Oh, Christmas Tree

Hey…look, after an eleven week break, I’m back.  On to December!

Our annual Christmas tree hunt was so much fun.  Besides finding a big skinny tree, we had a blast at the farm.

Our two furry friends went with us. It’s impossible to tell that our big ol’ Sunny girl is fifteen years old!  She was running and playing and had the best time. Emmie had to show us how tall baby was! Yummy snack time while daddy loaded the tree. Seriously, ya’ll, this was THE perfect tree.  Tall but not too fat!  And very reasonably priced.

Family Time

Thanksgiving weekend was spent with Ge and Granddaddy.  Always a blast.  Especially when we can watch Alabama beat Auburn! Ace exploded sticks-a gift from Aunt Yaya and Uncle J. We went downtown (before the game, of course), to celebrate Small Business Saturday.  Bryant loved his birthday gift from Aunt Yaya and Uncle J. Emmie was ready for the game.

Silas enjoyed Steak n’ Shake this time.

Thanksgiving 2016

We were super excited to host Papa and Grandmere for Thanksgiving this year.   Mark put Papa to work on the patio.
The girls enjoyed watching the Macy’s Parade. Emmie found a walking stick. Everyone signed the Thanksgiving clothe. Can you tell Josiah was super excited about the food?  Mainly the turkey.
Our spread. Full table…full hearts. Zoe was our napkin folder again.

See?  Turkey!

NF Walk 2016

Made it to November!  Woo hoo!  We had a great first walk and can’t wait until this year.  I think it was so wonderful because of everyone who came together.  This started out with an idea between three friends and grew to include several NF families in our area who our family got to know and love.
One of my favorite pictures.  My super hero walking with two pretty amazing sidekicks.  Who else can claim to be best buddies with Queen Elsa? Or Ariel?  Emmie loves Ariel because she has pink hair.  
We had lots of local high school students volunteer to face paint.  They were so talented! Our NF Hero getting her medal. We were thrilled that we had all three of our local news networks come out to interview and tape our walk!  

A small brag on myself. Well, we wanted balloon columns but were slightly worried about putting forth the cost.  Mark and I watched videos and he built a column for me.  We got these put together the day of the walk.  Totally fun and only a little nerve wracking with the balloon pops.

We had lots of great donations of food, goodies, and time.  Costco donated a gift card.  The Singing Princesses donated their time.  Wild Wing Cafe, Chick-fil-a, and Southern Beverage Company donated very yummy food.

We had corporate sponsorships from Remodeler’s Warehouse and Flack Family Chiropractic.

Our teams worked hard to raise funds and we were able to get over $7000 in donations.  Not bad for our first walk!

A Look Back…

This is our yearly Christmas/New Year Letter.  So here we pause, and take a look back at what 2016 held for us:

Our biggest highlights:

January saw our new son Silas still in Ukraine having to celebrate his ninth birthday without us.  We’re grateful that we were able to send a cake to him to help him celebrate.  We also found out that we would not be able to continue the adoption process until that summer.

In February, Emmie had spinal fusion surgery in her cervical (neck) spine.  This was a big highlight in our year since no one knew exactly what would happen or how she would do with it.  We praise God that she not only made it through surgery with no complications, but we are now 10 months out and the bones are fusing!

March brought two beautiful kiddos birthdays, Ceili Rain turned 7 and Malachi turned 4.   We enjoyed celebrating Easter with our church family.  Emmie had her halo removed (after 8 months in it) on March 30th.

April was a much cherished and random “quiet” month if you don’t count the kids’ annual school testing and mom’s weekend away with Tracy.  Mark and I celebrated 20 years of dating.

May passed by with Emmie’s 2nd birthday.  We had a wonderful beach trip, watched brave pirates, and met some sea lions.  We turned in our dossier 2.0.  And Mark and I celebrated our 16th year of marriage.

June was another quiet month but news came we would be traveling to Ukraine in July (and later in August).  I traveled to Austin, Texas for the NF Forum.  Emmie had her final neck brace off on June 10th!  Emmie had her sixth MRI and found her UGGHH was stable!  We celebrated Josiah’s 9th birthday.

July saw Zoe (her first plane ride and international trip), Mark and I traveling to Ukraine for our “second” first trip.  We got to visit with our Silas, sightsee in Kiev and in Vienna.  While recovering from jet lag, we managed to celebrate Ace’s 12th birthday and Bryant’s 6th one!  And, last, but not least, Mark’s birthday.

August was THE month to have Silas become a permanent part of our family.  He became a Character, officially, on August 9th.  While Mark was finishing up the paperwork and requirements in Ukraine, Josiah decided life was too boring.  He made an unscheduled stop at the hospital to have his appendix removed.  We, once again, praise God for our proactive pediatrician.  We’re also very thankful that his appendix didn’t burst!

In September, we welcomed home Mark and Silas and began our journey as a family of eleven by attending our church’s annual family camp.  We started school pretty soon after and took a break here and there to go to the zoo and talk like a pirate.

October was another “quiet” month and we enjoyed settling in to school, learning to read and being a family.

November was just the opposite of October!  We had my birthday (one year closer to 40).  Our first NF walk went off without a problem and lots of smiles and laughter.  All total, we raised over $7000 for NF Research!  Liam started wearing glasses this month. We celebrated Thanksgiving with Papa and Grandmere.  Mark and I learned that God had chosen to give us a new addition.

December brought joys, trials, and sadness.  We found out early in the month that we were expecting twins but the babies, sadly, did not make it (“not viable” in medical terms).  This has been one of the hardest miscarriages (mentally, not physically) yet and I learned later in the month that twin pregnancy losses can sometimes feel harder, even if they are early miscarriages.  We rejoiced over Emmie’s spinal fusion successes and UGGHH continuing to behave.  We also learned that she has another plexiform in her hip muscle as well as scoliosis.  Recently, we have noticed a very small plexiform on her armpit.  Also mixed in with all of our news, we mourned the loss of my uncle too close to Christmas and rejoiced in the time we knew him here on earth. Despite the hardships, trials and struggles this month, we have been able to fully rejoice in our Savior’s birth.  We are continually reminded that we are not facing these struggles alone because He is always with us.  We continue to feel God’s guiding, gentle, and loving hand leading, comforting and sometimes carrying us through.

Looking ahead…we have some fun trips planned for the kids and new experiences for us all (I’m going to be homeschooling a high schooler ya’ll!)!  We can not wait to see what the Lord does in and through us this coming year.  Yes, with new diagnoses, we are looking at another year of uncertainties and deductibles met too soon as well as meeting new specialists…but we know the Lord has carried us this far and we will continue to walk where He leads.  Two things are certain, we’ll continue to raise awareness of NF and also advocate for children who need a home.

**I know that I started out with links and continued on to what I had actually posted.  I’m doing my best to get everything up to date.  Our months have been very busy since August!  For now, we have an easy way to read up on our fun and crazy year.**

 

Welcome to Kyiv

As soon as we touched down in Ukraine, we set out to show Zoe everything we possibly could.  We only had about a day in Kyiv before we had to head out to where Silas was.  So, speedy sightseeing was on! Zoe was so excited to be on the main street in Kyiv.  Mainly because she read the street sign without help. The Maidan. We had missed it on our previous trip (even though we stayed only a few blocks from it on our first trip) and it was a blast seeing it with Zoe.

Several Ukrainians have worked tirelessly to get rid of the old boring sides of apartment buildings (most of which were built during the Soviet occupation) and have brought in both local and international artists to spruce things up.  This one, by far is my most favorite.  You can check out more murals on Euromaidan Press.

Selfie with the sun in our eyes.  Mark and Zoe put up with a lot of my silliness. Um, the food was, of course delicious and did not disappoint Zoe at all.  The food was the highlight for her! We love Pirogi for lunch.  Never disappoints. St. Sophia’s Traditional Ukrainian Borscht at a local Soviet style restaurant.

Milkshakes for yummy desserts!

Can I just say this trip was not just for Zoe?  She was wonderful to have with us.  The  day we were to head to region closer to Silas, we had a chance to run out and grab a bite to eat at a street vendor before our driver showed up.  The street vendor did not speak English.  We told Zoe what we wanted, she told the vendor and we were all super happy.  Mark and I thanked her over and over.  She also was a big help at the super market, other restaurants and when we met up with Silas at his summer camp.  Having a semi-polyglot is awesome!  We had our own personal translator with us wherever we went and all we had to do was feed her and let her sleep.

A restaurant out of Kyiv.  Beautiful scenery.

The prettiest part of the trip was seeing the sunflowers EVERYWHERE.  Ya’ll…we had beautiful blue skies most of the time.  So, it felt like we were driving by the Ukrainian flag over and over again.

The day we had time to stop and get pictures, the sunflowers were turned away.  But we found a few rebels not following the sun. Golden Ukrainian wheat and a beautiful blue sky.  Slava Ukraine!

Making it to region, we stayed in an apartment in Bila Tserkva (the White Church) and were able to spend a bit of time sightseeing there.  It’s a smaller city than Kyiv but still a few things to explore.  This was our local supermarket.  It was just a short walk from our apartment.  It was more like a mini mall with the supermarket on bottom.

Slava (Glory) Park  was in the center of the city and was dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the Great Patriotic War (World War II).  We saw this wood building from the other end of the park and were pleasantly surprised to find it was a church.  The doors are absolutely beautiful.  While we were taking pictures, a man came up and asked as best he could if we were Americans.  Between his English and Zoe’s translations, we figured out he wanted us to email pictures of the church.  I noticed a rosary in his hand and after he gave us his business card, Zoe translated and told us he was the Father at the church.  Obviously, the church was under construction and we were excited to be able to send him pictures of it in progress.
After watching the Netflix special “Winter Under Fire,”  we started noticing memorials set up to the brave men and women who fought so hard against a corrupt government with virtually nothing.  This one was at Slava Park.
Zoe and I got a kick out of the translation from Ukrainian to English only because she had several laughable moments of going from English to Ukrainian in speaking and each time, every one was so gracious.

I had a Princess coke.  Coca cola speaks…even if it’s a different language.

Brace Off, Please

In June, Emmie had a message for Dr. Chern, her neurosurgeon.

That would be “Bace, ah, peas.” Toddler-ease Translation: Brace off, please

She saw Dr. Chern on June 10th and was ready.

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After x-rays and a quick lunch and walk around the hospital fountain, we headed in to see what the x-rays were showing.  The time had come.  The brace was ready to be no more.

After wearing a brace of some sort for most of her life, she had a hard time letting go.

And she chose not to ask to have it off either.  Toddlers never perform on command.

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But off it came!

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And we praise God for giving us such a good neurosurgeon in Dr. Chern and an awesome nurse practitioner (who is so patient with us) in Jennifer!

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Being a super hero is such hard work.

 

 

One Year

One year ago, at the beginning of this month, all of a sudden our life was thrown in to a whirlspin.  We took a chance.  Our doctors tried something that really hadn’t been done on a 15 month old.

One year ago, today, our daughter was stuck in bed with a massive halo trying to stretch her neck straight.

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Six days in halo traction.  Eight months in a halo brace.  Seven more months in other types of neck braces (five of which her kyphosis broke) for a total of fifteen months in some type of neck stabilizing brace. Six months physical therapy.

Amazing what God can do in one year!  She laughs, and dances.  She squats and climbs.  She lays down and stands up. Chases dogs.  Talks to the cats.  She says, “I do it!” and usually can.  I saw her stand on her tip toes the other day.  She gives awesome hugs and kisses and ran to her grandparents this weekend to give hugs.  She waves when she sees people she knows and waves to her new big brother.  One year.  And here we are.

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We celebrated with Emmie’s favorite things…chocolate chip cookies and icing.

 

Today we’re remembering and celebrating.  Remembering how far Emmie has come.  And celebrating what God has done!  Our Super Ems is a walking miracle.  We thank God for giving her doctors wisdom to help save our Emmie’s neck.

Life on the Inside

I spent a good bit of time in the condo but can’t complain much.  We were able to get a good deal on a condo at Dunes Village Resort.  The resort features two indoor water parks with a couple of fun slides and lazy rivers and kids’ splash area.  They also had a little putt putt area and Starbucks (happy day).

DSC_5091 This was the first time Emmie had gotten down on her knees and just “sat” there.  As soon as she moved in to the cervical collar, we started immediately seeing her gain confidence and become more independent.DSC_5092 Hot dog time.DSC_5093 DSC_5096 As soon as we arrived, I was sequestered to the bedroom to participate in a panel for an NF study.DSC_5129 Emmie was super excited about getting to the water.DSC_5132 DSC_5136 Putt Putt time.  DSC_5138 DSC_5139 DSC_5140 DSC_5142 DSC_5145 While the kids ran around with clubs, Mark and I watched another large family come up and play some too.  Of course, we had to visit.  They were a sweet family with nine children and one on the way.  I love how we can have an instant connection with total strangers because of the sheer number of kids that keep following us around.DSC_5152 IMG_20160514_181236079 Cuteness abounds with this girl right here.IMG_20160515_075338118_HDR

 

It was such a great trip because for once, we were able to get away and just relax and breathe after all Emmie has overcome and before heading into adoption stuff again.