Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Roanoke Christmas 2014

Gradually, I have been doing a few soft edits on the photographs I took of our 2014 Christmas holiday.  While I'm still working to edit a few images from our family's Christmas Eve dinner {which I will post with our Christmas morning photos}, I thought it was safe to go ahead and share some of the fun we had while celebrating our "Roanoke Christmas" the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas with Justin's family.

Every year, one of the events I most look forward to at Christmastime is traveling to my beloved Roanoke, Virginia to celebrate.  I think it's just because I so VERY much love the people and places in Roanoke  And, at Christmas, who doesn't want to be reminded of her childhood and things familiar?  We are also incredibly blessed to celebrate the way we do!  Justin's mom, Victoria, is a fantastic cook and great host.  Every year, she prepares a meal for Justin and his sister, Marney ... for their families ... AND for my parents.  So, Justin and I never have to choose where to celebrate the major holidays {we do this at Thanksgiving as well}.  Instead, both of our parents and siblings are together.  Even more importantly, Jackson and Oliver spend all the major holidays with their entire family ~ it really is so special to us.  It's something for which I am continually thankful.

In 2014, we were also privileged to have a meal with my mom's family for Christmas the weekend prior.  This is something we haven't done in many, many years.  We ate my favorite food ~ Mexican! ~ and had a few hours to visit and just love on each other.  How I have missed them!  I sincerely hope this will become a new tradition for all of us.  I didn't bring my "big camera" to this dinner {because I simply wanted to focus on seeing my family}, but I have shared a few iPhone photos of this occasion on Facebook.

*   *   *

On Monday evening, it was time to begin our "Roanoke Christmas" festivities.  Always the host, Victoria arranged everything ... I mean everything ... in the kitchen.  As you can see, she still made time for laughter!

The men mostly watched t.v. and entertained the kiddos.

And ... since I was forever behind the lens ... I took this splendid opportunity to snap a reflection photo of myself in the bathroom mirror:  proof that I was, in fact, actually there.  I also really wanted to show off my British soldier sweater that I'm kind of obsessing over.

Big cousin, Logan, was very busy.  I'm not confident he loved his job ~ but these images sure disguise any annoyance.  He did an awesome job of entertaining my littles while we waited to open gifts.

Soon, it was time to eat and play Santa.  Once the gifts started being opened, it was time for me to shelf my camera and dig in.  Sorry for the lack of gift-opening pictures.

No, it was not snowing indoors.  This image was quite blurry ... but super fun ... so, I added an artistic overlay to bring out the magic!

Merry Roanoke Christmas, everyone!

Did you travel to celebrate with family this Christmas?  Where did you go?  What are your most memorable and favorite family traditions? 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Intentional Parenting Success

Doing precisely what I once swore I would never do, I have noticed that 2014 was a rather "light" year for my blogging.  This year, I have instead focused on making family time a priority, building friendships, growing in my walk with the Lord, and keeping my home more organized.  All good things.  But, the truth is: I miss blogging.  Mostly, I miss my sort of "electronic diary" that's creating a lasting record of Jackson and Oliver growing up.  Do I sense a 2015 New Year's resolution coming on?  We shall see.

Nevertheless, in 2014, some things are still worth blogging.  This is one of them.  On Jackson's literal 4th birthday, he simultaneously gave up his paci {a good thing because I planned to confiscate it anyways} and gave up napping {a not so good thing because mama runs a photography business AND needs a little "alone" time during any given day}.  Thus began our transition from nap time to "rest time."  Honestly, Jackson's rest time usually meant me putting a movie on for him in our bedroom ... and Jackson doing just about anything other than watching the movie.  This rest time for me {mama confession coming on} typically consisted of me {through clinched teeth} redirecting him back into our bedroom every 15 minutes as I tried to edit clients' images or just get household matters handled. I am practically certain that all other mamas out there in cyberspace reading this blog will agree with me that "alone" time with two toddlers is rarely, if ever, about reading, watching tv, painting your toenails, or relaxing in any form.  Heck, it's not even about popping that long overdue exercise DVD into your player and breaking a nice sweat.  Instead, when mamas need "alone" time during the day, it's almost always to wait on hold for 45+ minutes with the insurance agency, or to wash and fold everyone's laundry, or {in my case} to edit photos, or to brush the dog and vacuum the couch on which she was shedding.  Mama's "alone" time isn't glamorous ... but it is made 10,000x LESS glamorous when little ones NEED YOU RIGHT AWAY as soon as that insurance agent takes you off that 45+ minute hold.  How many mamas out there are saying "holla" right about now?  Ahem.

For some time, the Lord has been gently {as He so often does} nudging me to make some intentional changes to Jackson's rest time.  He has placed scripture, Christian literature, and Christian friends in my path that have all been "saying" the same things to me {just in different ways ... and usually without actually "saying" anything at all}.  There has been a stirring in my heart for change in general.  I have also recently been reading a book by Holley Gerth called "You're Already Amazing."  I highly recommend it!  In her book, Holley speaks about the almost universal tendency for women to say "yes" to everything and everyone.  She writes about how we compare ourselves to one another.  She speaks about how many, many women live in a constant state of trying to be more, do more, prove more, accomplish more, earn more, and please more.  Consequently, we spread ourselves so very thin that we sense we are failing at everything we do.  Using God's Word {and her own wisdom and experiences}, Holley makes a great argument for why this attitude must STOP for healthy living.  Instead, she encourages women to learn to listen to God's direction and to live effectively WITHIN the domains He places in our lives ... giving those areas our wholehearted efforts.

"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people."
Colossians 3:23

  In reading this book and praying over its application in my life, I have found myself making lots of changes in my life.  I have made changes to my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, my schedule {a tough one for me}, and my general self-awareness.  But that one area I was resisting change?  Jackson's rest time.  I know that seems so trivial ... but it was on my mind a lot!  It was a near constant source of "mommy guilt" which wasn't benefitting anyone, especially Jackson.  I so badly wanted him to be "enriched" during the few daily hours while Oliver was napping.  However, I was desperately clinging to my fleeting "alone" time less risk losing my sanity altogether.

*   *   *

Voila!  In the form of an old college friend, God provided.  He is SO good.  My friend Becca wrote a blog entry {ironically asking for rest time ADVICE} on her beautifully penned blog: www.beccagarber.com.  Becca, while asking for other mamas' input on the nap time-to-rest time transition, sparked something inside me.  I am pleased to say she provided the final inspiration for me to get moving toward positive change that {wait for it} benefitted EVERYONE INVOLVED.  Oh, this is good.  Becca is good.  God is SO good!

I called up my friend Rachel who several weeks ago offered me a large toy box to say "I'm coming to get it today."  It had to be today.  I had to strike while the iron was hot!  Grin.

With the toy box, I had the much needed storage to organize the boys' playroom, freeing up a bookshelf to be used upstairs.

That little bookshelf made its way into Oliver's bedroom.  Previously, ALL of our children's books were in Jackson's bedroom.  They were overflowing into the floor and albeit rather overwhelming.  To make matters worse, at bedtime, my boys did more fighting over holding the books that actually listening to the stories being read to them.  Now, Oliver has a nice selection of the younger children's books in his own bedroom {right next to a miniature potty chair} ... perfect for potty training with good reading material on hand.  Wink.

Now, for the grand finale ... and how all this ties into Jackson's rest time and mama's sanity.  Jackson is still going to be required to quietly entertain himself during 2/3 of Oliver's afternoon nap.  I am {fingers crossed} going to maintain some precious "alone" time to manage our household.  However, instead of vegging out in front of the television ... Jackson's bedroom is now full of fun and {disguised} educational activity stations.  Hands down, I am totally stealing Becca's genius ... I don't get to claim this wonderful "station" idea.  It really is wonderful!

He will have a selection of good books {which I plan to switch out every few days}.

And more books if he chooses.

An "art" desk.

And an activity table with rotating activities.  Right now, he has a pattern game, a learning design drill, and a giant floor puzzle.  Underneath this little table is his beloved Build-A-Bear he received at Shriner's Hospital for Children and all of the outfits he earned during his serial Mehta casting.

Eventually, I plan to add a music station ... if I decide I can trust my little stinker not to crank up the volume and wake Oliver.  Ahem.

*   *   *

Today was our first day with this new system, and it worked beautifully!  I was so proud of Jackson for his willingness {and excitement} to try this new arrangement.  In honesty, I was also really proud of myself for making this long-needed change.  I'm sure we will experience some growing pains as the newness wears off, but I plan to change the activities often and to continue praying.  Three cheers for intentional parenting ... especially when everyone wins!

happy . ending .

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


One week.

It's been one full week since Jackson has worn his brace.  And that's okay.  That's okay because he is officially declared BRACE FREE!!!

{and, obviously, all smiles}

Last Wednesday, our family traveled to Greenville Shriners Hospital for Children for Jackson's brace check.  We followed Dr. Pete's instructions to have Jackson remove his brace 24 hours before his 8:30am appointment for x-rays and a follow-up.  Leading up to this trip ... I did a lot of praying.  I prayed, first and foremost, that Jackson's spine was continuing {and will continue} to grow straight.  I also prayed for wisdom imparted upon his doctor to determine the most opportune time to allow Jackson to transition out of his brace for his first orthrotic-free trial.  Lastly, I prayed for courage.  More on that later.

This photograph of Jackson being x-rayed makes me so proud.  Thus far, from initial detection of {potentially, at that time} Progressive Infantile Scoliosis to today, this has been a 4-year journey {almost exactly}.  I addressed my suspicion that Jackson might have a spinal curvature just days after his 4-month well-baby check-up.  Today, he is 4 years, 4 months old.  Time surely has slipped through our fingertips.

Jackson at his first Shriners appointment.  Crazy!
{notice that he has the same hair-do too}

Would you look at this beautiful x-ray?  Insane.  I now TRULY find straight spinal x-rays a sight to behold!  You'll notice that the film taken on Wednesday shows a 7 degree curve.  That curve, however, is right-sided ... the opposite of Jackson's scoliosis.  This is considered OVERCORRECTION and is a very, very good {and rather rare} thing to achieve.  This means that after Jackson's 9 serial Mehta casts corrected his spine to a perfectly straight 0 degrees, his TLSO brace used Jackson's own growth as a corrective force {just like casts do} to actually create a gentle curve in the opposite direction.  This, from my understanding, will aid Jackson's spine in resisting the gravitational tendency to return to his left-sided scoliosis.

And if you prefer incredible comparisons ... here is Jackson's pre-casting x-ray (50+ degrees, left-sided scoliosis) and his current x-ray (7 degrees, right-sided overcorrected spine).

After reviewing this wonderful film, Dr. Pete made the decision to allow Jackson to enter his first orthotic-free trial.  This simply means that we discontinued the use of his TLSO brace altogether.  Dr. Pete does not believe in part-time bracing for kids like Jackson {every case is different}.  He has explained to us that he prefers not to mask any chance of scoliosis relapse ... but prefers to catch it immediately if it occurs and begin serial Mehta casting again to achieve a straight spine.  Mehta casting works best when children are rapidly growing.  Therefore, the younger the child ~ the better the response.  PLEASE KEEP JACKSON'S GROWING SPINE IN YOUR PRAYERS!  We are choosing JOY right now.  This is certainly and unapologetically a time of celebration!  However, PIS is not an "over and done" condition.  There will always be a potential for Jackson's scoliosis to return until he is finished growing.  Because of how well Jackson's spine has responded to Mehta casting {glory be to God}, he has about a 90% chance of being PERMANENTLY cured.  However, we have many, many more years of Shriners follow-ups and vigilant monitoring of his spine ~ our next one is in 4 months.  This is a huge medical milestone for Jackson as he has been in casts/braces for over 3 years of his life.  

This is also a big spiritual milestone for me.  Here's where I explain my praying for courage.  Those of you who know me personally understand that I am a worrier.  For a long time now, I have had the reassurance that Jackson's scoliotic spine was being "held" in some sort of plaster cast or plastic brace.  Now, that physical "insurance policy" is gone.  It was bittersweet placing Jackson's brace into the bottom of his bedroom closet already cluttered the pounds and pounds of plaster casts {which I seem to be saving indefinitely}.  But, I choose joy too!  I also chose to trade in that man-made "insurance policy" for a Heavenly promise found in 2 Timothy 1:7.

When I was in high-school youth group "back in the day," this was my "life verse."  Now, it returns to me under different life circumstances but the same profound meaning.  It's been written on my heart for recall in times like this.  I'm so glad it's there.

I choose JOY.
I choose TRUST.
I choose TRUTH.

Please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Jackson's 9-mo. Brace Check

Yesterday was exciting!  Jackson had his 9-month brace check at Shriner's in Greenville, SC.  This was his second brace check since graduating from serial Mehta casting in late May 2013.  This appointment marked the longest our family had ever gone without a hospital visit ... 5.5 months!  And ... Except for Jackson's sudden "spilling" (puking) episode while riding down the interstate ... the trip was relatively crisis free.  But, kudos to Jax for his "spill" because, after all, every medical travel appointment needs at least ONE major anxiety-producing moment. ;-)  All was well with Jackson, so onward we pressed to Shriner's. 

The night before we left, Jackson saw me packing suitcases for the entire family (an unspoken job assignment as wife/mom).  He said "are we going on a trip?"  Reluctantly, I replied "yes ... We are going to see Dr. Pete to check on your back with xrays."  Cue the tears and protesting?  Nada chance!  Cue the jumping up and down, the clapping, the mile-wide grin, and peppering questions about the (above) video games and prizes Shriner's provides.  Two thoughts: either we have a really awesome preschooler ... or we desperately need to take better vacations. :-)

Jackson willingly stood by himself for his xray film, and Justin and I got the rare and wonderful opportunity (thanks to a stellar PA) to see and photograph Jackson's archived xrays for this blog!!!  The change is astounding to me.  Jackson's spinal curvature went from nearly 50 degrees to a BEAutiful 0 degrees because of serial Mehta casting and the guidance of the wonderful Heather Hyatt-Montoya and skilled mind/hands of Doctor Peter Stasikelis.  I can't even call those people "everyday heroes" because they are ONCE in a lifetime.  A few Sundays ago, our pastor talked about everyone needing "20 seconds of insane courage" to affect change in this world.  Sometimes I wonder if choosing Mehta casting for Jackson was my 20 seconds?  As a classically trained registered nurse, I trust western medicine.  I trust and oftentimes understand surgeries and invasive procedures. So, when metal growth rods, countless rod-lengthening surgeries, and a future spinal fusion was the recommended treatment plan for my then 4-month old ... it might seem crazy to read ... but I don't know why I didn't choose it?  That's what EVERYONE in the medical profession suggested to me. That's all that was offered to us locally or semi-locally.  But I found the Infantile Scoliosis Outreach Program (www.infantilescoliosis.org) ... And then I found that 20 seconds of insane courage.  I know now that God's grace was all over that decision ... as it is in almost anything courageous.  Let me show that to you here:

Jackson's pre-cast spine:

Jackson's spine yesterday:

No words, right?  Either that - or a thousand - because those pictures are worth it. To anyone in the valley of a Progressive Infantile Scoliosis diagnosis right now - there is SO much hope. Have courage!  Mehta casting when done properly and promptly can literally save lives. 

We waited a few minutes on Dr. Pete while the boys enjoyed one another in the exam room. 

And when he came in, he was equally pleased with Jackson's xray.  Zero degrees!  We'll take it!  We will return the Shriner's in late September 2014 for (fingers crossed) Jackson's last brace check.  He has already grown quite a bit over the last 9 months, so Dr. Pete didn't think Jackson could go longer than 6 months without brace adjustments or completely outgrowing his brace.  We ended this appointment with a visit to the prosthetics and orthotics department for some brace adjustments.  They replaced the straps on Jackson's brace and flared the brace around his chest (tear) because he is growing more broad chested (hence, growing up).  I feel like Jax has changed so much recently!  Then, seeing those xray films confirmed how much he has grown and changed ... looking at his chubby babyish form in the scoliotic film and his tall, narrow form in his current xray film. Bittersweet.  Bitter because he's growing up so fast. Sweet because it was his growth that straightened his spine with the guidance of his casts. More sweet. 

Definitely more sweet. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Walt Disney World 2014

I'm kinda impressed with myself.  We have only been home from Walt Disney World for 12 days, and I'm writing this blog post.  :)  Small steps, my friends, small steps.

Now, I've blown the surprise ... this blog is to share some fun photographs from our winter family vacation to Disney in January.  We rather spontaneously decided to book this trip only a few months ago thanks to a spectacular travel special.  This time ... we took BOTH BABIES (and one superstar "NeNe") with us!

Let me say this:  the trip was certainly different.

It was busier, it was both faster and slower-paced (at the same time), it was "slightly less" relaxing (okay, it wasn't relaxing at all) ... but is was ultimately the most magical Disney trip thus far.  This trip was about Jackson and Oliver.  It was about the little ones who REALLY still believe in all the magic in the first place!

It was about seeing their faces on their first airplane ride ... 

About hearing their reaction to spotting Mickey Mouse in the Magic Kingdom ...

About imagining we were royalty ...

(and, apparently, about picking our noses in castles)

About reliving childhood memories with our own children ...

And letting them make special memories of their own ...

About introducing them to our favorite attractions ...

(even if, sometimes, they "did not love it")

About earning their "ears"

About catching some "fleeting" nightlife while they lasted ...

(and while "certain someones" remembered it)

Sometimes is was about making the best of cruddy weather ...

But ultimately, in the end ... it was all about love and family ...

... and it all started with a mouse ...

... or two ...