Monday, February 29, 2016

V-Day Boxes: Rants & Confessions

It started long before Cooper's first day of school. When I witnessed my first modern Valentine's Day box a few years ago, I was, in a word... appalled.

I could NOT believe the effort these parents put into their kids' boxes.

These were simply to collect paper Valentines! The ones with little candies taped to them!

Life-sized cut-outs. Animatronics. Coordinating prizes. Some required their own life support system.

I was astounded. And adamant that MY son would not be taken in by these sideshow clowns. What was wrong with a simple brown bag, decorated in Art class on the afternoon before the Valentine's Day party with red construction paper hearts and cheap, pink ribbons?  It worked fine for all of us back in the day, right?!

So, in January, we started discussing The Box. Cooper was pretty clear it had to be a pirate ship, but not like his scrappy preschool box. The ship needed a deck. Clearly.

And THAT was all it took.

I want to say I questioned my intentions when I started mentally sketching out the design, laying awake at night, staring into the darkness, the Flying Dutchman floating above me, its hold nearly bursting with a booty of cute cards and cheap trinkets.

But I didn't.

Even when Suzi asked innocently about the need for a crow's nest, I couldn't be deterred. I had become a man obsessed. This would be the fastest ship to sail the ocean of Love, with clean lines and a spacious hold below decks.

In the end, it turned out pretty cool. Although lacking basic creature comforts like poop deck or figurehead above the prow, there was a secret door, accessed by pulling the rudder that opened into the hold; and a woven rope baluster of sorts; and a custom sail proclaiming "Cooper's Jolly Hearts" (his idea, not mine!). Cooper got to try out his hand with the finish nailer to lay the bamboo decking (leftover flooring scraps from a previous project). A little fun creative side note: after laying the keel, I couldn't come up with a quick fix to cover the hull, so I used brown rubber stair tread to simulate wooden planks.

The best part? That was when Suzi left the party that afternoon and had to run the gauntlet of teachers eyeing the beast of a box she was lugging out the door.

"My... that's a... big ship," she heard one say.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sasha Hlavac: One Year Later

  Just over a year ago we lost Suzi's mom, Sasha Hlavac.
  Sasha grew up in humble surroundings in a far corner of Prague, Czech Republic, blanketed by geopolitical turmoil that history would come to call the Nazi Era and then the Cold War. Her father owned a small coal shop in the ground floor of their apartment. During the Communist regime it was taken away from him, forcing the family, which grew to include two younger brothers, Karel and Pavel, to live on very meager means. Her mother died when Sasha was in her early 20s.
Her father’s years as a small business owner meant the family faced governmental discrimination. In spite of this, Sasha graduated at the top of her class in nursing school and went to work as a Registered Nurse. A family friend worked connections to place her in a high-level government hospital. On June 24, 1961, she married Jan Hlavac, moving into a single room in his family’s apartment building.
  For the next few years, they worked and, as many Czechs, traveled in the restricted areas behind the Iron Curtain: camping, skiing, and hiking. Then the revolution of 1968 shook the small country. Soviet tanks rolled into their city, crushing the revolt and sealing in their hearts the desire to escape.
 It took nearly a year to solidify their plans. In the end, they packed two suitcases for a “ski-trip” in Switzerland. Instead of hitting the slopes, they requested asylum when their plane landed in Austria and spent three months as refugees, working their way through a bureaucratic tangle toward freedom. They knew Jan’s sister had settled in a small Missouri town and that was to be their stepping stone, a brief layover as they headed west toward the familiarity of the mountains.
  But a few months after their arrival in May 1969, they found jobs, and then they bought a trailer at Riley’s on Highway 24, followed by the birth of Lucy, and then Suzi, and the purchase of their first house.
  And they stayed.
  Sasha’s nursing skills transferred into Moberly’s Community Hospital. She worked intensely for months to grasp enough English to once again pass state boards and re-acquire her Registered Nurse license. Eventually, she was back at her place in the operating room.
  Sasha was always a nurse first. It was at her core. She had no tolerance for those who were sloppy or uncaring. Throughout the years, doctors requested her for surgeries. Some would not even operate unless she was there. After Community, she worked long shifts at Woodland Hospital and later at Moberly Regional Medical Center. At 72, she was still working one day a week at the North Central Surgical Center, doing what she knew and loved best, until she finally retired in 2011. Even her volunteer hours, starting in 1999, were spent in health care at HomeCare of Mid-Missouri Hospice. Unfortunately, Sasha also knew the other side of the operating room, surviving a serious diagnosis of breast cancer in 2005, which left her weakened for her remaining years.

  She went along with Jan’s ingenious plans that often involved solar panels, rolls of duct tape or Sasha somehow squeezed into a crawl space, repairing plumbing he couldn’t reach. After her first rainy, sleepless night in a floorless tent with Jan, she adopted his love for the outdoors and every vacation was spent in a campground or state park.
  In spite of all of the antics she put up with from Jan, his loss in 2009 was devastating. Jan filled every part of her life and those spaces were very empty for Sasha in his absence. So she learned how to email and Skype, staying connected to her European family. She successfully took up the daunting task of managing the physical house and the finances.
  Mother’s Day 2014, brought a twist in her story she never expected. The strokes and subsequent infections took her from the refuge her house had always been. With the exception of a few short hours on Christmas Eve, she never returned home. However, just as in previous chapters of her life, at every turn she left a path doctors, nurses, therapists and acquaintances who grew to love her dearly. She passed away at Meadowridge Estates on January 17, 2015. She was 76.
  In coming to America, Sasha had to leave behind all she knew – her family, friends and co-workers; the comforts of the places she frequented; and a familia culture that surrounded her. In all her years here, she took care of others, sent presents and items to her Czech family and friends, and left a trail of kindnesses: a Lindt chocolate, a small gift, something for every holiday or a Czech Christmas ornament.
  The story of Sasha is more about the rest of the family than about her. When her girls were young, she wanted them to be happy and play for hours – which she did not get to do growing up. She sacrificed so much, so her girls could have the things she did not. She polished shoes, hung laundry out to dry, prepared salads for summer lunches, celebrated birthdays with matching hats and tablecloths in the backyard. You could never leave her house without something in hand, even if it was a bag of crackers. And she could never leave your house without leaving something behind.
  We mean every time.
  Sasha deeply loved her grandchildren and a day at Babi’s always included more candy, ice cream, high-fructose corn syrup and TV than parents allowed. Her concerns for her daughters often centered around food, sleep and warm clothing. Some of her last words to them were of their well-being.
  Throughout these last months, Sasha would say that she just wanted to run. And to be home, in her place of comfort.
  Sasha; mom; Babi... we wish you were still hiking through the woods or dropping off a random package of love. We miss you and love you so very much!

  Hugs and kisses, a dobro noc!