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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Christmas Letter 2007

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/15/2024
Posted: 12/16/2007
Page Views: 6583
Topics: #Family #Christmas
A recap of the doings of the Cilwa-Manions in 2007.
Karen Rachel John Mary Paul Michael Zachary Jennifer Cassie Happy Holidays!

For the second year in a row, my annual Christmas letter is being presented as part of my blog. Is this a trend?

As is true of most years, 2007 saw a lot of firsts, a lot of fun, and a couple of devastating losses. Here are the year's highlights:

All Of Us

We had some minor shuffling during the year. Our son John, who at the end of last year had the downstairs bedroom, brought in his girlfriend Rachel and in the spring the two moved out and into a condo less than a mile away. We see them most nights for dinner and consider them to still be members of the household. They are the proud parents of a pair of baby kittens.

This fall, Jenny officially moved back home and she and Zach now share the front bedroom, while Karen moved into the back bedroom—a room of her own, at last!

Another addition to the family is Cassie, a sweet-tempered kitten who has become a sweet-tempered young cat in the intervening months.

All the humans in the household, plus Michael's sister Surya, were able to attend the Fourth of July festival at Tempe Town Lake. Although a tad commercialized for our tastes, we nevertheless had a great time and the fireworks were awesome.

Wild horses didn't drag Jenny to the Salt River, but they helped her enjoy it more!

Everyone in the house managed to make at least one Salt River float trip this year, though not all at the same time. Our most exciting trip was the last, when we encountered a full herd of wild horses crossing the river just a few dozen yards from us.

Zach jumping at Slide Rock

We also finally got to Slide Rock State Park just north of Sedona. I had driven past it so many times, but this time we actually went in and it was awesome! No wonder it always looks so crowded! We can't wait for summer so we can go again.

Mary and Zach inspect the rain forest in Biosphere 2.

Biosphere 2 was another trip we all managed to make. Located between Phoenix and Tucson, this is the facility in which five outside environments have been duplicated, ranging from rain forest to desert. The tour was fascinating and every one of us learned something new.

Most Of Us

Our ship, the Carnival Legend.

A vote for the year's biggest adventure and best time would undoubtedly elect our cruise to the Western Caribbean. Although John, Rachel and Jenny were not able to accompany us due to their work schedules, our daughter Dorothy Elizabeth and granddaughter Cailey, as well as Cailey's daddy Frank and Frank's parents, Kathy and Joe, were. In addition to thoroughly enjoying the amenities aboard the Carnival Legend, we visited Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Belize, and Costa Maya, saw Mayan ruins, went snorkeling, tubing through caves, and more. We hope it will not be a once-in-a-lifetime vacation!


I continue to get older, as I have not yet figured out a way to prevent it. I started a diet last January and lost a total of one pound, as of this morning. I may need to step that up a bit. It's wise to lose weight conservatively, but this is ridiculous.

I am still working at Toyota Financial Services. I did get moved from the third to the second floor, where it is a lot quieter. My former assistant quit and I am still training his replacement.

I got my CPAP machine for my sleep apnea last December and it has made an incredible difference. Although my blood pressure and weight didn't magically go down as I'd hoped they might, at least I am wide-awake at work. It did take me most of the year to find the exact, right mask but last month I did—and, of course, it was the very one I originally said I wanted but let the technician talk me out of.

Although it sometimes feels like I just go to work and then home to eat and sleep so I can go back to work, I do managed to do some other things. Probably too many have to do with TV, as I've collected and watched all four seasons' worth of episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. What really made it fun, though, was that Karen also fell in love with that show so we watched the episodes together and really bonded over them. (Not that Michael didn't watch with us when he could.) A running joke has been trying to explain all the backstory to Rachel, who came to us never having seen Star Trek! So she has no idea who or what Vulcans are, not to mention Andorians or Klingons or Star Fleet or transporters. It's as if she were from another planet, though I'm sure it seems the reverse to her. (But isn't that realization, that what we all have in common is trying to bridge to the worlds of those around us, what Star Trek is all about?)

Once we'd seen all the episodes of Enterprise, we had to find something else to watch. I've become a big fan of the science-fiction TV series Stargate: SG-1 and so began collecting its episodes on DVD. So Karen and I, and whoever else is in front of the TV, are now up to the early episodes of Season 3.

I had my first and last hydrocolonic in August. No one can any longer say that I'm full of, well, you know.

And of course I've continued blogging, having caught up in my own biography to 1961 with occasional forays into later years. I documented the births of all four of my children. I got almost all of my old photographs digitized, and am about halfway through getting them cleaned up and cataloged. I posted my late Mom's photo album and many of her poems, and recorded instrumental versions of a few of my newer songs.

I'm still trying to sell my most recent novel, which was originally called Avatar, changed to Joshua Rising by this time last year, and is now going under the title When Falls The Sky. I'm thinking of changing the name again. Maybe 2008 will be the year I get the magic combination of title, query letter, and agent!


Michael's graduation with a BA from ASU.

Michael had another graduation in May this year. He was unable to go right into A. T. Still University as he'd planned because they were full up. He is hoping to continue on on the road to getting his doctorate in Physical Therapy this coming year. Meanwhile, his massage business has been booming, so he's been able to provide pain-relieving treatments to deserving people even without the doctorate! The number of repeat clients he has is gratifying, because it demonstrates they really like the therapies he provides.

Michael and Paul: In hot water again.

Michael and I took a three-day weekend to visit the hot springs of Oregon. I had discovered some of them when I was truck driving in 2002-2003, and really wanted to go back. It was a terrific weekend and nice to be out of the house for a change.

Dorothy Ann, gone too soon.

Michael took another week on his own to visit relatives on the East coast. He spent several days with his sister Dorothy Ann and even made it down to visit Aunt Ruby (who I'd met and fallen in love with). Alas, Aunt Ruby was in hospice but she and Michael had a delightful visit which made Aunt Ruby feel much better.

Sadly, Aunt Ruby died shortly afterwards.

And days later we were shocked to hear that Dorothy Ann also passed away, during a simple hospital stay that no one imagined would be fatal. Michael and I and Surya flew to Connecticut for the funeral. While we were grateful to be reunited with Dorothy Ann's husband Bob and most of her children and grandchildren, still it was devastating that she had gone so suddenly and so young.

On a happier note, once a month Michael enjoys going to the opera with our friend and season ticket-holder, Willis Frye. Michael is more of an opera fan than I, so I am more than grateful to Willis for providing Michael with this opportunity. (And I have managed to get in to see one or two of them when Willis was unable to make it. So I am not completely without culture!


Those who read all about our cruise know that Mary was injured in a fall in Belize while getting off a pedestrian ferry. She was pretty banged up and it took awhile for her to fully recover; but she is back to her normal, pretty self and ready for our next cruise (in January).


Karen is still a full-time student, taking classes mostly at ASU. Her classes this semester included Spanish 201, Pleistocene Archeology 361, Astronomy 111, and (something easy) Southwestern Gardening. In connection with her gardening class, Karen has enlisted the rest of the family in landscaping the back yard, no minor task considering that wedo live in a desert. Karen will be graduating ASU this coming May, and she is, of course, an A student.

When she isn't studying or attending classes, an enjoyable diversion for Karen is Toon Town, an Internet game that allows players from all over the world to interact with each other as well as "cogs", the bad guys the "toons" must defeat. Since "cogs" have no sense of humor (they are dressed like middle management), they can only be destroyed with "gags" such as pies in the face. Often, Karen will play Toon Town on one computer while Zachary plays with her on another. Jenny often joins in as well, and Zach's friend Chris who lives (and plays) across the street. As a foursome in Toon Town, they are unbeatable; and woe to the cog who thinks otherwise!

And, of course, Karen continues to tutor Zach (with Mary, Jenny, and occasional assists from me and Michael and even Rachel) in the evenings, making sure his homework is done.


When she's not playing Toon Town, Jenny is still the Program Manager at WINR, the recovery home which saved her from a life of addiction (or, more properly, helped her save herself). She no longer lives on-campus, though, having moved in with us in September.

Jenny: Getting awards instead of arrested.

Because WINR is such a big part of her life, the rest of us were glad to support her during some of the big events there, like the Recovery Walk in October.

Having been unable to connect with Jenny in any meaningful way during her many years of addiction, I'm delighted to find that her non-addicted self is a wonderful, honorable, fun person to know and be around. The rest of us are very grateful to have this opportunity to know and live with her. Not all families of addicts are so lucky.


Zach gets a kick out of karate.

Zach, the only grandchild who lives with us, continues to be a delight and the light of our lives. He is now eight, and amazingly accomplished for someone his age. He's returned to karate classes, which he attends two or three evenings a week. He has a white belt with two yellow stripes, but should be getting his yellow belt before Christmas.

Zach on his Cub Scout campout.

Zach has also joined Cub Scouts and his Scouting activities have provided me with an opportunity to do more things with him. A horse is a horse, of course, of course. For example, he and I joined his pack on a camping trip in October (let's face it, he and I are the only ones in the family who really like to camp, anyway). And we got to tour a local dairy farm, which was a great deal of fun.

B-Ball with Zach.

Zach is in third grade, is getting pretty good with basketball (that's with a regulation- height net!), is awesome in both math and spelling and uncanny in his ability to remember and tell a story. Thanks to a favorite World War II video game, he knows more about Europe and the Pacific theatre than most adults—and he can rattle off designations of personal and attack weaponry far faster than I'm comfortable with.

He also gives surprisingly good neck massages.


John recently left Dillard's Department Stores as an in-house graphics designer to take a better (but similar) position at J.C. Penny's. They seem to love his work and of course he gets an employees' discount so we all hope he continues to work there for years to come!

He and Rachel have also enjoyed decorating their own apartment, and they've done a terrific job of it, creating a space that is comfortable and welcoming as well as being uniquely their own.


We've met Rachel's parents; and her mother made a special trip out here in the fall and we all had dinner. Rachel is adorable and a full-time student majoring in Accounting (following in her dad's footsteps). So, of course, she gets the job of helping Zach with his math homework whenever she's around.

Outside The House

Dorothy and Cailey

My two dads: Dorothy Elizabeth with Michael and Paul. My two granddads: Cailey with Paul and Michael.

Our oldest daughter, Dorothy Elizabeth, still lives in Virginia with her partner, Frank, and their daughter Cailey. Cailey is excelling in hockey, dance and singing—she has a surprisingly good singing voice which we hope she develops.

Maximos: Our stolen grandson.


Max, our missing grandson, is still—as far as we know—somewhere in Europe with his mother, John's ex-wife, who took him there illegally and has refused John access to him. We can only hope that someday, curiosity will lead him to the Internet, where he'll find the real story of why he was separated from his father.



Michael's surviving sister, Surya, lives in Phoenix and is a frequent and favorite visitor despite her demanding schedule as activist and volunteer. Surya was elected to the Board of Directors at Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, Inc. (ABIL) this past July where she is presently on the Governance committee and the Spirit of ABIL awards committee. ABIL, a powerful "voice" for the disability community in Arizona, offers independent living programs designed to empower people with disabilities to build independent lives. ABIL is one of five centers for independent living in Arizona. There are over 600 centers across the country dedicated to equal opportunity and full inclusion of people with disabilities into all aspects of community life.


Barbara and Peter

We feel that our closest friends are also family. (After all, what's the point of being gay if you can't have a custom-made family?) Barbara and Peter Lafford, who are our dear friends as well as our landlords, were frequent visitors as well as the recipients of visits and the source of great support during the time just after Dorothy Ann's passing. Because of the timing of the funeral and other things going on about the same time, we were not able to have our big September Birthdays party this year. But we did have an awesome Thanksgiving, with appearances by Jock McNeill (my co-author on The Sun City Cannabis Club) and his darling wife Diane; and our awesome friends and fellow spiritual mavens Maurean Cunningham and her mother Sue Irons. Barbara was unable to come as she was in Florida, but Peter was there with his father, world-renowned composer Lindsay Lafford, the Lord of Ridley (I'm not kidding!). Come to our parties and you get to meet celebrities!

A special pleasure for Michael and I, with Surya and Barbara and Peter, has been attending the local concerts for Women In Tune. This lesbian choir, which performs three or four times a year, is a major reason why living in the Phoenix metropolitan area is worth the occasional 118° F days.

Merry Christmas to All!

And so we come to the end of another year, and prepare to face a new one. May you live as long as you like, and love as long as you live.

And let us hear from you!