The following is the eulogy I wrote and delivered following the death of my sister, Jennifer. Today marks one month since her passing and it hurts as much today as it has every day since. I miss her terribly and I love her more than I can express.

August 9th, 2013

Thank you all for being here today to help us celebrate Jennifer. As I look around at the room I am reminded at the wide variety of ways that she touched those around her. Preparing for this moment gave me an opportunity to look back at our lives and reflect on how important and special she was to me, to our parents and to all of us. In the process I came to realize how much she impacted who I am today and based on the tremendous outpouring of friends and family contacting us in the last week I can see that some of her positive outlook on life has rubbed off on those around her as well.

Jennifer was born with her vision impairment and developed her facial paralysis and hearing impairment around the age of 4. As an adult she never knew life without these setbacks yet from her perspective she had no disability whatsoever. She once told me that an obstacle existed only in so much as you believed it to be an obstacle. Several doctors told us that Jenny would have a rough time functioning in society but neither she nor my parents ever once let that slow her down.

We and I grew up in what seemed to us to be a normal American family. We have the most incredibly loving parents and grandparents and at one point we had more grandmothers and great-grandmothers still alive than pretty much anyone I have ever known. I even remember offering to share them with friends of ours that weren’t so fortunate. In addition to that, our vast network of aunts, uncles and cousins upon cousins is something that we have always cherished. Between Mom running a small daycare out of our house for years and some close childhood friends we even had en extended network of siblings.

We lived in a household filed with love, respect, hard work and strong values. We practiced all of these throughout every one of the many wild family vacations including camping all the way to Canada and back, 9 days of camping from a boat on Lake Powell, summers with our cousins Marisa and Seth and of course all the time we spent at Grandpa’s cabin in the Davis Mountains. One of those values was a deep understanding of working hard for what you want to achieve in life. She never felt that she deserved a hand-out and she was always willing to try and do anything. She loved to go hiking with us and would lean on us only when necessary. She was fiercely independent and she had the scraped knees to prove it.

Like any good big sister, she taught me my letters and colors. Hopefully she got them all correct, if not that might explain a few things about me. We would sit together on the floor of the living room for hours at a time looking through Mom’s old Good Housekeeping magazines while she quizzed me on my reading.

She worked hard at her studies, eventually earning a bachelors degree in English and studying abroad in college. During the interview for the exchange program she was asked to provide more information about her “vision handicap” to which she replied, “I don’t have a handicap, I just don’t see very well.” She was immediately awarded the scholarship. What others perceived to be life-altering disabilities, Jenny only treated as minor inconveniences. That’s the way she lived her life, with a level of optimism and enthusiasm that few of us share. I do my best to live each day of my life with the same level of positivity as she did and I can undoubtedly say that it is because of her example.

The mobility training she received starting at a very early age gave her the practical skills to overcome many day-to-day life challenges. Traveling on busses, taxis, trains and planes didn’t phase her one bit. She was a great cook and regularly brought her cookies to family functions.

She tackled every challenge life threw at her under circumstances where most people would have given up. Despite her vision impairment she was a prolific reader, often finding herself in the middle of several books at a time and always took suggestions and offered up many recommendations. She also loved knitting and amassed a great collection of yarns over the years. She volunteered with Austin Free-Net helping others write resumes and teaching computer skills. She loved music, was active in choir through high school and was a very good piano player having started playing very young.

Jenny and I grew closer over the years. In the last decade or so we developed a routine of checking in with each other almost daily. We would instant message each other every morning, often trading silly puns or sharing book and movie suggestions. In fact the last instant message I received from her was a recommendation for a book that’s a mixture of Star Wars and Shakespeare, something quite typical for her especially given that she could quote both equally well.

She had a witty sense of humor and loved a good pun better than anyone. I think she inherited that from our father. Mom and I would groan when the two of them would get on a roll. Just a few weeks ago she joked during a haircut that she had one good eye and the other one was “just for entertainment”.

Jenny never married but she has had two great loves in her life. Sadie and Burke. The bond she had with both dogs was hard to quantify. She raised Sadie from a puppy and as close as they were she knew that adding a service dog was more than her little apartment could handle so my parents adopted her. Jenny received Burke as her service dog a little over 3 years ago and they were instantly bonded. Between Jen being a wonderful handler and Burke being a fabulous worker, they made a great team. She coined the term “Labra-dorable” for him and it is quite appropriate. In the last week I have received offers from half a dozen friends and family to give him a loving home. My parents will be adopting him now that he is too old to return to service and I know that every time I see him and hive him a hug I’ll think of Jenny and I’ll know he’s thinking of her too.

Jenny lived her life through a lens of positivity. Every day she woke up and decided how she was going to tackle the world and I hope we can all learn a little something from that. Through the hundreds of emails, phone calls and Facebook messages I have received since she passed away, the overwhelming majority of people all mention this positivity. Jenny, I think you have made your mark on the world.

We all love you and miss you.

“Roads Go Ever On (excerpt)

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

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I’ve been asked for this recipe several times this week so I thought I’d post for all to enjoy.  It’s a pain to make but oh so yummy.

Baklava

4 cups chopped nuts (pecans and/or walnuts)
1/2 cup sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1 box fillo dough
1 cup butter (melted)
12oz honey (heated until runny)

  • Grease a 13×9 baking pan
  • mix nuts, sugar, cinnamon
  • alternate 6 buttered layers of fillo dough and 1 cup nut mixture
  • cut serving slices 1/2 way through
  • pour remaining butter on top
  • cook at 300 for 1hr 25min
  • remove from oven, immediately pour on honey
  • let cool for several hours

Variations:

  • add ground cloves to sugar/nut mixture
  • add whole cloves to honey while heating, remove cloves before pouring
  • add a whole clove to the top of each serving
  • substitute honey with syrup (water + sugar + small amount of lemon juice), works best with pistachios

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I’ve always prided myself in being an omnivore.  There’s pretty much no food I patently dislike and I’ll try just about anything.  Amy always tells me that if we signed up for the Amazing Race I’d be the one who’d rock all the food challenges.

Anyway, I don’t usually do the meme thing here but I couldn’t resist this one.  Very Good Taste has a list of 100 foods all omnivores should try.  Here’s my results.  I’ve tried all the bold items and refuse to try the crossed out items.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

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Yesterday Ben decided he wanted his training wheels off. I think he’s been ready for this for quite some time now but every time I asked he would always say no. Yesterday was the day though. He had already bent one of the training wheels up a bit and it wasn’t going to repair easily. I asked him as I’ve asked him dozens of times, “Ben, should I just take them off completely?” I was a bit surprised when he said “Sure!!!”

Amy prepped her camera … I stood by ready to perform the most sacred of fatherly rituals of holding him upright and running beside him for the next half mile while he struggled to stay upright. What happened you ask? I held on for about 3 seconds before he realizes he’s under control then he speeds away and starts doing figure eights in the cul-de-sac. All I can do is watch as he does 3 perfect laps. And I mean perfect. After 3 laps he gets confident and starts doing tricks. Riding with only one hand on the handlebars. Sticking both legs out to the side. Sitting on the frame. He had this down.
Ben without training wheels

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The other day Ben disappeared into his room for a while before finding me and presenting me with a note he wrote all by himself. He’s getting really good at de-constructing words and sounding them out but he usually needs a little prompting to do something like this. This was the first time he had ever done this all by himself.

WE YHD 2 D FREZ

Ben (very excited and hopeful): “Daddy, can you read it?”
Me: “Um, sorry buddy but I can’t. What does it say?”
Ben: “We watched the Tour De France. Did I get it right?”

I was very proud of him. He’s so ready for Kinder in a few weeks.

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Evan Christopher Anderson was born on at 1:47pm on June 10th.  He weighed in at 9lb 5oz and measured out at 20.75 inches.  Everyone is happy, healthy and recovering.  I’ll update with some pictures once I have caught up on some email.

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Things have been pretty crazy around the Anderson household lately.

First, Ben graduated from pre-school and lost his first tooth on the same day. Awesome! He’s such a big guy now I can’t believe it. We are so proud of him.

Then a few days later we lost Daisy, our Golden Retriever, to cancer. That was pretty traumatic as one can imagine. Amy and I adopted her before we were married and she’s been such a close part of our lives ever since.

And now Amy is scheduled to be induced on June 10th. One week from tomorrow. That’s 8 days away. Wow!!!

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My lovely wife recently asked me publicly about the things I love. Here’s a quick list.

  • Food (I don’t think I’m a “foodie” but I REALLY like food, there’s nothing I patently dislike)
  • wine: I’m not too particular but I really like a good shiraz or merlot
  • beer: anything but american piss-beer, I really like these brands: Guinness, Duvel, Sierra Nevada, Rahr, Shiner
  • cheese: blue, havarti, sharp swiss, blue cheddar (I’m drooling just thinking about it)
  • bread: anything crusty, whole wheat, with chunks (that’s for you Amy), pumpernickel etc
  • fruits and vegetables: about anything fresh, I’m currently growing: tomatoes, 3 kinds of peppers, squash, lettuce and watermelon
  • Ms Sandy’s snow cones, mmmmm, tastes like summer
  • Items
    • my Ridgid 24V cordless hammer drill, it’s the best cordless drill you can buy IMHO hands down
    • my Craftsman radial arm saw, it’s my general purpose work-horse saw, I love it
    • my BBQ pit. :)
  • Music (…where to begin…)
    • U2, Toadies, NIN, Muse, Sparta, Stone Temple Pilots, Chevelle, Metallica, The Mars Volta, Burden Brothers, and many more….
  • Places
    • Davis Mountains, not the most beautiful mountains I’ve been to, but this family place is my zen-spot, my centering place
    • our back yard, very relaxing and comforting
    • my workshop (or my Man Room as Amy calls it)
  • Misc
    • My wife and son are the joys of my life. Period.
    • My family (immediate and extended) is incredible and I don’t get to spend enough time with any of them.
    • My friends are all wonderful and different. Every time we have a BBQ or gathering I realize how fortunate we are.
    • My job and career. I love where I work and what I do. I couldn’t ask for a better team, boss, department or company to work for. I’ve never been happier professionally.

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    Last weekend we picked up a new member of the family. Sophie Sky Anderson is a 7 week old Pembroke Welsh Corgi. She’s utterly adorable and Ben is about as happy as you could imagine a 4 (but almost 5) year old little boy could be.

    Sophie Sky Anderson

    And, as usual, we have lots of pictures.

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