Tuesday, August 25, 2015

ultrasound news

Dearest Bunny,

Yesterday was your first level two ultrasound. We drove an hour out of town to go to a maternal fetal medicine specialist  - the same one we went to with your sister Lily and had briefly visited during my pregnancy with your brother Hayden.

In the past we have taken either Mackenzie or Josiah with us to these in-depth ultrasounds. When I was pregnant with Hayden we took Lily with us as well - to visit the doctors who had treated us during my pregnancy with her, and as living proof that Down syndrome was not something we feared. But this trip was just the two of us ... Daddy and I wanted to go to lunch afterwards, and also : his smart car only has room for two :)

necklace that Naomi made for me to wear to the ultrasound 

We saw an intern for the first part of your ultrasound. She was young and personable and explained everything she was looking at as she went. I've had some pretty stoic ultrasound techs over the years - I like the friendly ones much better ! She squeezed the warm gel over my tummy and asked me several questions as she began moving the wand across me, first making sure there was a beating heart. I admit to always feeling just a twinge of nervousness in that first minute ... the only reassurance I have of a healthy baby inside me right now is an occasional flutter, and even those are fleeting at this stage. But the tech found your heartbeat right away, and she turned up the volume for Daddy and me to listen to - the perfect cadence of galloping hoof beats, measuring 150 per minute according to the number on the screen.

The scan continued, with Daddy and I taking turns whispering about how cute you were and marveling at how clear the image was that we were both looking at. The tech told us that their machines are the best there is - infinitely more precise than those first ultrasounds we had done over twenty years ago when I was pregnant with your oldest brothers and sister. You kicked and rolled, waved your arms and unfolded your legs repeatedly - you were very active in there, and you were taking full advantage of the room you had to stretch out in :)

The tech continued her measurements, documenting every limb and organ as she observed them...

"This is the right femur," she said, her fingers flying across the keyboard while she carefully clicked the beginning and end points of your leg bone. My eyes flew to the bottom of the screen, noting that your gestational age (15 weeks, 5 days) was a week ahead of the measurement she recorded. Lily's femurs and arm bones had been lagging by three weeks during her 28 week scan ... the doctor at that time had said it was possible that Daddy and Mommy's genes had more to do with her short limbs than an extra chromosome. Looking back it's so hard to see how there was any doubt, though. Although all of your siblings were on the small-to-average size, none of them had lagging arm or leg bones. I made a mental note to ask the doctor about the fact that your legs and arms were only a week behind, when Lily's had been three - I knew from past experience that ultrasound technicians are generally not allowed to answer specific medical questions when it came to diagnosing a baby in utero. As friendly and forthright as this technician was, I didn't want to cross that line.

Ten or fifteen minutes went by, when the regular technician came into the room. The intern quickly handed her the probe, and as she introduced herself, I recognized her from a previous ultrasound as well. She began remeasuring the same bones and organs that the intern had ... I watched carefully as she recorded in centimeters the width of one kidney, with the second kidney listed underneath. I remembered our first ultrasound with Lily, when one of the soft markers for Down syndrome had been "an enlarged kidney" - clearly you had the same marker, as evidenced by the mismatched numbers on the screen.

She measured the circumferences of your head and abdomen, and just as with your sister Lily, I noted that they both corresponded to your gestational age. I knew from weeks of researching online during my tenth pregnancy that this was typical in regards to Down syndrome - while the leg and arm bones may be lagging, the head and abdomen typically measure on track.

Halfway through the exam, the tech asked me to empty my bladder- you had been lying face down on your tummy the entire time, which limited the view of your little beating heart. I left the room and returned a few minutes later, and I rolled to my left side as instructed by the technician . We hoped to shake things up in there, but our little Bunny was quite content to stay lying on her tummy ! You rolled from side to side occasionally, folded and unfolded your limbs, stretched your tiny arms above and behind your head, waved your little fists in front of your face as if to say hi to Mommy and Daddy, and pressed your little toes against the wall of my uterus... but you stayed face down or on your side, refusing to roll over and show us your chest :) You are already one stubborn little Bunny, but that's okay - we knew we would be coming back in a month to get a better view of things anyway.

The tech finished up her measurements and told us the doctor would come back to the room after taking a look at the pictures ... Daddy and I waited patiently and talked quietly about what a little doll you are already. We were tickled by the fact that you had been opening and closing your mouth several times during the exam. While we never got to see your cute little profile, we did see the sweetest little hands and feet, and I could already imagine the day when those little fingers would curl around mine ... five more months seems such a long way away.

our bony little Bunny, opening and closing her mouth :)

The doctor came into the room-  the same one we saw with Hayden three years ago. A cheerful, petite blond woman who is equally energetic and kind, she makes you feel as if you are only there to take a peek at your beautiful growing baby, rather than look for potential signs of danger on an ultrasound. She is the perfect antidote to any fears or anxieties a parent might experience when facing a new diagnosis - I wish every doctor in America had her bedside manner.

After re-introducing herself and asking us how Lily was doing (so nice that she remembered her and asked about her as well!) she quickly went over the results from the scan. We talked about the results from the NIPT test, and the fact that you most likely share your sister's extra chromosome - she mentioned almost off-handedly that there were lots of little indicators she saw on the pictures that lined up with the results from the screening. She then went on to point those out, and just as I suspected they were the following: shortened femurs and arm bones, enlarged kidney, echogenic focus on the heart (a non-threatening "bright spot" that your sister had as well), and one that I hadn't known was visible -  missing pinkie bones ! One of the first things I noticed when Lily was born was the fact that her little pinkies were curved- although not all babies with Down syndrome share this trait, it is a common one, a result of a missing or shortened middle bone on the last finger. I hadn't known this was visible on an ultrasound - for some reason this little piece of information knit my heart even more tightly with yours, little Bunny. You are fearfully and wonderfully - and uniquely ! - made :)

The doctor went on to explain that right now your heart is smaller than a dime, making it extremely difficult to get a good view of because of the size. Compounded with the fact that you were lying on your tummy throughout the scan, the only view we got being the one through your tiny back and into the heart, she was not able to get a really accurate feel for how everything looks. She held her hand in front of her eyes, fingers spread apart, and explained that basically that's what it was like - looking through her splayed fingers to peek at what she saw. However, she did say that what she saw looked good : there were no red flags indicating that a stillbirth or other dangerous scenario was imminent .

And right here, dearest Bunny, I will say that your mommy had a little wave of fear wash over me. It was just for a moment- the statement our doctor made was meant as one of reassurance, and not alarm. But no mommy wants to hear the words stillbirth or danger in connection with her unborn baby ... I wish I could say my faith was unshakable in that moment, but the lump in my throat proved otherwise. She went on to say that she saw no fluid building up behind your brain- she explained that this can be a big sign that a baby's heart is failing and that there is a major defect present. The absence of any fluid was very reassuring, as well as the fact that there were no obvious defects on the heart that she could see it this point. She told us that other than the obvious markers that we had expected, you looked great – she had a big smile on her face and told us that we would see things more clearly as far as your heart goes, in four weeks when we come back for our next ultrasound.

I asked her about your leg measurements, and she explained that as you grow, your legs and arms will probably lag a bit more like Lily's did. 

This ultrasound was so different than our initial one with Lily six years ago, Bunny. All of the markers we discussed, even the fact that there could be a heart defect that might show up in the future… all of it was lacking the fear that I felt in that room so long ago. Our dialogue about Down syndrome was no more intense than if we had been discussing the color of your eyes. 

And I couldn't help but think how wonderful it would be every new diagnosis were able to be discussed in such a tone. I wonder how many new parents, when hearing the words Down syndrome for the first time in regards to their baby, would have a different outlook on their future, a different perspective on that diagnosis – if it were explained in the straightforward and gentle manner in which our doctor was speaking. The words we heard were not spoken in a morbid or somber tone – there were no veiled references to termination, no conversations about "quality of life"…we didn't leave that office feeling like we carried a burden with us, but rather a gift – we left with the truth.

That truth wasn't sugarcoated, the potential issues weren't glossed over, there was no stone left unturned… but there was a joy and expectancy in the room that every new parent should feel, and we left knowing that our doctor celebrated with us in the gift of life that we have been given ... the miracle of YOU.

Daddy and I drove a half an hour out of town, along the winding McKenzie River to a tiny restaurant tucked away in the dense Northwest forest. The restaurant (one of Daddy's clients) just opened up a few weeks ago, and it is the only place to eat that actually sits next to the river for sixty-nine miles. The food was wonderful, the weather divine, and the sound of rushing water made the perfect backdrop for our peaceful afternoon together.

We spent a leisurely lunch enjoying each other's company and talking about every aspect of this pregnancy.... what a miracle it is that we were able to conceive at our age, what a blessing it is to know ahead of time about your extra chromosome, how excited we are to experience everything we did with Lily as a baby - without the fear - and how happy we are knowing the joy that lies before us.

jammies, cap and bunny booties, all worn by your big sisters Abigail and Lily :)

I could not have asked for a more perfect morning and afternoon, Dearest Bunny - just you and me and Daddy ....

...until next time I remain,

Your adoring Mama xoxoxox

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

letter to my bunny

Dearest Bunny,

This is my first letter to you on your big sister's blog. I started writing letters to Lily six years ago... I had just come home from a level two ultrasound at the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center, an hour away from home.

It was a routine twenty-week ultrasound, but because of my age at the time, my doctor had suggested going down to Eugene. The ultrasound machines and the doctors there were equipped to handle women "of advanced maternal age" and to look for any anomalies in a growing fetus, much more so than our hospital here in town.

That ultrasound turned out to be a pivotal point in my tenth pregnancy; nothing else in the following seventeen weeks leading up to Lily's birth would be routine, compared to my nine previous pregnancies. Several markers for Down syndrome turned up on that anatomy scan, the major one being a possible AV canal defect on our baby's heart. We left Eugene with lots of questions and what-ifs, but because I did not want an amnio, we were told there was no way to know with certainty if our baby had Down syndrome or not. That was something we were willing to deal with - we said we would cross that bridge when the baby was born. But because of the possible heart condition, we faced a long road ahead of many ultrasounds and echo cardiograms and stress tests to make sure our baby was thriving.

I remember coming home from that appointment and feeling a heavy fog of uncertainty slowly descend upon my mind. I knew God was helping me in that fog- I felt His grace. I felt the prayers of friends and family around me as we made several phone calls asking for prayer - but it seemed there was this sea of unfamiliar waters that I had suddenly found myself floating in. At times I felt myself slipping below the surface of those uncharted waters, desperate for someone to pull me out and return me to the safe shores that I had always known during pregnancy ... the times when all we had carried home from an ultrasound was a handful of grainy black and white images of our baby, no weighty words like "enlarged kidney", "shortened femurs" and "av canal defect" to accompany those flimsy little squares of photos.

And so I turned to the thing that had always carried me back me to shores of certainty whenever I had experienced unknown waters in my past ... writing.

I don't want to make light of the grace of God or dismiss His hand in all of what we went through - His hand was the thing that pulled me up out of those waters. His grace, His love and His tangible presence in my life - I know without a doubt that it was God's hand that brought me up for air when I thought I was going to drown.

But I also know that God gives us anchors in life ... or in my case a life boat ... to carry me back to shore. He gives people tools - coping mechanisms, if you will - for handling life's crises. Some people (your Uncle Chris for instance) use humor to get them through tough times. Other people (like your Aunt Hopie) might use physical activity - say, running a marathon, or hiking a mountain - to clear their brain and bring focus. (I cannot for the life of me imagine this bringing me ANY kind of comfort, when a nice cup of tea and a blank screen before me does the trick ... but there you have it, Bunny. Different strokes for different folks.)

Anyhow ... writing carried me through. When I thought I was going to lose my mind during those seventeen weeks of my remaining pregnancy --- trip after trip to Eugene, doctor visits, and  google searches, and chance (??) encounters with parents of children with Down syndrome, and researching everything I possibly could on av canal defects, and finally that last eternal week of carrying Lily and feeling her movements frighteningly diminish --- I wrote.

I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I processed all of my emotions, all of my anxiety, all of my HOW DO I HANDLE ALL OF THIS feelings - through writing some more. It was my tool, my weapon, my coping mechanism .... it was my lifeboat.

And so, Dearest Bunny .... I'm here again.

Not because of extra chromosomes ... but because I'm floating in a sea of uncertainty again, and I need a lifeboat. I feel the grace of God - I feel His love and protection and guidance - I feel His hand in all of this. There is no mistaking that.

But I need a lifeboat.

And right now I can picture God standing on the shore  ... and He's throwing me a rope.

So if writing is my lifeboat, and God is on the shore, then faith is the rope that is going to pull me back to safety.

I'm going to write and write and write, while I am praying and pouring my heart out to God, and He is going to pull me back to safety and peace and solid ground.

But I have to hold on to that rope - that faith - that He is standing on the shore. He hasn't abandoned me, He hasn't turned His back on me, He didn't forget about me, or about you, my little bunny - He sees us, and He knows right where we are, and He is going to lead us back onto that shore of peace and safety whenever it feels like we are drowning .... we just have to hold on to faith. 

And this is where my letter to you really begins, little Bunny.

This is where your story starts to unfold, and I am honored and blessed beyond belief to begin telling it. And I know that God is really the One who is writing your story- and I'm just the story teller. I truly believe those words - before You formed me in my mother's womb, You knew me - so if God is the author, then I am just the pen in His hand.

I mentioned that there was a pivotal point in my pregnancy with your big sister's pregnancy ... a moment when everything changed.

And one little phone call on Monday afternoon, answered while I was sitting in my hot van in the Winco parking lot, while your older sister Abigail grabbed a few things from the store... one little phone call became that pivotal point in this pregnancy.

I want to share this little video first though, Bunny, before I write about that phone call.

Because I don't want any of the JOY we all felt at discovering who you are to be eclipsed by any news I received just a few hours before this scene. I don't want anyone reading this - especially you some day - to miss the absolute happiness and excitement and love we felt as we celebrated your little growing life and unwrapped the gift that God has given us.

Monday evening we held an impromptu family-only gender reveal party, and this is what we learned....

We had called out-of-state family members ahead of time (as well as your big brother Jason, who was working that night) asking them to FaceTime with us during the reveal ... so there were about five cell phones held up in the air, while Tyler took pictures and a family friend videotaped Daddy opening the box to reveal your gender.

Only Mommy knew ahead of time who you were - I'll explain why in a moment - everyone else had ribbons of pink or blue around their wrists to display whether they thought you were a boy or girl. I think the votes were pretty evenly distributed - Daddy, Josiah, Kenzie, Jonathan, Caleb, and Abigail thought you were a boy, and all the rest said girl.

Daddy had a little trouble opening the box all the way, so one solitary pink balloon made its way out first, while the remaining balloons were trapped inside. There had been a pink and blue balloon tied to a ribbon on the outside of the box ahead of time- we all had a good laugh at Mackenzie and Abigail forgetting this fact and repeatedly asking "why is there a BLUE balloon too??" after all of the balloons were floating in the air :)

We followed up the news that a new baby GIRL was going to be joining our family early next year with a giant spread of food and ice cream cake .... Daddy had picked up the cake from the bakery at Winco, asking the baker to write the words "welcome baby #12" on the top. (He told us her jaw dropped when he said the number "12" - probably her first time decorating a cake with those words !)

The night was beautiful and peaceful and lovely, and I felt such happiness knowing that we were all in this together ...

Monique, pregnant with our GRANDDAUGHTER - due six weeks before our baby girl :)

Jonathan and Josiah ...being their crazy selves ;)

So now, Bunny, for the phone call that brought me to this letter ....

All last week I spent each day checking my phone for any missed calls from my doctor. I had the NIPT blood test done two weeks ago to determine whether or not you had any chromosome issues (including but not limited to Down syndrome) and also your gender. I have blogged about it before, but I wanted the blood test this time to be prepared- because I was separated from your big sister Lily after she was born, and I did not want that to ever happen again. She had "thick blood" and had to be transported to Portland, while I remained recovering at our hospital here. I spent one night away from her, while your daddy took care of her in the NICU ... that, more than anything, was the hardest thing to go through. So I had this blood test to make sure there were not any issues that might keep me from delivering here at our smaller hospital.

As well as the issue of where to deliver - I wanted to know this time (as I did with your brother Hayden) if you had Down syndrome or not. This test was not available when I was pregnant with Lily - if it had been, I'm sure I would have opted for it. It is not threatening to the baby in any way - it tests my blood, which has traces of your placental DNA in it, and that is how everything is determined. There is a one percent chance for error, and this is only when a) a baby has Mosaic Down syndrome that goes undetected (because it is possible for triplicates of the 21st chromosome to be present in the baby but not the placental DNA) or b) for the test to come back positive, because the placental DNA has triplicates of the 21st chromosome, but not the baby itself (which would also be Mosaic Down syndrome.) This, obviously, is very rare, but the test cannot be qualified as "100% accurate" because of the margin of error.

So .... back to Monday afternoon, when I was sitting in my hot van in the Winco parking lot, waiting for Abbi to come out of the store....

I was texting my friend Kris, and for once my mind was not on the phone call I had been hoping would come all last week. In the middle of reading her text, a phone number popped up - and just as I was hitting the button to answer, it registered with me that it was my doctor's number. Time seemed to stand still ... I said hello, and Dr. Boyle greeted me with her familiar kind voice - "Hi, Patti."

I took in a small breath, and listened as she said the words I had been waiting to hear... I received the results from your NIPT test .

Bunny, I am not someone who believes in foresight. I don't believe that we as humans are capable of "knowing the future" or what have you .... but I do believe that as Christians, God prepares us for certain events.

And Bunny... in that moment, I felt like I knew what was coming next.

All the previous week I had little "nudges" in my spirit as I prayed for you ... little drops of knowledge they felt like, piling up in my mind making a distinct impression that the baby I was carrying felt very much like a baby I had carried before ....

... it started with a picture I took last week of your sister Lily, kissing your brother Hayden.  As I studied the picture one morning, a resemblance hit me. I had seen that little profile somewhere recently.

And maybe it's not obvious to anyone who hadn't studied your little profile several dozen times before. Maybe the slant of the nose and the tilt of the head, and the sweet little profile wouldn't make such a clear impression to someone other than your Mama. But when I pulled out the ultrasound photo that I carried home from the doctor's office a few weeks before - your ultrasound photo, little bunny ... I saw such a strong resemblance between you and your sister Lily, that I had the chills.

I made a side-by-side comparison collage, pictured above, and I sent it to your Aunt Hopie and several friends.

"This baby looks like Lily," I said, although I don't think they saw the same strong resemblance that I did.

That little collage began the first nudging in my spirit that things were about to change for this pregnancy.

So when Dr. Boyle finished her sentence...

"...and it does appear that this baby has Down syndrome"  ....

I did not feel surprised.

I did not feel sadness, or disbelief, or shock, or anything other than a calm reassurance that my instincts had been right.

I felt total peace.

She went on to tell me that the rest of the results on the test - the ones for other genetic "issues" - had come back negative, and that Down syndrome was the only thing we were facing.

And because I had all last week to think about what my response to such information might be, I knew immediately that I wanted to know whether you were a boy or girl.

The original plan had been for me to go to the doctor's office and pick up a sealed envelope with that information written inside - and prepare for a gender reveal party. But in that moment, I knew that I had to know who I was carrying - I had to give context to the diagnosis I had just received by knowing the person you are, and not just the condition you have.

Because if there is one thing I've learned, little Bunny it's this : you are not a diagnosis.

You are not a syndrome, or a condition, or a problem to be dealt with - you are a person.

Who you are is NOT determined by how many chromosomes you have, or what label the world of science and medicine has given you ... you are not "a Down syndrome baby" -   you are A BABY.

And while you do have Down syndrome, it does not define you. You are a baby. You are my baby.

And when my doctor answered my request - "I want to know who this baby is" - I learned that you were my baby girl.

Monique brought this little bunny to your gender reveal party :) A bunny for my bunny. 

So that's how your story begins, Dearest Bunny. All of my letters to you will begin that way, as well. ... Dearest Bunny. It's mommy's little nickname for you ... your sister was Lilybird, so it's only fitting that you have a nickname too :)

And speaking of names, Daddy and I picked one just for you.

We were going to wait to tell everyone that name until you were born - but in light of the news received on Monday, we want everyone who loves you to be praying for you by name every day.

And not because we are afraid of Down syndrome.

Not because we are 99% certain that you share the same designer genes as your beautiful big sister Lily.

We are completely, 100% at ease with who God made you to be, and that includes your diagnosis of Down syndrome.

But there are many unknowns.

If we are going to talk about percentages .... fifty percent of babies with Down syndrome are born with heart conditions. Many of those babies require open heart surgery, several months or more after birth. I have met many, many, many of the brave families (either through blogging, or Instagram, or in real life) who have faced that challenge with their children and overcome it. I have read about or known some families who have lost babies with Down syndrome - either in the womb or during or after open heart surgery - because of complications. I know the mortality rate for babies with Down syndrome, as well as babies of moms "of advanced maternal age" ... is higher than those without your condition.

But as Daddy is fond of saying - we don't live by statistics. Or odds. We put our trust in God for whatever the future holds, and we take one day at a time and we hold onto that rope called faith.

And when the flood of what-ifs threatens to overwhelm me ... what if this baby has a heart condition that requires surgery .... what if they tell me during my ultrasound next week that there are medical issues connected to my Bunny's diagnosis that we haven't dealt with before .... what if I have to travel to a hospital out of town to deliver, rather than my familiar and near-by hospital here. ... what if my Bunny has to spend more than a week in the NICU (Lily spent six days) and I have to be away from all of my children again ...what if we have a long road ahead of heart issues and doctor visits and possible open heart surgery .....

When the what-ifs start coming and I feel like I'm about to drown - I've got take take hold of that rope. I'm going to climb up into my lifeboat, and write and write and write, and I'm going to hold onto that rope with everything that is in me - that rope that is my faith - and I'm going to make it to the shore of peace. God is waiting for me there, and I have every confidence that He will pull me through. He will never leave me, nor forsake me, and although I'm sure there will be some rough waves that try to bring me under .... I've got a lifeboat. And I've got a rope.

And I've got you, Dearest Bunny.

Our little Madison Faith.

Love always,

Mama xoxo

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

all together in one happy place

Last week my sister-in-law said something that reminded me what kindred spirits we are. 

She and my husband's brother Joe spent the week with us at the coast and then stayed Friday night at The Rice Ranch before returning home to San Diego. They've been in the ministry as long as we have, they got married six weeks before we did, and our first babies were born just two months before our first anniversaries. The rest of their children are all roughly our children's ages ... with the exception of our last seven. For years I've tried to persuade Heather to join me in continuing to add to our family (and later doing so while grandbabies were added in), but she has always polity declined. Other than this difference, we have always been, as I said, kindred spirits.

Heather and I doing dishes, even on vacation ;)

It's been a few years since Joe and Heather visited us, so this was their first time seeing The New Rice Ranch. They've visited The Previous Rice Ranches many times, but we have not yet had the privilege of hosting them in our current home. After giving them a brief tour (which was a huge deal for me, given that our house does not usually merit a tour upon returning home from vacation - who knows what odors or dust bunnies or dirty underwear lie waiting for unsuspecting visitors to observe) Heather made this statement : "I'm so glad we got to see your house- now I know where to picture you whenever we talk !" I have felt the identical sentiment every time I visit a friend's house I've never seen before... in fact I think I said the exact same thing to one of my friends last month when they had us to their new home for the first time. 

I'm a visual-thinker (if there is such a phrase), and having a mental image of someone in a particular place while we are texting or talking on the phone helps give context and flavor to our conversations. I can't avoid this brain-quirk- it's just something I do automatically, and I've done it ever since I can remember. 

I do the same thing when hearing sermon illustrations - I can't just hear an event told, I have to imagine the setting, etc. in my mind and pull up a mental image of what I assume everyone looks like. I don't just hear the story of the young child being reunited with her family after bravely escaping her kidnappers, I see her running to embrace them, tears streaming down her parents' faces while a crowd of onlookers cheers wildly behind them. I can picture her disheveled hair, the look of relief on her mother's face, the flash of the cameras as reporters capture the happy moment. The downside of this, is that I can't just hear a story about someone cutting their own finger off to extract themselves from the boulder that landed on them while they were mountain climbing (or whatever that sermon illustration was), I have to envision the gruesome scene for myself, blood spurting and all. 

Anyhoot- I totally knew what Heather was talking about when she said she was glad she knew where to picture me in future phone conversations :)

Sooo.... this little photo is for all my fellow visual thinkers out there ...

..... try to picture me in cute jeans and a maternity shirt with some makeup on and my hair done nicely, okay ? Because I would never be sitting at the computer in gray striped pajama pants and a day-old t-shirt with an extreme case of bed head at ten-thirty on a Wednesday morning. No way, Jose. You just never know when your always-put-together neighbor might ring the doorbell with a stack of information on how to prepare for the upcoming earthquake/tsunami that's going to wipe the entire Pacific Northwest off the map .... (Which may or may not have happened at ten thirty yesterday morning when I was attired in a similar outfit, sporting Tuesday's version of the bedhead look. When will I grow up ??? I wanted to say, "Lady, I'm just trying to figure out how to get a shower before lunch, forget preparing for a natural disaster !")

Where was I ?

Oh yes, I was fully clothed and presentable and typing at my computer while sipping my morning tea and munching on toast with Northwest Blackberry jam. Please adjust your mental image accordingly. Thank you.

So last week, as I said earlier, we went on vacation with Sam's brother and his wife and several of their children and grandchildren. We were also joined by his sister and her husband and children, and Josiah and Monique and Macie were able to come as well. Two years ago we all rented the same house that Sam's mom grew up in - it is a sprawling ranch style home right next to the beach, and Sam's uncle and aunt live just a few minutes away . Uncle Henry and his lovely wife joined us each evening for dinner, while he shared many memories of his childhood playing in the very rooms we were staying in. Last week we did the same, and it is a tradition we plan on continuing for years to come. At least until that earthquake/tsunami wipes us all out, at which point we will resume our family reunion in Heaven. (and hopefully I won't have to do the dishes there.)

Macie was not thrilled with Nana for removing her from the flower beds to pose for a picture with Uncle Hayden.

Kenzie and my beautiful grand-niece, Everleigh 

my grand-niece Madeline enjoying dinner with Hayden and Lily

It was such a nice, relaxing week... my sisters-in-law and I each took turns preparing dinner for everyone, and we shared breakfast and lunch preparations, as well as the dishes - many hands make light work ! The children all got along so well, playing in the giant playroom or at the beach, or watching the teenagers during their countless volleyball games on the front lawn. The weather was perfect- not too chilly and not too warm, and everything just seemed nicer with a houseful of loved ones to share meals and chores with.

And at this point I would like to say that you know God is real when 24 people can live under one roof for the week enjoyably, without any family feuds. We say it all the time, but it is purely the grace of God that Sam and his siblings and their spouses and children are clothed and in their right minds and serving the Lord... if you knew their childhood, and the disfunction and disharmony they experienced, you would know the magnitude of that statement. Only Jesus could take what was once broken and ugly and turn it into something truly beautiful and healed.

Heather and I brought piles of scrapbooking supplies and spread it all out on the big dining room table after breakfast each morning ... I'm happy to say that I managed to start and finish a 20-page album last week, something I rarely do. I think I have at least a dozen semi-completed scrapbooks from similar vacations, each missing the final few pages, which will probably be added in when all of my children move out some day. Which at this point will probably be when I'm 92, but hey- it gives me something to look forward to when I am finally an empty-nester.

A few more vacation pictures and then I really should get dressed for the day. Or at least brush my teeth.

Hayden discovers he is not a fan of coffee. 

chocolate chip pancakes are the perfect dessert after Cheerios ;)
beach bodies

I'm so thankful for our time away with family, and grateful that our children will have these memories to carry with them into adulthood ... life is most certainly going to take us all in different directions, to separate locations and unique destinies, but we will always have these sweet moments to look back on, when we were all together in one happy place.

Until we virtually meet again ... Happy August !