Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Beautiful Year

I'm sitting here in the comfort of my warm, cozy living room.  The Cotton Bowl is on in the background, Jewel is cuddled in her favorite blanket, snoring peacefully, and I'm getting all misty-eyed.  Maybe it's because I had champagne for lunch with a good friend.  Or maybe it's because I've had two Christmas Cokes (Colorado Bulldogs as some people call them). Maybe.

But I think I'm all sentimental because 2015 has been such a beautiful year.  Not perfect.  But beautiful.  One of the best things I've discovered about getting older is the desire to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.  My Christmas card focused on some of the splendor that made this year so magical.

I became a bit obsessed with Nature this year.  Blame it on the English teacher in me as I introduced Transcendentalism to my students.  Blame it on Thoreau and Walden Pond.  But I found myself

pulling off busy interstates and sitting in solitude by riversides, listening to the words  of the whispering water

sitting by Nebraska cornfields staring at the perfect rows of tassel-topped cornstalks

driving east of the city lights to have a clear, unobstructed view of the blood-red, super Harvest Moon

braving the weekend bumper-to-bumper traffic going west to the mountains to behold the dazzling, gold aspen trees

standing on the edge of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in perfect silence while hearing and feeling Thoreau's words loud and clear--"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."

As always, my family continues to be a source of strength and beauty, and 2015 brought some new heavenly faces as the Thompson family continues to grow.  Quinn and Archer are our newest Royal babies, and I also gained a new niece when my nephew Kyle tied the knot with Ashlie.  My family is my biggest Natural Wonder, and I am forever grateful for being born a Thompson.

So yes, I am misty-eyed as I close out 2015--not because I'm sad to see it go but because I have a life that is beautiful.  And good.

Here's wishing you a beautiful 2016!


Friday, December 4, 2015

Two and a Half Perfect Days (in Arizona)

If you have a long weekend coming up and want to go somewhere where you feel like you've gotten out of town, head for Arizona.  In three days, you can comfortably fit in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Flagstaff, The Grand Canyon, and Sedona.

Perfect traveling buddies!!
Don't even think about going by yourself.  You are going to need someone to oohh and aahh with as your eyes behold some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States, including one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  I was blessed to have four of the most amazing people on this trip with me--my mom, my sister Kerri, my nephew Nathan, and his girlfriend Lindsey,  I could not have taken this trip without all four,  and I am so, so grateful for them <3

Day One begins with

Did I mention we were in first class?  Well . . . someone has to do it; might as well be me!
Because we were limited on time, we flew from Denver to Phoenix, but we all remarked about how cool it would be to road trip this entire itinerary.  We definitely put that on our to-do list, but for this trip, we took to the friendly skies.  I must say, as a loyal United girl, I was a little hesitant when Kerri emailed our reservations.  US Air (US Scare as we referred to them when I worked for United!) has always seemed a little questionable in my eyes, but to my surprise and relief, our flight was delightful.  As it turned out, we were on one of the last ever true US Air flights to operate.  The next day American Airlines took over in another major airline merger.  

First stop
Olive and Ivy, Scottsdale
Kerri sat next to a chatty guy on the flight to Phoenix.  He might have been borderline annoying, but he did give her some awesome recommendations for lunch spots in the Phoenix area.  We decided to try one, and we are so glad we did.  Check out Olive and Ivy.  We all loved this Scottsdale gem.  As we walked to the entryway, we were greeted with a soft, cooling mist and a friendly staff.  The food and drinks were outstanding.  We all ordered salads and their specialty, flatbreads.  I would definitely go back and most likely order the same thing!


After our perfect lunch, we were in our rental car heading north to Williams, Arizona, our final destination for day one.  The next morning we would be catching the Grand Canyon Railroad and heading to Grand Canyon National Park.  Since the train leaves at 9 a.m. we didn't exactly want to leave Phoenix at 4 in the morning, and so we headed north on I 17 toward Flagstaff.  Although there are several routes to get to the Grand Canyon, we found this to be most practical, especially since some of our travel would be in the dark.  And there's this amazing rest stop called SUNSET POINT with a gorgeous view of the sun setting behind the mountains.  The image of that view will stay with you as you cruise into Williams to end travel day one.



Riding the rails in style
Once we arrived at Williams, we stayed at The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Although by no means a luxury stay, the rooms were comfortable, and the train was only steps away.  We survived two, TWO fire alarms complete with total evacuation  of the hotel (the first one at midnight and another at 7 in the morning), but we shook those off and soon forgot them.  

Real pictures, not postcards, of the Canyon
You can, of course, drive from Williams to the Grand Canyon, but why would you when you can ride the rails?  We took the historic Grand Canyon Railway just steps from our hotel.  The two and a half hour train trip was filled with incredible scenery from desert to bluffs to forests and finally the canyon. 
Nothing could possibly have prepared me for the view awaiting us just a short walk from the train.  For one thing, when they say the south rim of the Canyon, they really mean the RIM.  When you walk up for the first look, you are literally on the rim.  Short walls border some parts to prevent people from falling, but there are also open areas that I wasn't comfortable approaching.  You can see all the way to the bottom and catch glimpses of the Colorado River, and you can see across to the the north side as well.  The views are so incredibly crystal clear and perfect that it almost seems like you're looking at a movie scene or green screen and not the real thing.  
And I couldn't believe how quiet it was, despite the many tourists present.  There was almost a reverent hush as we all took in God's beauty.
We had about four hours to walk around The South Rim, the perfect amount of time.  Make sure to allow time to have lunch at the Grand Hotel, a historic hotel just steps from the rim.  Their lunch menu is amazing--try the Indian taco--to die for!
The train ride back to Williams was equally relaxing and entertaining,  I don't want to spoil anything, but be prepared for some surprises on the return trip.  (Hint:  make sure your purse/wallet is tucked safely away!)
Because we wanted to take the scenic drive back to Phoenix, we stayed one more night in Williams in order to avoid driving in the dark.  I highly recommend doing the same.


L'Auberge.  Gorgeous.
You must take Highway 89A at least one way of your trip between the Grand Canyon and Phoenix.  This road winds through some of the most breathtaking scenery ever, and this is coming from a Colorado girl!  The mountain views with Oak Creek by your side the entire way to Sedona rival many drives through the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Because we had a late afternoon flight to catch in Phoenix, we were only in Sedona long enough to have brunch.  There are tons of fabulous restaurants in the Sedona area.  We relied on a sure-fire means to find the best--we asked Siri!  And Siri is never wrong--she led us to a perfect brunch location, L'Auberge, right on the banks of Oak Creek.  I mean really on the banks--we were so close to the edge that sliding a chair just a little too far would have landed one of us in the creek, brunching with the ducks.  The brunch menu was French and elegant and scrumptious, and the scenery was breathtaking.  Make sure to ask for a table by the creek, and by all means try their quiche of the day and a bubbly mimosa.

 L'Auberge was the perfect last stop on a fabulous weekend trip; I couldn't have scripted a better ending to our two and a half perfect days in Arizona.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Gratitude Challenge

I am grateful for what I am and have.  My thanksgiving is perpetual.
Henry David Thoreau

A while back (oh say a year  ago!) I was invited by my BFF Eileen to do the "gratitude challenge" on FaceBook.  You know, where for seven days you post things that you're grateful for.  So yes, a year has gone by and I still haven't done it.  Not because I'm not grateful.  Good Heavens, quite the opposite.  But every time I started to post something, I found myself writing paragraphs about each thing and wanting to include pictures of the many blessings in my life.  FaceBook just didn't seem like the right mode to express my gratitude.  And so I didn't do it.

After reading the writings of Thoreau with my students and realizing I was complicating everything in my life, I decided to "simplify, simplify, simplify."  That, along with a recent series of events, so life changing and powerful, has me revisiting  this gratitude challenge with a new perspective.  It started with . . .

My mom

I am so lucky to have my 87 year old mom.  She is my lifeline, my friend, my traveling buddy, my confidant, and I would be lost without her.  Recently, we had a scare that was just way too close for comfort.  Mom's heartrate dropped dangerously low, without our knowing it.  We finally learned, after taking her to a cardiologist, that her heart was only beating at 30 beats per minute.  He said she needed a pacemaker. Now.  That day.  Within three hours of her initial appointment, she was in surgery, and in the nick of time.  Her heart actually stopped beating during the surgery, but because the pacemaker was in place, they were able to get it started again.  Within 24 hours, she was home, feeling better than she had in months.   I've never said so many Our Fathers or Hail Marys in my life--before, during, and after this scare, and I've never felt the power of prayer so strongly.  My own prayers, my family's and my friends'.  In addition to the power of prayer, the power of family rallying together with love and support was unbelievable.  Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews--love so strong and healing.
My mom--less than 24 hours after heart surgery (left) and 2 months after that

Lucy Mae

The tiniest  royal baby in the Thompson family arrived one day after my birthday, and she has us all wrapped around her little, and I mean little, finger.  Lucy Mae Rischling was born to my niece Jill and her husband Todd on November 7,  six weeks before her official due date of December 16. (You can read all about this miracle HERE.)  When I found out that Jill was going to the hospital, I immediately began the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, praying for God and Mary and all the angels in our family to take care of Jill and to protect this baby.  Lucy arrived safely and weighed in at a whopping 3 pounds, 8 ounces when she was born.  Needless to say, she spent some time in the NICU in order to put on a few pounds and fill those little lungs out.  But for being 6 weeks early, she is amazing.  Oh, and November 7 happens to be my Grandma Emily's birthday.  Did I mention that Jill Emily is named after Grandma?  No coincidence there, just another Angel Kiss from above.
Lucy Mae--doing just fine almost one year later!

The BIG 6 - 0

Yeh, I had a big birthday last year.  I wasn't really thinking about turning 60, but in retrospect, I spent much of October in a bit of a gloomy fog.  As November 6th grew nearer, I started feeling a little depressed.  I really just wanted this birthday to come and go quickly with no one noticing that I had turned another year older.  However, my family and friends had other plans.  While I was in Lincoln for fall break, my family had been working behind the scenes to surprise me with a party.  I was attending the Nebraska football game with some family members, and when we returned to my brother's house,  I was greeted with balloons, a pink tiara and boa, shouts of happy birthday, and lots of hugs from everyone.  My sister made a video montage and a Cheryl trivia game to top the evening off.  I was overwhelmed beyond words, and it wasn't until late that night that the emotion caught up with me.  I was overwhelmed again on the actual day of my birthday when I received three bouquets of flowers from the absolute best friends a girl could possibly have.  And just to keep the party going, we celebrated a final time at Elway's with my Colorado family.  Thanks to my beautiful family and friends, my 60th birthday changed from a gloomy dread to a beautiful occasion that made me happy to welcome my seventh decade of life!

The Simplicity?

These huge moments of my life have made me want to shout my gratitude to the world, but they've also caused me to reflect on the big picture.  I found, running through each of these events, three recurring themes, and I realized everything in my life results from them.  And so, rather than make a long list of gratitudes,  my gratitutude list is simple.  I am, now and forever, grateful for

I don't often wear my Catholicism on my sleeve, but  I am proud and grateful to be Catholic through and through.  Without my faith, without my religion, and without my rosaries, I would not have made it through the many challenges along my 60-year journey.  I would never push my faith on anyone.  Ever.  I just know that I would be lost without my own religious beliefs and rituals.  I cling to them, and I am eternally grateful.

This big, amazing, crazy, Czech/Welsh/British, but mostly beautiful Thompson/Jambor clan.  How did I get so lucky to be born into this bundle of love??  Without my mom and dad, my sisters and brothers, my nieces and nephews (and the greats!), my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins, my life would be empty.  I am forever grateful for the love.

I have been blessed throughout my entire life with the most incredible, loving, supportive, FUN friends!  From my neighborhood playmates to my college roommates and all the friendships that have grown along the way, I am forever grateful.  My life is full of sparkles and sunshine because of my friends.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.
Ralph Waldo  Emerson

For my faith, for my family and for my friends, my thanksgiving is truly perpetual, and I am eternally

Monday, September 7, 2015

It All Begins in Kindergarten

See that chair?  Yes, it's waiting for Ethan on his first day of kindergarten.  But it could be any name on that chair--Emily, Juan, Marie, Max--doesn't matter.  Because for every child, this is where it begins.

Every five year old who enters through that schoolhouse door, full of wonder, intrigue, anticipation, and yes, even nervousness and fear, begins an educational journey completely in the hands of a teacher.  Most of us can remember our own beginning.  I certainly can--I couldn't wait to go to kindergarten, and I loved every day I spent with Mrs. Smaha and my kindergarten classmates.  Without knowing it, she provided us a safe, loving environment that began our quest for success.

Ethan began his own quest when he walked down the hallway to his classroom for the first time.  On the way, he said to his mom and dad, "I can't get this smile off me face!"  How lucky teachers are to have these little souls enter their classrooms so full of joy and so ready to devour everything presented to them.  And how lucky are these children who are welcomed with loving arms and full hearts by their teachers. This first year is crucial for setting the stage for the rest of those students' school years.  It is here, in the kindergarten classroom, where children will begin to believe in the value of education and develop a joy for learning.  Oh Ethan--I hope you never get that smile off your face!

What will it take to keep that smile burning bright?  Whether they know it or not, much of that will depend on the teachers along the way.  The relationships they build with their students.  The classrooms they create that encourage every one of their kids to be creative and successful.  The excitement they bring to their lessons.  The heart they give freely to their students as they see them as their very own children.

Here's wishing every little five year old, every elementary student, every middle schooler, every freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and college student, the gift of having those teachers with hearts as big as the ocean.   I know I did. 

Micki on her first day of kindergarten
And so did Ethan's mom!

And apparently, so has Ethan.  He wrote his brand-new teacher this note after his first week of kindergarten, complete with hearts!

Little brother Drake trying out a kindergarten chair
May those teacher hearts be there for generations and generations of children who so desperately need their influence, guidance, expertise, and love.

Thank you, Mrs. Aten,  for giving your heart to Ethan and all the beautiful children you have touched.  I hope you know the important role you are playing in their futures and the way they see themselves for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

College Bound

We're sending this girl off to college this week, and I'm still in a state of disbelief.  (For those of you not familiar with Jessica, she is my BFF Eileen's daughter, and since Eileen is like my sister, Jessica is like my niece--in every sense of the word.) It's not that there hasn't been plenty of time to prepare.  Jess graduated from Hinkley High School (with high honors, natch!) in 2014, but she chose to take advantage of the ASCENT program our district offers high school students.  (read all about this amazing opportunity here)  By taking some concurrent enrollment classes in high school and staying in Aurora for an additional year to attend the Community College of Aurora, Jess was able to complete an Associate of Arts degree in one year, without having to spend a dime.  Now she is off to UNC in Greeley, enrolling as a junior!

So yes, Jess got to stay around an extra  year, and that should have given all of us time to get used to the idea that she would be heading out.  She's capable and more than ready, but it's hard to see that when you've known her since birth.  Because when I see her, I see

this girl
always dancing, always smiling, always beautiful.

and this girl
spending Sundays in the Springs with my family and crushing on my nephew Andy!

and this one
celebrating holidays and birthdays and weddings and always having the time of her life!

and this one

rock star fundraiser, especially for the Arthritis Foundation, and superstar member of Team Thompson and Friends for all ten years that we have walked in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.  Jess, your generous heart and beautiful spirit made the sun shine on those snowy days and thawed even the coldest mornings--minus one awesome degrees--on those 2nd Sundays in December.  Wash Park glistened because of you.  Thank you for putting your heart and soul into this event.

and this one
loved and supported so much by her family, including her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents who cherish her presence when they visit or when she goes home to Nebraska, and her father and step father.
And most importantly, Jessica's mom, my BFF, who has raised Jess to be honest, caring, hard working, a believer, a dreamer, a risk taker, and a giver.  Thank you, Eileen, for sharing Jessica with me and for bringing this beautiful girl into our lives!

and this one
always invited, always included, and always, always loved by the entire Thompson family.   We all adore you, Jess, and are so grateful you are part of our lives!

and  of course this girl
Jewel's babysitter, protector, the only one who can get her to eat when she's being picky, and the only person (besides my mom) whom I truly feel 100% okay leaving her with.  Thank you, Jess, for loving JuJu as much as I do!

but mostly
this girl
Watching this tiny little pumpkin with this high, squeaky voice grow into a stunning young woman with so much talent and soul has been amazing.  So many memories will forever be in my heart 


  reading books together, with three-year-old Jess inserting her own names into the story (Cheryl Thompson, into the woods!) 

and the way you pronounced my name (Shale) all the way into your teens and even now hearing it occasionally come out in your voice 

and playing tons of board games like Wizard of Oz Trivia or Yahtzee while we drank Cokes together

 and our countless sleepovers which always included food and movies like Aquamarine and those Twilight movie marathons where I would only make it through one but you and Jewel would stay up all night watching all five

 and our pool therapy summers, always making a Sonic stop afterwards for a breakfast burrito and a Coke that always tasted like the best Coke EVER!

and all our shopping and lunch and theatre dates

and your talent for entertaining so many with your dance and your voice and your drama

and touching all our hearts.

Now it's time for you to go out and touch some more.  Just don't forget to

call your mom every day
message and FaceTime me and Jewel and Lee OFTEN
come home on weekends every now and then
study hard
be yourself
know that you are so loved.



Thursday, August 6, 2015


Meet the newest member of our Royal Family!
Quinn Audrey
Quinn Audrey Fries was born on May 5, 2015, to my niece Micki and her husband Tyler.  

Anxiously awaiting Quinn's arrival were her two big brothers, Ethan (herehereand here) and Drake (here.)  They stayed with GG while Micki and Tyler were in the hospital, and of course they were the first to be notified of Quinn's birth.  Both of them could hardly wait to meet their new baby sister and see their mom and dad!
Going to visit, bearing gifts!
Ethan is an amazing big brother.  He knew how to spell Quinn before anyone told him--I was teasing him and pretending Quinn's name was Lynne.  He vehemently said "No.  QUINN.  with a Q"!  Micki asked him how he knew it was a Q and he said 'because it sounds like kwa--q.u.a"!
Ethan and Quinn
From the beginning, Drake has been enchanted with Quinn (Kin as he says)--especially her tiny hands.  He often asked to hold her and still does three months later,  They are going to be such good friends, I know!
Drake and Quinn
Not only does Quinn have two big brothers to love and protect her, but she also has the most incredible grandparents.  GG and Jimpa Coover were there to welcome their third grandchild and first granddaughter.
GG, Jimpa, and Quinn

Grandma and Grandpa Fries also live nearby, and they were there to welcome Quinn to the ever-growing Fries family.
Grandma and Grandpa Fries with Quinn and E

Grams got to meet Quinn when she was three weeks old!  She immediately nestled into Grams' safe, loving arms.  Two months later, she was nestled in again <3
Grams and Quinn
Quinn is surrounded by so much love.  Indeed, she got to meet the entire Thompson family, all 31 of us, at Kyle and Ashlie's May wedding.  Everyone wanted to hold three-week old Quinn, and hold her we did.  She got passed around more than a Nebraska football!  It was beautiful.
Quinn with Great Aunt Kerri, Cousin Aunts Ana and Amy, and Great Great Aunt Donna!

Of course, a girl must have her BFFs. Quinn is off to a great start with two of the most ah-dorable little pumpkins, Hailey and Lucy.  Hailey is Micki's friend Brooke's baby girl, and they are just one month apart in age.  They're already going through the handholding phase!  Lucy is Quinn's 2nd cousin.  They are going to be best of friends, just like Micki and Jill, despite what this picture might suggest!
Hailey and Lucy with Quinn
I'm still smiling cheek-to-cheek smiles from my two visits with Quinn (Quinnerina as I call her, much to Ethan's horror).  I met her for the first time when she was three weeks old at the same spot I met her brother Drake two years earlier--Old Chicago in Kearney, Nebraska.    I absolutely could not wait until the next day when everyone would arrive in Lincoln, and so I made a small pit stop in Kearney on my way.  I'm so glad I did.  Because three-week-old Quinn was so  . . .
alert--looking around at everyone!
but also
sleepy--such a good baby!
delicate--little baby hands and slim fingers!
but also
strong--she was already holding her head up!
tiny--nothing like a newborn!
but also
big--a nine-pound baby!
girlie--around all those boys!
but mostly
beautiful--melt-your-heart beautiful with dark hair and dark blue eyes!
When I saw her two months later, she hadn't changed.  Oh sure, she had grown.  And she was smiling--lots of smiles!  But Quinn was still strong and girlie and so

It's fun to imagine what lies ahead for Quinn.  Will she be . . .
a gymnast like her mom?
a brainiac like her GG?
a jock like her dad and uncle and brothers?
a teacher like so many of her family members?

Wherever her path leads her, I'll be watching and cheering her on, along with 30 other Thompsons!

(here are some of my favorite pictures of Quinn so far)
Quinn photographed by her Aunt Sarah
click here for Sarah Hadenfeldt Photography webpage

Newborn Quinn with her mermaid and other photos by her mama 
All smiles!
3 months!