Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bits & Pieces: Hello 2016

A new year, new start.

As I type this, the new year is almost here. We are just days away from ringing in 2016.

Once again, standing on the cusp of a new year brings on the discussion regarding setting resolutions and goals.

For me, the days following Christmas becomes a time to pick a new a word (or two) that will represent the upcoming year.

In a way, the word becomes a verbal roadmap to what's ahead. It becomes my word to focus on, to ponder and well, to use as it presents itself as life happens.

I started this practice in 2007, with the adoption of wonder as my very first word. During the year, seek emerged as a guiding word, because of a job change and new life opportunities.

Other words followed including simplicity and joy (2008), dream and hope (2009), half-full and see (2010), new and renew (2011), rest and sabbath (2012), imagine and rejoice (2013) and laugh and love (2014).

Obviously, most years, I've had two words. It seems as if something presents itself mid-year, as a guiding word of importance.

My only defense is, well, I like words.

Usually, I pick the word at the beginning of the year. However in 2015, my "one little word" did not present itself to me until early July. I found them as I tried to deal with a life that included a plethora of crazy wedding preparations and the unexpected death of the Lawman's daughter.

Those two words - grace and dignity - have become almost a mantra as I closed out the year, as I've tried to extend the meaning of the words throughout my life regardless of the situation. 

As this year ends, life is different. Let's face it. I'm different. 

This is the first year - in my 43 years of existence - I'm facing Jan. 1 married. My world, and perception of it, has changed. I'm no longer a "me" but instead a "we."

Even after five months, I'm still learning to grasp that new reality. I have to remind myself that I'm not walking through life alone. I have someone I can rely on and trust. Someone who is with me for better and for worse. Someone who is part of my life in a rich way.

I've thought a lot about what word will become my road map in 2016. I know I want this year to become one where I intentionally focus on things outside of the newsroom. 

I want to create a life, together with the Lawman, which is full and rich.

A life that includes more than just eating, sleeping and working. A life that is full of meaning, creates memories and is filled with a plethora of emotions.

So with that in mind, my word for 2016 is "be."

I want to be in love, be fulfilled, be happy, be alive. I simply want to be.

I want to find out what it means to be present in life, rather than simply existing.

The question, to mangle Shakespeare, is not IF I want "to be or not to be." The answer is, instead is, simply I want to "be."

I want to live a life that no longer just occupies space and takes up air.

I want to find ways I can be available to friends and family - even if it means I turn off my phone. 

I want to be connected with The Lawman, because I'm learning that my presence, means more than presents in the long run.

I want to be a person of faith. I want my faith, and ultimately my relationship with God, to be stronger on Dec. 31, 2016. 

So, for 2016, I want to "be."

It's kind of fun to stand on the edge of a new year and see it as a blank canvas waiting to be filled. It's exciting, scary and well, an amazing opportunity, all wrapped up in 365 days.

Here's to 2016. May it bring joy, happiness, peace and all that you desire to you and yours. 

Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller is the managing editor of The Grove Sun. Have an idea for a column or story? She can be reached at khutson@grovesun.com or 918-786-2228.



Friday, December 11, 2015

Bits & Pieces: Presence or Presents?

Is there anyway you can come?

With those words, life changed for me last weekend.

On Friday morning, I received the call that my good friend Kim's grandmother died.

Its been a long process, but Nana, as she was known, was able to die at home in her own space, thanks to the efforts of Kim and her mother.

On Friday evening, as the events of the day began to settle, Kim called.

Her simple question put things into perspective.

Trying desperately to hold things together for her family, her voice cracked as she asked, "I know it's a deadline day, but is there anyway you can come Monday for the funeral?"

Kim and I have been friends since 1998. She taught me to quilt (first by hand, then by machine). We were in the same book club.

I've watched her son, who was just an elementary student at the time, grow up to become a married father of three.

It's a friendship that has spanned both the years and miles. We talk on Facebook and when she "pocket dials" me, or when something significant happens in our lives.

She, along with her husband, drove three hours to be at the epic proposal when the Lawman decided to surprise me.

In July, they returned so Kim could serve as the "Girl Friday" at my wedding, helping me with a variety of tasks and basically keeping me calm before I walked down the aisle.

(She likes to regale people about how she had to "help" me get into those dreaded things known as spanxs. Let's just say, it took a village and leave it at that.)

Kim's only asked me to come like this once before. When Kaleb was a teenager, he was involved in a dreadful wreck. With things touch and go, Kim asked me to come - and I did. I sat with her at the hospital, and helped her stay sane.

It was like that on Monday. Thanks to a variety of people, some on staff and others in the community, the contents of Tuesday's issue of The Grove Sun were completed by the time I rolled out of town.

I drove those three hours, expecting to take my turn as Kim's "Girl Friday," or in today's terms, be her Minion.

But instead of doing things, I found myself simply being present.

We laughed, we cried, we hugged. I held her hand (boy does she have a tight grip) through the visitation and funeral.

I'm a do-er by nature. I want to fix things.

In this instant, there was nothing to do or fix. Instead, my gift to her on this day was simple.

I was present.

I didn't give her anything or do anything. My presence at the funeral was what she needed.

Oh I did get to hold all of Kaleb's children - one of which is just a couple years shy of Kaleb's age when I first met him - and I did help a bit at the post-funeral dinner.

But primarily, my gift was that of presence instead of presents.

It's something to think about as you worry about what will go under the Christmas tree. Maybe what your friend or family member needs most isn't another thing, but rather, time with you.

I learned Monday, that my presence alone was truly the best gift I could give my friend.

This originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2015 issue of The Grove Sun.

Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller is the managing editor of The Grove Sun. Have an idea for a column or story? She can be reached at khutson@grovesun.com or 918-786-2228.

Wishes come true for Grove girls

Braelon Vannoster & Angelica Wilson • Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / Grove Sun

Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / khutson@grovesun.com
Wishes came true this fall for two Grove girls, as they both received trips to Disney World through the Make A Wish Foundation.

For both Angelica Wilson, a fifth grader, and Braelon Vannoster, a sixth grader, the trips to Florida in September and October came after medical personnel connected to their care nominated them for the experience.

The Make A Wish Foundation in Oklahoma awards between 150 to 180 trips to children, with life threatening illnesses, each year.

Kiyana Baird, the state's wish coordinator, said volunteers are on tap to end the year with 180 wishes.

Baird said children can choose a wish from multiple options. They can go on trips, become someone for a day, request an item, ask to meet someone, or even request to give something away.

Wilson and Vannoster both picked traveling to Disney World as their primary wish. During the trips, they each stayed at the Give Kids the World resort, an all-encompassing resort and mini-amusement park and received tickets to a variety of attractions.

Wilson nicknamed the resort "Villa Villekulla" because it reminded her of the fictional home of Pippi Longstocking. At the resort, students were given ice cream for breakfast, presents each day, and as both Wilson and Vannoster described - spoiled.

Baird said a trip to Disney World is one of the most requested wish for children, because it means they can take family members.

"It's a great place to go for the whole family," Baird said. "Children can take their immediate family. Others can go if they pay their own way. It gives children a family vacation."

The average wish costs approximately $7,500. In the event of a trip, like Wilson and Vannoster picked, it includes all travel expenses, tickets to activities, and even spending money for souvenirs.

"Wishes give hope and joy at a time they are both needed most," Baird said. "it gives [students] something to look forward to, and be excited about. We've heard stories that it's given some children the extra push they needed to finish [treatment].

"Wishes are powerful."

Wilson, a student at Cowboy Junction in Vinita, traveled with her mother and father, Carey and John Wilson, and her grandmother, Martha Peck of Pryor.

Vannoster, a student at Grove Upper Elementary School, traveled with her mother, Keslie Leonard, her father, Jeff Vannoster, and her sister, Byntlee Dawn Vannoster - also a student at Grove Upper Elementary.

About the trip
 
Wilson's trip included stops at the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Island of Adventures.

Her trip to Universal also included a stop at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - something she found quite, amazing because it included a stop at Ollivanders Shop where she was given a chance to "let a wand choose her."

She also had a chance to have visits with Mickey Mouse, Pluto and a variety of other Disney characters.

"It was a carefree week," Carey Wilson said of the trip. "We didn't worry about our next doctor's appointment, or her health prognosis.

"We did whatever she wanted to do. She got to pick and choose. The trip was flawless."

Carey Wilson joked that Wilson's choices meant that the family walked a combined 45 miles as they traversed the various amusement parks.

The Vannosters trip included stops at Disney, as well as SeaWorld, Universal Studios and more.

"She was a princess for a week," said her father, Jeff Vannoster. "They spoiled her. This trip was priceless. You can't spend enough money to get the same experience."

Vannoster said she had the most fun, spending time meeting the various princesses; admitting she filled her autograph book with their signatures and pictures.

Her favorite princesses to meet - Elsa and Anna from the movie Frozen.

Jeff Vannoster said the best part about the trip, was watching his two daughters interact without worrying about health issues.

"We just wanted Braelon to have a good time," Jeff Vannoster said. "Just seeing [the enjoyment on] her face, was the best part."

More about Wilson

Wilson has pilocytic astrocytoma, a brain tumor that occurs in children or young adults, that is typically slow growing and benign.

Since 2013, she has undergone two surgeries to remove a non-malignant brain tumor. In July of this year, doctors at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas determined the remnants of the tumor remain, and continue to grow..

Working with her physicians, Wilson's parents have tentatively scheduled her to undergo a third surgery in May, pending the results of a MRI and further tests set for Dec. 17 in Texas. The hope is she can recover from the surgery without missing school.

Earlier this month, Wilson had a mass removed from her arm. Doctors determined on Thursday it was a benign spindle cell tumor and she will not need to undergo additional treatment.

More about Vannoster

Vannoster was born with CHARGE syndrome, a birth defect that impacts a child's vision - the retina or iris does not fuse normally; causes heart defects, retards growth, causes renal effects, as well as hearing loss and a variety of other things.

Since birth, Vannoster has undergone 28 major surgeries, five of which were open heart procedures. Her last surgery took place in August 2013, when she received an artificial valve and pacemaker.

Jeff Vannoster said he's confident his daughter, who has already exceeded expectations, will have "endless possibilities."

"She gets As and Bs, and has been active in the Special Olympics since she was four," Jeff Vannoster said. "Her size is an issue, but she's growing.

"I don't know what the future holds for her, but I know she touches a lot of people wherever she goes. Hopefully it will be something good."
2015 Pelican Festival Grand Marshals Angelica Wilson (left) and Braelon Vannoster are driven through the Pelican Festival parade by Chrsti Lungren and Kathy Lungren Baker. Both girls received Make A Wish trips this fall.
Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / Grove Sun
Spreading Christmas Cheer
For the third year in a row, members of Angelica Wilson's church, Foundation Free Will Baptist, will celebrate Christmas by passing out "stuffies" to children throughout Grove and northeast Oklahoma.

On Saturday, volunteers - known as Angelica's Angels - plan to hand out the stuffed animals during the 2015 Grove Lighted Christmas Parade.

The event, set for 6 p.m., rain or shine, will take place on Saturday, Dec. 12, in downtown Grove.

Angelica's Angels will walk alongside the Foundation Free Will Baptist float and pass out this year's stuffies, which have been donated through the efforts of Mark Gibson, manager of the Lifeway Christian Store in Hurst, Texas.

Others will be given out during the church's Living Nativity presentation, set for 5 to 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13, at the church.

The program begin in 2013, as a way for Wilson to give back to the community.

"It's good for her to be giving back," her mother, Carey Wilson said at the start of the program. "She's gotten so much because she needed it. But she needs to give back, to see that (life) is not all about getting things."

This originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2015 issue of The Grove Sun
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