Friday, January 3, 2014

Bits & Pieces: Starting a New Year

The new year started with a bang (literally) for me Tuesday, as I hung out with a friend and her kidlets as they had a New Year's Eve slumber party.

By bang, I mean those crazy little confetti poppers. I had fun tormenting my friend's first grader, with the poppers - he liked the idea of popping them, but not listening to them pop!

And then there was the "just dance" party, and a crazy game of charades. Let's just say, hanging out with my friends helped me start my year with hours filled with lots of laughs (my word for 2014, if you missed last week's column.)

Then on January 1, I joined others across the country taking part in the "First Day Hike," at one of the many state parks. I was near Siloam Springs, and love the Natural Falls State Park, so I brushed off my walking shoes and went for a hike.

Ok, for the record, walking on a treadmill does NOT prepare you for the "natural trail" at Natural Falls State Park. I'm glad a few people were patient as I trudged up the path.

It was nice to be outside for more than an hour, spending time away from the "screens" that take up most of my life.

I love the concept behind the First Day Hike. It's like Amanda Wiley, the park manager for Grand Lake State Park - Bernice Nature Center told me, the hike is one of the many activities she will plan this year to get people outside and enjoying nature.

Wiley has several things planned during the course of the next year, including a weekly "wild eats" program, that lets visitors to Bernice see the park's animals during feeding time.

So how did you ring in the New Year? Did you make any resolutions (or revolutions as my friend's first grader said in all sincerity).

I also spent New Year's Day celebrating the arrival of the New Year babies (see elsewhere in the paper for their happy stories), yet grieving, for a young family that I know.

Drew and Mandy Harris have fought valiantly, with integrity and honor, as their daughters, Alex and Emma struggled for years with a wretched disease known as PKAN or Pantothenate Kinase-Associated Neurodegeneration, a rare genetic disorder that allows for the accumulation of iron in a person’s brain.

The disease caused the girls to exhibit many of the symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, including a rigidity of muscles, tremors and a lack of coordination. It also affects a person’s cognitive and developmental abilities.

One to three individuals for every one million births are diagnosed with PKAN. Alex and Emma Harris were, at the time of their diagnosis in 2009, the first cases of the disease at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City.

While many with PKAN live into their 20s or 30s. Individuals who present symptoms early in life, often progress with the disease at a faster rate.

For Mandy and Drew, this meant saying goodbye to their youngest daughter Emma in March 2012. On Wednesday, their first-born daughter, Alex who turned 11 at the end of December, ended her battle with the disease.

On Tuesday, I'll journey to northwest Arkansas, to stand alongside friends, and the many children I know who grew up with Alex, to say goodbye to a sweet little girl who charmed everyone she knew. A little girl who could say more with her eyes, than words, and loved the color purple.

So if you see me in town sporting purple highlights, know I'm joining in with others to honor Alex's memory in this way.

Do me a favor this week, hug the kidlets (of all ages) in your life, and make sure they know how much you love them, and care for them - and then make some memories. Because, like Patti Beth says in her column today, memories are what last for a lifetime.

Kaylea M. Hutson is the managing editor of The Grove Sun. She can be reached at or 918-786-2228.

Note. This column appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014 issue of The Grove Sun. Click here for the original link.

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