2014 Christmas Letter
Dear Family & Friends - Dec. 2014
As I sit to write this year’s update, I am in the waiting room at Vanderbilt Hospital - one I have come to know well over the past few years - with 3 surgeries here this year for Allen & even my dad’s prostate surgery a few years ago. I realized that I even try to find the same spot to sit in that has the perfect balance of the update board & light from the large window. We have had some wonderful memories this year, but I have to say that 2014 has been a bumpy one. However, I am encouraged by many things - wonderful family & friends, the love & hope of Christ and better health for this coming year. We hope that you have enjoyed 2014 with happy memories & loved ones. Thankfully, Colin, Lily Brooks & Hannah are all doing very well. In the midst of illnesses and surgeries, we were blessed to spend needed family time together & hope that the children will always remember the time we can share as a family.
Illnesses — Allen - I will start with the bad & end with hope for even better in the future. As I wrote last year, in Nov. 2013 we finally moved from Allen’s urologist in Memphis to Vanderbilt urology. Within the first 5 mins the nurse practitioner at Vandy suggested that Allen may have hyperparathyriodism that could be the cause of his over 30 kidney stones per year over the last many years that had in turn caused significant scarring & damage to Allen’s bladder & more. Parathyriod glands surround the thyroid & regulate calcium in the body. Allen’s parathyroid glands were overactive causing his body to take too much calcium from his teeth & bones which caused his MANY kidney stones. 3 endocrinologists, MANY tests, a fabulous surgeon friend who practiced with one of the best endocrine surgeons in the state later, and Allen was FINALLY able to have the much needed surgery in late Oct. to remove 3 1/4 of his 4 parathyroid glands here in Memphis. Allen’s case is extremely rare in that most patients with hyperparathyriodism have only one gland affected - all 4 glands of Allen’s glands were diseased. One day after Allen was released from the hospital post surgery, he was readmitted because his calcium level dropped too low which can cause a magnitude of problems from muscle spasms to cardiac arrest. A full week later, Allen’s calcium finally leveled off & he was able to return home. He will continue to be closely monitored by his excellent endocrinologist as she is concerned that once his gland heals from being biopsied during surgery it will try to take on the work of all 4 glands, and cause problems once more. We are prayerful it will behave and that Allen’s calcium & parathyroid levels will continue to be normal.
His urologist at Vanderbilt has played ‘cleanup’ from the stone damage this year. Allen has needed bladder reconstruction surgery & 2 surgeries to inject Botox into his bladder to stop the constant spasms from damage the stones have caused over several years. We pray that other than quarterly trips to Vanderbilt, Allen should enjoy a healthy 2015 & beyond. Many thanks to Allen’s team of Drs - Ensor, G-G, King, Reynolds & Sasse for their wisdom. Daddy Doc - As you may know, my dad was diagnosed a few years ago with prostate cancer. This summer, his cancer returned, did so aggressively, Dad underwent 10 weeks of radiation treatments and is now cancer free. Praise the Lord!
Everything else - It’s been a roller coaster this year - Allen’s grandmother passed in early Dec while we were in Disney, a broken arm for Colin this spring; endless infections for Allen; Despite everyone having flu shots - 4 of 5 of us recently had the flu; an eye surgery for me; lice hit our house twice - 3 months apart!; and more. It has become comical and although we are very aware things could have been so much worse, it seemed nearly endless.
The Good -
Theatre - Colin, Lily Brooks & Hannah have all fallen in love with the performing arts & we have done our best to nurture this love and help them to use their gifts & talents. We are blessed beyond measure that the Memphis area offers so many opportunities for children in theatre now and that this year our 3 have all been cast together in plays. They started the year with Charlotte’s Web at Germantown Community Theatre (GCT) with Colin as the Gander, Lily Brooks as the sassy Lamb & Hannah as Baby Spider Aranea; the girls performed in ‘Best of Broadway 2’ Musical Cabaret at Stage Door Productions (SDP) in the spring; this summer all 3 were in ‘Alice in Wonderland, Jr’ at GCT with Colin as a Royal Cardsman, Lily Brooks as sassy flower ‘Violet’ & Hannah a flower; this fall at SDP in ‘Mr. Toad’s Mad Adventures’ with Colin the commanding Judge; Lily Brooks a sassy ‘Polly’ (do you see a theme?) & ‘Neighbor #1’ & Hannah as a field mouse; and then this Christmas at SDP in ‘A Lifetime of Christmas’ musical cabaret. Colin & Lily Brooks also continued their tradition of performing in GCT’s Fairy Tale Trails during the month of October in Hansel & Gretel. They have all learned so much, have truly loved it & cannot be prouder of their courage. In our efforts to support them, Allen now serves on the board at GCT and I serve as president of the Parent Advisory Board at SDP.
Film & TV - Lily Brooks has asked since last Christmas if I would help her get into TV acting which I dismissed until March when Allen asked me to look into how to get her started. I tried but didn’t really pursue it again until the first of August when all 3 were chosen to play school children in a scene the ABC show ‘Resurrection’. Colin & Lily Brooks LOVED every second of being on the set, watching the other actors & learning about the process - Hannah not so much. Colin was chosen to be on ABC’s ‘Nashville’ as a student in a talent show & then I took the girls back to Atlanta in early Sept for the girls to be on NBC’s ‘Constantine’ where the director took a lot of time with Lily Brooks (she was featured but the scene was cut), & encouraged me to contact an agent because “she needs to do more than ‘extra’ work”. I contacted a well respected Atlanta agent not expecting much at all but she wanted to sign both Colin & Lily Brooks. After filming ‘Constantine’, Hannah (who knows exactly what she likes or doesn’t) announced she only wanted to do plays & musicals in Memphis. Since Sept., Colin & Lily Brooks filmed another episode of ‘Resurrection’, both have had a few auditions, Lily Brooks was in a music video & both have callbacks soon for commercials & independent films.
Colin (10) - is in the 4th grade having spent this past year at Evangelical Christian School (ECS). He loves reading, math & history. We have very recently made a very difficult decision to pull Colin from ECS & homeschool him next semester to provide him with what we think will be the best learning environment for him. We do not know what the future holds but will continue to seek The Lord’s guidance to make the best decisions for the children in all aspects of their lives. Besides acting, Colin is active in Boy Scouts, playing golf (thought not as much this year because of the broken arm), & playing basketball. He loves learning about computer coding and this summer attended camp at Victory Ranch solo and had his annual week at Lakeshore camp with cousin Kizer & for the first time Lily Brooks was old enough to join them. Colin is enjoying voice lessons and was chosen to be apart of the ECS 4th & 5th grade ‘Go Choir’. He has been able to take acting classes at ECS with Lily Brooks after school & will continue to take classes in acting, voice & more next year.
Lily Brooks (8) - Lily Brooks is in the 2nd grade at ECS & is doing very well. She is eager to please, strives to always do her best, & loves to perform most of all. Lily Brooks would put her loves in order as - voice, acting, piano & dance. She takes voice lessons, takes acting classes, is in a vocal group, piano lessons, tap & ballet, swam summer swim team with Hannah at G’town Country Club & sings in the children’s choir at church. She has sung the national anthem at ECS baseball games, a Redbirds game, an ECS football game, an Ole Miss Basketball & Volleyball game and is slated to sing at two more Ole Miss basketball games. This Oct., I took her to NYC to audition for the part of Matilda in the broadway musical ‘Matilda’. It was a huge trip, a big audition & she worked very hard to prepare. After her vocal audition they asked her to come back for the dance portion the next day. She loved every second of being in NYC & I loved being able to tour with her. While she didn’t get another callback, we may let her try again this coming spring. It can sometimes be difficult to navigate all of this with her but we do our best to encourage & support her while reminding her that she is still only an 8 year old girl who loves dolls, art, board games, & fashion (yes she still hates the school uniform & because of theatre she knows how to apply makeup better than I did when I was 16!).
Hannah (6) - Our littlest angel is such a spitfire who knows exactly who she is & what she likes or doesn’t like. Hannah started Senior Kindergarten at ECS this fall & LOVES school. I was concerned last Christmas about my mental status with her starting school but Lord’s timing is perfect & I have needed her to love school to be able to focus on Allen’s health. She has only gone 1/2 days but will start full days in the spring. Besides acting, Hannah LOVES soccer, playing with Legos, is in a vocal group, sings with Lily Brooks in the children’s choir at church & swam on the summer swim team. Hannah constantly has hilarious ‘one-liners’ that entertain the whole family. She & Lily Brooks are so lucky to have each other & even though they play well together, Colin would walk on water for Hannah if she needed him to do so. Hannah is our full of energy, alway ready for a party child who is not exactly the ‘motherly’ type like Lily Brooks but more of a ‘let’s have a party’ type. She will continue to keep us on our toes we are certain.
Disney World & other trips - We surprised the kids this past March with a very last minute spring break trip to Disney. We picked them up from school with the car packed, told them we were going for ice cream & asked them if they could go anywhere where would they want to go. Their first answer was the movies & then Disney World. They still talk about the surprise & we had a fabulous time on our short trip.
Allen & I went to the Dominican Republic where I taught yoga for the week in April; I took the girls & mom to the Now Jade resort in Cancun for a week girls trip where I taught yoga this July; We took the kids for a quick trip to Dallas just before the start of school & we spent two days at the the Great Wolf Lodge where the kids enjoyed the amazing water park & an interactive game called Magic Quest before we got to spend time with Allen’s sister’s family. Our precious niece, Swayze Mack, (born Jan.25th - also Allen’s bday) is a sweet addition & who Hannah has decided is ok to adore even though she was worried Swayze would steal her coveted ‘baby’ status. We also went back to Disney on a re-scheduled trip the first week of Dec. to enjoy some much needed family time together. The highlight of the trip was our last night at the Christmas party where we were able to ride lots of favorite rides, & really just relax and laugh together.
Us - Allen is still with Suntrust as head of bond accounting & trades loans. This summer, I taught over 450 children swimming lessons over a 9 week period. It is exhausting, still hard on our children not having Mom all of the time, but well worth the effort for our family. I have had to stop teaching yoga & aerobics this month but plan to return teaching once a week soon. We hope you enjoy a healthy, happy 2014 filled with laughter, love, family, friends & showing God’s grace to others.
Love, The O’Briants - Allen, Hope, Colin, Lily Brooks & Hannah