our suitcases as we switched metro stations a few times. A few kind young men offered to carry my suitcase up flights of stairs, and I was grateful. Nikolas said it was because I was an old woman. Great, I’ll take it!

We made it to our hotel near the Montparnasse station, and walked smack into my brother and my little niece in our hotel lobby! We’re a loud obnoxious bunch, straight out of Wildwood Lane when we reunite.

Eric and Sophia had arrived the night before I believe, and their hotel by chance was just around the corner.

The plan was to stay two nights in Paris, and then take a train up to Bretagne to stay with our other brother and family who lives there.

When I lived in Paris, I visited the Louvre four times, so that I could see it in its entirety. I would suggest that you instead visit the Musée d’Orsay.

Katerina had learned quite a bit from her art teacher about Monet, and there is an extensive collection at this museum. And I’ll go ahead and confess that I was feigning interest during our walk-throughs of some of the rooms while others gasped at the masterpeices. I felt pretty clueless, and started craving coffee and a pastry. Yet, the museum itself is a masterpiece, with its ornate architecture and dramatic sweeping halls. In the past, the Musée d’Orsay had been a train station.

It’s a good idea to try and blend in with your surroundings, appearing to not be a tourist. As you can see, I did a great job in this area!

I’d like to share my favorite places in Paris before I post too many pictures, and write a bit-yes,it is possible for me not to be wordy, it’s happened once or twice. Additionally, without trying to be bossy (so glad Nikos cannot interrupt on here) wear your Tevas or sneakers, because you will walk marathon miles. Jardin du Luxembourg, already mentioned  Musée d’Orsay, any shiny pretty place selling macarons-pistachio are the yummiest, La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, don’t even bother with the Eiffel Tower, just take a few pics around it, cross many bridges, stroll along the Seine, and go to many, many cafes. Coffee just tastes better in Paris. Oh, and don’t be on some low-carb diet, your vacation will suck! Pain au chocolat must be ingested and macarons and quiche and…You don’t necessarily need to speak French but do your best with what you know, out of courtesy. I found that people were very encouraging to comprehend my patched up French and many even gave me compliments. French people are generally kind and courteous except when it comes to driving. But what do I know, I’m an American tourist who is scared of driving in Minneapolis, and I’m certain there are far more wonderful places to discover in this beloved city.

So the six of us walked to the timeless marvel, Jardin du Luxembourg, and had a sweet picnic. Eric and I shared a quiche, the kids had various items, and folks, that’s how you need to eat in Paris if you’re on a limited budget. Go to a bakery, order up some tasty choices and have a picnic.

We went to all of the places I listed and Eric-turned personal traineron little sister in France-had me jogging along the Seine each morning, like 4 or 5 miles!! One morning, I wore my St. Olaf t-shirt while jogging, and some guy yelled out while passing me, “Hey Minnesota!” I was too breathless to reply, but I thought it was pretty cool! Leave it to Eric to find the very best deal for our morning petit-déjeuner, a wonderful cafe, our favorite. It made huffing and puffing during my jog all worthwhile.

We walked around, laughed out loud, and I simply marvelled at how nothing and everything had changed, Paris and me. The architecture, sirens, scent of diesel, annoying second-hand smoke, delectable wafts billowing from boulangeries, dodging dog doody on sidewalks, manicured rectangles of summer flowers, stinky metro with germ-laden poles, muffled French conversations, old and new, peddlers playing a melancholic echoey tune. Paris drips with nostalgia and my heart cherishes every drop with love.

Journey to Sweet Sound

The results of Katerina’s hearing tests always ended with a question mark her first three years of life. She was a squirrely toddler, and the nurses waved the test results off, said she was fine.   Katerina was indeed fine, her heart patched up and healthy, she was simply happy and filled with sunshine.

Katerina’s speech development was severely delayed.  I knew it before her first birthday, but again, my concerns of a delay were dismissed, all chalked up to Katerina’s rough beginning.

Upon moving to Minnesota, Katerina had begun nursery school. Her teachers recognized a delay within the first week and requested that she be evaluated.  The speech pathologist explained that Katerina had the most significant delay of any child he’d witnessed in his long career, who hadn’t any cognitive disabilities or other issues.

I always accompanied Katerina to her speech therapy sessions so that I could help her at home, and felt it was a team effort. Additionally, I could understand Katerina better than anyone.

It was a blue-skied crisp October afternoon, as Katerina and I walked to her speech lesson, enjoying the sunshine. Katerina was wearing a pink hat that her Yaya in Greece had lovingly knitted for her. We were chattering amidst the birds who must have been preparing for their autumn journey to warmer places.

Holding my daughter’s hand, I mentioned something about Dolly, our grumpy cat, always a subject that ignited giggles. Katerina didn’t respond, just continued walking.  I repeated my words-nothing.  I let go of Katerina’s hand and casually walked to the other side of her.  Again, I repeated what I’d said, and she laughed and added more to the story. The rest of the half-mile walk, I switched from side to side, my suspicion growing with each step.

When we arrived for Katerina’s lesson, I mentioned to her speech pathologist what I’d observed, suspecting that she was hearing-impaired. John said that it made sense considering her speech delay, and would request a hearing test for Katerina’s next session.

The following week, Katerina was given a full hearing examination. The most memorable was when Katerina wore headphones, and each time she heard a beeping sound, she was instructed to drop a colored chip in the container. I stood on the far corner of the room and watched her tiny fingers drop each chip diligently-such a good little student!

The ears were then isolated, and my warm grin swiftly fell. The beeps traveled to where I stood, yet Katerina held the chip waiting to hear the sound. With each beep, my heart thudded almost as loudly. I silently and emphatically willed Katerina, Drop the chip, honey!  Drop that chip! She didn’t drop another chip until the beeping sound was very loud. By that time she was a blurry figure as I tried to hide any evidence of tears.

Katerina went to a pediatric audiologist soon after, and it was confirmed that she was hearing-impaired in her right ear. I asked the audiologist at what point would Katerina need a hearing aid, and the doctor replied, “Oh, she would have needed one years ago with this hearing loss.”  The doctor explained that Katerina had a rare ability to produce sounds she was unable to hear, and thus, far more advantageous, cognitively speaking, than an aid would be.

It wasn’t until this year, now in second grade, that Katerina expressed that she couldn’t hear, and how she wished she could sit with her friends in the back during carpet time. Katerina was exhausted, trying her best to follow instruction and second-grade chatter of friends, but she simply could not hear. Additionally, Katerina’s stuttering had grown incessant, as she struggled to get through even short sentences.

Katerina’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher called and explained the dire need of a hearing aid for Katerina, listed the negative ramifications if she continued without.

The following week we sat in the “tree house”,  Katerina’s reference to the small brown room of the audiologist. It was determined that Katerina was now hearing-impaired in both ears.  I don’t know why I was so affected by this unexpected news. I just felt defeated. No one is exempt from struggles in life, tough hurdles to jump. I just wish I could jump some of those hurdles for my little girl.  I fixed a smile on my face and voice, until I could finally cry after Katerina had gone to bed that evening.

The cause of the left ear’s impairment was entirely unrelated to the the right, and therefore, only the right ear would receive an aid at present.

Katerina and I went to Children’s Hospital in St.Paul, to meet with her new audiologist, a wonderful and patient doctor who looked as young as my niece, Julia. Katerina was fitted for and custom-designed her hearing aid, metallic aqua blue and a swirled blue for the inner piece. When the doctor asked Katerina if she’d like to add glitter, Katerina declined, said she wasn’t much of a girly girl, as she sat with her legs crossed and a hair bow bobbing on top of her head!

Katerina was very excited for her aid, even shared with her class at school all about it. She told me she was most excited to hear a watch tick, said her whole life she’d always wanted to hear that sound.

The big day arrived! Nikos, Katerina and I listened closely to the doctor’s instruction and care of Katerina’s aid.  It was beautiful, perfect for our honey! It was also quite emotional after the doctor turned the aid on, as Katerina’s eyes widened and announced that she heard footsteps outside! A shiny new door of life just opened for our young Katerina!

Katerina named her hearing aid Thank You.  When we returned to the house, we gave Katerina a few gifts, one of them being a vintage pocket watch. She heard the ticking clearly. I also baked a pan brownies.

It was like a holiday, so exciting and fun! Katerina now had super hearing, secret agent-style. She made us all go and whisper various phrases in the next room and she’d try to hear what was said. Nikolas and Elizabeth were very supportive and encouraging as they have always been of their little sister.

On the other end, I worried how Katerina would deal with potentially thoughtless comments and questions regarding her hearing aid, so I tried to prepare her. Katerina is well accustomed to providing explanation already with her shoe lift, and she expressed that she would rather someone ask than silently stare.

Katerina goes to a very special elementary school, filled with nurture and care.  Her class was beautifully accepting and kind. In fact, the entire school seemed to play a positive role. Somehow, the children of Katerina’s school have learned a most profound, intuitive element-empathy. I will forever appreciate the response and warmth that Katerina’s school has shown her. Incredible!

Katerina became more exhausted, crying more often, sleeping before her eight o’clock bedtime. The honeymoon had grounded and Katerina expressed that the sounds were too strong and loud. Her DHH teacher explained that a new hearing aid is very intense for a few weeks, as Katerina’s brain adjusted to sounds she’d never heard before.

One day Katerina said that she didn’t like Thank You any longer, said it looked babyish.  Carefully, I explained that I wore my reading classes so I could read, that I drank coffee so I could speak in the morning, that she wore a hearing aid to hear. All of these needs were related.  Katerina’s sudden distaste for her aid receded as she grew more accustomed to it.

Katerina’s stuttering issue had nearly disappeared. She has grown far more reliant on Thank You, and enjoys cleaning it on her own, and adds tiny stickers to it, based on her activities of the day. Katerina mentioned some of her favorite sounds were leaves rusting in the wind, and the swish of tires in the rain.

One lazy Sunday morning before church, Nikos and I were lounging on the couch, sipping coffee. Katerina was gazing out the window with her lips puckered and making a wacky sound, trying to whistle I guess. Katerina turned with her lovely smile and announced breathlessly, “Mama, I can hear a bird sing! It’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard!”






Bonnie’s Komfort Kardz

Dear readers,

Back when Katerina was suffering from congenital heart disease, all of my being, every thought and emotion was consumed by my baby girl. My memory of those dark days is characterized by an ever-flowing volcanic eruption, which eventually solidified into glorious shiny obsidian. The reflection reveals darkness yet lustrous shine to keep with me always. During that time, we received many cards, caring words of encouragement with uplifting messages inside. I cannot recall if I replied or thanked those thoughtful senders, but I will forever remember my heart being touched by their loving words.

Bonnie Humke experienced a life-threatening disease when she was 18-years-old, which haunted her for twenty years. Bonnie recalls the comfort and encouragement she felt by receiving the many cards by friends and family during her illness, cards that provided her with a loving connection during a lonely and frightening journey in her life.

Bonnie is a gifted photogragher and artist, having published a collection of books and an e-card line entirely and skillfully designed using her original work, Komfort Kardz.

The intention behind Bonnie’s uniquely artistic cards is to reach out to those who are suffering, creating a powerful connection to those who may not necessarily have the voice or ability to express such a need. Communication, care, love, hope and relationships are fundamental needs shared by all people. Bonnie’s cards provide fulfillment when one or all of these characteristics are not met.

I remember the dread I felt when the phone would ring during Katerina’s illness. I always cried and couldn’t finish a sentence. Receiving cards helped alleviate the awkwardness, helped me maintain composure, and preserve a private connection with the sender.

My friend Lillie from church told me a while back that the artists will change the world. Bonnie is one of those artists, sharing her heart and gift of artistry to touch many hearts. Thank you Bonnie for Komfort Kardz, you never know when a card can make all the difference.

Visit Bonnie’s website,

Katerina Can Read!


My stomach in a knot, tears on hold till alone stung my eyes, shoulders slumped in defeat as I regarded the alarming Reading Benchmark score during Katerina’s first grade parent/teacher conference.  The kind teacher quickly pointed to Katerina’s impressive score in Math,  more than quadruple the points compared to Reading.  I nodded my head throughout the conference, half-smiled at Katerina’s cute antics and comments her teacher shared, disguising my despair.  I felt I’d failed my daughter.

We’d always been a family of readers, the library one of our favorite places.  I’d taken all three kids to library storytime, read big piles of books often daily to each of them, perhaps not as often to Katerina, and I’d also taught my older two how to read before they entered kindergarten.  Parent/teacher conferences were entirely different for Katerina’s siblings, always “off the chart” scores. I’d taken their progress for granted. As a parent, I was suddenly placed in a new territory, an uncomfortable place where my child wasn’t thriving in school.  In fact, she was flailing in Reading.

Reflecting on my third baby, I remembered how all too often I’d chosen the easiest and shortest book, to speed up the bedtime rigmarole.  In fact the night before, Katerina had requested a longer book, so I intentionally skipped pages hoping she wouldn’t notice.  I realized in that uncomfortable chair that my expectations were lower with Katerina, I was far more relaxed, and had left academics for school.  I suddenly remembered how often Katerina would mention that so and so was smart and reading chapter books already.  I promised that she would get there in due time, when she was ready.

I discussed the issue with my friend Sandy, a retired kindergarten teacher, now substitute teacher, because she loves kids that much.  She’d handed me a cookie, had an of course look on her face and said, “Well naturally Katerina has a few hangups.  She was simply struggling to survive when she was little!”  Katerina was born with congenital heart disease, holes comprising 70% of her heart.  Our Spartan warrior has had to deal with a number of obstacles due to some other health issues as well. Chagrined, I muttered to Sandy that she spoke the truth.

Cuddled on the couch, Katerina would labor through her daily assigned reading of three books by her teacher.  She admitted to hoping that she’d be taken out for Speech class during Stamina Reading at school. Katerina stumbled often, made up words so she wouldn’t have to remember the sounds that “silent e” and “ough” made, and often threw her head back in exasperation and discouragement.  Honestly, I often dreaded the daily assignment, just as much as Katerina.   She’d cry and her tiny face bled frustration.  Just about any book seemed overwhelming to her, and I clung to every ounce of patience to hide my own frustration. It broke my heart that she had a disdain for reading, she truly seemed afraid of it.  But she trudged through the drudgery, because she was a good little student, and I knew deep down that she wanted to succeed.

I had to help my daughter. Ultimately, the whole reading gig had nothing to do with competition or test scores, but everything to do with her success in school and her future.  My husband has often remarked that I was the most determined and stubborn woman in the world, so I thought I’d put that claim to good use.  I also knew that Katerina was quite stubborn in her own right.  The two of us would get there, one sentence at a time.

Katerina and I constructed a chart using a poster board, with 50 squares.  At the bottom, Katerina drew a cake, presents, and a book.  We would have a Katerina Can Read party, once she’d read all fifty books.  I promised her that once she completed the chart, which meant reading 50 challenging books (above her reading level), she would know how to read.  We started with a My Little Pony book, one that she found to be quite challenging.  I reminded her that once she reached her goal, the early books would seem very easy.

Meanwhile, Katerina was placed in her school’s Title 1 reading program. Mrs. T, the Title 1 teacher, explained how positive the group was and that they called it the Fun Reading Club.  It was wonderful for Katerina to be in a group that was on her reading level.

Katerina was very fortunate to have incredibly gifted teachers, Mrs. Z, a master teacher, transformed my little first grader into a number-crunching, culture- and language-learning, journal-writing smarty pants. Katerina’s Title 1 and Speech teachers were also amazing and nurturing and according to Katerina, always looked pretty and sparkly.

Truthfully, I used to smirk at the almost corny cliche, It takes a village to raise a child.  I’d always been determined that I didn’t need to rely or receive help from anyone, I could handle everything.  I learned during Katerina’s reading journey, to step outside my closed door and embrace that village.

There were weeks when Katerina’s school books, after-school activities, and family time caused the reading chart to be neglected.  But it was stuck on the fridge with plenty of magnets, and occasionally, Katerina would announce that she wanted to read a book.

Early March, I plunked down in the kid’s chair at the second parent/teacher conference, and regarded the second round of test scores.  Katerina’s math was impressive-I knew that already.  Mrs. Z then directed my eyes to Katerina’s reading score, which had risen to slightly above average.  I grinned as wide as an open book and whispered with tear-filled eyes, “Really?”  Mrs. Z answered smiling, “Really!”  I stared at the paper until my eyes dried back up, thanked Katerina’s teacher with pure sincerity, and told her that was the best news I’d heard since Katerina’s last ECHO, revealing that her heart was healthy.  I also thought how “off the charts” was annoying and how much more exhilarating it was that Katerina was progressing.

Katerina graduated from the Title 1 program after a mere two months, thanks to Mrs. T, who teaches with her heart and believes in every single child.  Katerina loves homework, and her Speech teacher worked with the other teachers to create assignments that correlated with reading and writing, and somehow managed to make Speech fun.  How does one thank people who’ve helped to open the entire world up to a little girl?

We’d a busy spring, but eventually Katerina filled her chart with fifty well-earned stickers.  Katerina has gained fluency and her favorite books involve puppies or dolphins, usually non-fiction.  She still doesn’t construct a makeshift fort and curl up with a challenging book, but progress continues to be made.

Somewhere along the way, Katerina had begun to enjoy reading. One evening, my heart sang after listening to her laugh along with a book she was reading. I whispered to her,  “Katerina, I am very proud of what a fine reader you’ve become!”

You better believe we made a big whoop-dee-doo for the Katerina Can Read party!  I decorated with balloons and other fun shiny things, concocted a trophy of little playthings and whatnots, glued them together and Nikos spray-painted it gold.  Elizabeth made homemade cinnamon sticks, I made one pitiful-looking cake but Katerina thought it was perfect, homemade pizzas, and a big bowl of cantaloupe. I’d wrapped a gift for both Nikolas and Elizabeth because they’d helped their little sister along her reading journey as well.  Of course Katerina received mostly books as gifts, one came with a nifty dolphin pen!  She picked out a book and we all gathered around and she read it to her family.  That afternoon was truly golden, as shiny as her trophy.

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The last day of school was June 8. It happened to also be Katerina’s Happy Heart Day, my very favorite day of the year, marking when Katerina’s risky open-heart surgery was a success.  During the school assembly, Katerina was recognized for her perseverance, both with reading as well as gaining the strength to pump her arms on the swing.  Yes, her amazing teacher taught on the playground too!

Occasionally, while prodding along on a well worn path, I catch my breath and reflect, thanking God for each and every crag and stumble.  Katerina sure does navigate with far more grit than I’ll ever possess, but her shining love has held my hand so I can skip alongside her.