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Bennett's 7th Backwards Birthday

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

At the end of September, our sweet Bennett turned 7 years old.  To celebrate, Bennett decided to have a "Backwards Birthday Party!"

What exactly is a "backwards birthday party?"  Well, it's a party where everything is backwards!

Guests were greeted at the door with "Goodbye!  Thank you for coming!" Balloons hung upside down and a "Happy Birthday" sign hung backwards on the window.

Of course, the first thing Bennett did at his party was the very last thing typically done at a birthday party: he opened presents...with his feet!

(This was a very special birthday for Bennett since Nana and Papa, Brian's parents from Missouri,  were able to be there for it.)

After presents were opened, everyone ate an upside down cake...

...UNDER the table!

To celebrate, we sang the "Happy Birthday" song...backwards.

After cake, we ate lunch: a cup.  And we drank soda...upside down in a can.

After lunch, we played two games outside: throw the candy INside the pinata...and run a Relay Race backwards.

For the relay, all the guests were divided in to two teams and were told to run backwards as fast as they could.  It was priceless to see their faces when, in the midst of one team's joy of winning, we revealed a twist to any good backwards game: the losers won and the winners lost!

(Another surprise guest, our dearly loved babysitter Peyton, came in from Texas Tech to celebrate Bennett's birthday.)

As a party favor, each boy was given a strip of paper with backwards printed words and each was given a handheld mirror. The boys actually really loved this and thought it was really fun to be able to read backwards using a mirror.

As each child left the party to go home, Bennett made sure to say goodbye with a "Hello!  Welcome to my birthday party!"

Out of privacy for the children who came, I didn't post a picture of the little boys who attended Bennett's party but I did want to mention that, as 7 year olds, they really got in to this the party theme.  I most realized this when I gathered all the squirmy boys on the couch to capture a picture of them for posterity's sake and one of the little boys said, "since this is a backwards party, instead of smiling, I think we should all frown!"  And so they did. :)

Happy birthday to the little boy who truly turned our world upside down!  Bennett, we are incredibly grateful to have had you in our lives for seven full years!  Cheers to many many more!!

Roly-Poly Mode

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Last month, I decided to go into "Roly-Poly Mode."

"Roly-polies" are those little grey multi-legged bugs, found in dirt and under leaves, that demonstrate a fascinating mechanism for protection.  Put pressure on a roly-poly's back while it is moving and this little bug will immediately curl itself into a perfectly round tiny ball: it's most vulnerable parts, it's head and legs, tightly protected inside. 

Feeling overwhelmed by Bennett's upcoming 5th dilation procedure for a intestinal stricture and 7th hospitalization for the year, I decided to close the door, turn off the lights and shut the blinds.  I postponed Bennett's procedure, found my most vulnerable parts and pulled them close.

Recognizing the waves of stress Cystic Fibrosis was causing, compounded by the normal demands of part-time work and motherhood, I decided to find a way to conserve my energy, rather than trying to do it all on increasingly low batteries.  Life, in general, but especially CF, is a marathon, not a sprint.  So, I needed to figure out how to manage all the pressure I was feeling.

I stopped blogging.  I went silent on social media.  I stopped watching the news.  I stopped participating in activities that weren't absolutely necessary.  I temporarily cut back Bennett's CF regimen to include only that which is critical to his health.  I ignored the piles on my desk and emails in my inbox.  I simply began working to block out all the noise.

It's scary to do that - to abandon that which I am convinced I must control.  I wonder if the roly-poly ever feels that way.  When pulled into a ball away from the world, he can't go anywhere or do anything.  It can be a scary place to be.

But I didn't just simply close up, I chose to pull inward.

I pulled towards my kids.  I actively sought out my friendships.  I gravitated towards things that make me feel peaceful: calming music, pumpkin-scented candles, being outdoors.  I made myself watch TV shows that make me laugh.  I picked up a book - and read it.  I went to bed early.  I began choosing foods to eat for no other reason than they made me feel good.  I stopped paying attention to where I was going and started paying attention to where I was.

Just like the roly-poly who is scrunched into itself - his antenna, belly and legs all forced into touching each other - when I cut out the exterior noise and pulled inward, that's where I found myself most.

I refused to put a time-limit on my re-engagement. "Stay here until you feel safe again," I told myself.  I believed the world would understand.  The world did seem to understand, even if nobody noticed anything about me was different.  

The beauty of "roly-poly mode" is that I have found it works.  Just like the roly-poly who eventually feels safe and decides to open back up and carry on its way once again, I am finding myself ready to do the same.

This blog post is the very evidence of my emergence from my roly-poly ball.  I'm re-engaging in the periphery of my life and finding myself interested in hearing noise again.  

Brian and I have begun conversations about when Bennett will have his next procedure.  We still don't know yet when it will be but we have a CF appointment next month so we will decide soon.  For now, Bennett seems content with where we are and we are too.

There's something empowering about being able to shut down and say: no more.  It is by recognizing I can do this that helps me make the choice to open up again.  The roly-poly can get back to its work because it knows that it has the ability to flip into a ball as many times as is necessary to keep him safe.  It's what God has given him to help defend himself from things that might threaten his well-being.  I am recognizing God has given me a similar protective mechanism, as well.

On Monday, I randomly met a man whose job is to coach CEOs who have been given 6 months or less to turn their company around or be fired.  After a few minutes of getting to know one another, I lamented that his job sounded like a particularly challenging job, having to coach people who are facing such despair.  "How do you do it??" I inquired with a sense of admiration.

The man causally said to me "oh, you could be a coach.  Your child has a terminal disease.  You get it.  You know what's important in life.  You know what matters.  Many of the people I work with are 50 years old and never faced a crisis."  He said, "my 29-year old eldest son has Stage 4 cancer.  I've learned very well how to deal with hard things."

I walked away from this brief conversation with a total stranger with a newfound respect for our battle with Cystic Fibrosis. CF is a constant reminder to live in the moment as it teaches me well that today is all we have.  Ironically, though, CF is also the very pressure that reminds me that closing up and shutting down for a time is not only necessary but healthy. 

Maybe I should see my time hunkered down in "roly-poly mode", not as a sign of human weakness, but a sign of human strength.

I think I just learned what I need to be resilient.

When the car is empty...

Saturday, September 3, 2016

I hear these words a lot: "I don't know how you do it."

They are usually coming from well-meaning friends, sometimes from strangers, referring to the challenges of caring for a chronically ill child.

Usually I smile and admit I don't know how I do it either.  I just get up and do what has to be done to keep Bennett well.

But yesterday, for one of the first times, I agreed with them: 

I don't know how I can do it.

Not one more time. Not now.  I just can't.

For weeks, we have been gearing up for Thursday, Bennett's 5th sigmoid dilation and his 7th hospitalization this year.  The plan: stop his solid foods first thing Wednesday morning, give lots of Miralax and an enema before bed Wednesday night, stop fluids on Thursday morning, drive to Dallas shortly afterwards, undergo anesthesia for a 1:30 pm procedure and spend a night in the hospital to monitor.

I had a really sweet friend reach out to me a few nights ago via Facebook with a sort of "welfare check."  She hadn't heard much on the blog and wanted to make sure things were ok.

I really appreciated her checking on me.  Everything is very much ok.  Kids are thriving in school. Now that Avonlea is getting bigger, I'm being able to pursue some new opportunities.

My silence on the blog, however, has been somewhat by design.

So far this year, Bennett's issues with CF have been really challenging. In January, he had a portion of his colon removed.  Nine months later, we are still undergoing procedures to address an intestinal stricture that may have been a complication from the January procedure.

At times, the emotional "noise" that has come from all of that has been very loud.

That's why I've chosen to be quiet on the blog during the non-hospital times.  I've needed to turn my attention to everything else in life - anything else in life - other than CF.

As I began getting calls from the hospital in preparation for Bennett's procedure next week, I began realizing my anxiety was increasing.  I was feeling more and more overwhelmed.   Coordinate childcare, coordinate missing school, coordinate diet, coordinate pre-op appointment, coordinate needed medications...

I began running the procedure through my head.  "What about this?"  "What about that?"

I could tell that I was feeling like I'm running on fumes.  I began to share with Brian, a close friend, my mom and my therapist that I was afraid I simply might not be able to do it next week.

Each of them responded to my concerns with validation and support.

What complicates this upcoming procedure is that the colon prep is more intense than usual...and that the success of the procedure is still a bit unknown.

"Is it worth it?" I keep wondering.  "Will it even matter?  All that we have to go through - will it matter in the end??"  We think this next time, this last of this batch of dilations, should be beneficial.  But we still don't know whether or not it's going to last for the long-term.  And we still don't know whether surgery is still in his future.  Only time and a few more procedures will tell.

As I began talking to the hospital pre-op nurses over the last few days about our upcoming procedure, I recognized that I am not going into this next procedure with the amount of energy, readiness and confidence that I need to adequately support Bennett...

In moments when I need to be fully engaged, I want to be unengaged.  In moments when I need to be supportive of the process, I'm looking for ways to make the process easier on us.  In moments when I need to be strong for Bennett, I can't find my strength.

I shared my feelings with my therapist on Friday: "I don't think I can do this next procedure. I'm running on fumes.  I'm afraid if something goes wrong with the procedure, I will be on empty and have nothing else to give.  I'm afraid that's not what's best for Bennett."

My therapist listened intently and then said, "I've walked with you through a lot of Bennett's challenges over the years.  It sounds like this is not a good time to do the procedure.  You must remember that Bennett depends on you.  He doesn't have his own "car" - you carry him in yours.  If your "car" is on empty, then Bennett goes no where."

Her validation was important.  I knew deep inside I didn't want to do the procedure next week.  I knew I didn't feel like I was emotionally ready.  But how could I cancel on Bennett?  What would be the repercussions?

Brian agreed that this procedure is not an emergency.  We want to improve his quality of life.  But, all things considered, he's doing well  He hasn't been sick in a long time.  He's happy.  His teachers have accommodated at school for his bathroom issues.  He can wait.

So, what's my problem?  Why not just call and cancel?  I expressed my concerns during my therapy session, one of my favorite designated places to process my internal thoughts externally.

"It sounds like you are trying to take care of the doctors...that you are really concerned with hurting Bennett's physicians' feelings," my therapist reflected for me.

I acknowledged she was right.  Although, I thought postponing the procedure was the right thing for our family and the right thing for Bennett (heaven forbid, the kid just needs a break), I couldn't get past the issue that my postponing the procedure would be a bother to Bennett's doctor, for whom I have the greatest respect and confidence.

My therapist reminded me that Bennett's CF team is there to help us, not the other way around.  They just want to help Bennett feel better and live life as fully as possible.

As much as I identify myself as being a patient advocate at times, I find it interesting to be so afraid to postpone Bennett's procedure for fear of being seen as non-compliant.  I want Bennett's doctors to take good care of him so we try to be respectful of their time and efforts.  But, my therapist reminded me, that doesn't mean we have to undergo a procedure we aren't ready to undergo.

Throughout our conversation, I was reminded in therapy the power I have as Bennett's mother.  There are times when it's ok to say, "stop."  It's ok to say, "we need to breathe."

We need to go forward only when we are all feeling ready.  It wouldn't be in the best interest of anyone for a mama's heart not be ready.  I am Bennett's advocate.  When I can't do it, he can't do it.

Yesterday afternoon, I penned an email to Bennett's doctor.  It felt empowering to write.  So often, it feels like CF is in control.  It felt good to remind myself that it is not.

But what really meant a lot to me is hearing back from my doctor not too long after I sent the email with the words, "No problem.  I understand.  Let me know when you are ready to proceed..."

My doctor didn't need to write those two words: "I understand."  But they felt really good to hear.

CF doesn't care.  CF doesn't understand.  But humans do.  And Bennett's doctors are humans.  They get it.

I'm human too.

"I don't know how you do it," people say.

"Sometimes...I simply don't," I will now respond.

First Day of School 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rainy weather couldn't keep us from our annual first day of school pictures this year!  We just moved them to the porch!

This school year, Oliver is in 3rd grade.  Bennett is in 1st grade.  And Avonlea is in the 3-6 year old class.

This year's picture looks a little different than previous years (click here to see: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015) because nobody is wearing uniforms.  

This summer, Brian and I made the difficult decision to move our littlest kids to a new school.

Last Fall, Brian and I moved Oliver to a non-traditional school environment due to concerns he was not thriving in the traditional school model.  It didn't take long for us to recognize that the Montessori school environment is a great fit for Oliver's 2e learning needs.

While we were so happy last year to have all three kids' needs being met between two great schools, it became clear to Brian and me this Spring that, for our family's sanity sake, we really need all three children in the same school. 

Brian and I thought about, talked about and prayed about what to do.  It wasn't even clear until a week or so before school began, we learned that there was a spot open for Avonlea and Bennett to attend Oliver's school.

Bennett's previous school community (teachers, students and parents) have been nothing but amazing so it's made leaving hard.  Bennett has personally felt tremendous love and support from his school and friends so he feels very conflicted with leaving.  

But one consoling factor to Bennett is that, at this new school, Oliver and Bennett will get to be in the same class with each other every day.

Montessori schools traditionally group children by mixed age levels, rather than by one grade level.  The thought is that heterogeneous ages in one class encourages cross-age-group learning and independence.  

For example, Avonlea will be the youngest in her class this year of children ages 3-6.  Oliver and Bennett will be in the same class of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.

There was some worry at first as to whether it would be beneficial to the boys to have them in the same class.  Would Oliver, for example, be more worried about his brother now that they were in the same class, rather than if they weren't? 

The school staff and Brian and I talked and agreed that Oliver already worries about his brother's welfare as it is.  Having Bennett with him there every day might actually help Oliver to worry about his brother less.  Now, Oliver can see for himself that Bennett is doing well.  

Not all siblings are invited to be in the same class in Montessori schools.  Sometimes, sibling sets need to be separated during the school day.  But everyone agrees that Oliver and Bennett are very tender towards each other, get along great and will likely be very helpful for each other.  Oliver can be supportive of Bennett's unique experience as a first grader with cystic fibrosis...and Bennett may highlight for Oliver ways he's capable when he might otherwise not believe he is  

This is the picture Avonlea's teacher sent me today of her hard at work.  The picture shows Avonlea using a spoon to move some acorns from one bowl to the other (fine motor skills work).  

Avonlea cracked Brian and I up today.  We kept asking her if she was looking forward to going to her new school.  She had just met her teacher the day before so we had hoped she was warmed up enough to gain some excitement.  Her reply was very confidently: "I'm not going to a new school."  

Brian told her this morning, "I hope you have a good day at school today" to which Avonlea replied, "I don't want to go to a new school. I don't want a new teacher."  

As we pulled into the parking lot, Avonlea explained that we would be dropping off her brothers but that she would be "going home and getting something to eat."  

She said goodbye to Bennett and did walk down to her classroom with me.  But she continued to stay outside the door and explaining matter of factly that she wasn't going in.

...that was until she saw her teacher who she had met a few days before...and until she saw the interesting "toys" (Montessori calls them "works") on the shelves.  

Then, like a bug walking into a light zapper, she went right straight into that classroom without a moments hesitation.  She happily gathered the materials most interesting to her and sat down at the table.  

I actually had to call her name to get her attention to wave goodbye to her.  She did nothing more than look up and say, "bye!"

So much for "not going to a new school!" Ha!

Sigmoidoscopy with Dilation - Numero Quatro

Friday, August 12, 2016

Yesterday morning was our fourth sigmoidoscopy with dilation procedure to address Bennett's gastroinestinal stricture.  Bennett did well and the procedure went better as expected.  

The GI doctor was able to open the stricture to 15mm (it was 6mm when we started) and seems to think some of the inflammation tissue may have "popped" or given way.  

This is an improvement from our last surgery where the doctor was concerned it was not opening up enough and I was reporting Bennett's symptoms in frequency and urge to go to the bathroom were not improved.  However, this new improvement has given us more confidence to steer away from surgery for a bit longer.

There's such a part of me that would prefer surgery, just so we can have one procedure and get it done.  But, complications surgery may be the reason we are hear in the first place.  So, it's best that we hold off putting Bennett back under surgery for as long as possible.

The plan, for now, is to do another procedure in 3-4 weeks. The doctor hopes that this next she can open his stricture to 18mm and to inject steriods in the area to manipulate the stricture inflammation to go down.  Then, we will wait 4-5 months and reevaluate.

Our time at the hospital has gone well.  Bennett was a little combatitive and winey when we first arrived at the hospital.  I recognized he was feel anxiety and anger about having to be here. I was too, frankly. So, I stopped him and said, "Bennett, I don't want to be here either.  This is terrible.  I hate every bit of it.  But I need you to be kind to me and I need to be kind to you.  Can we be nice to each other today?"  Bennett seemed to respond well, almost like my having acknowledged his feelings was enough to let it go.  I had to let my frustrations go too.  I could tell how stressed and irritated I was feeling when I was packing the night before and talking to Brian.  In fact, Bennett often throws his frustrations on me.  And I throw them on Brian.  I'm thankful each of us are willing to be gracious with each other during these times.  Bennett enjoyed his new toy again.  I really appreciated a sweet nurses's disposition.  Our morning turned around and we were able to be present in the moment.

Things started going even better when Daddy arrived at the hospital.  Childcare issues meant Brian had to arrive late and leave early.  But it always helps to have another adult in the mix.  There's always someone to talk to the doctor and someone to talk to the child.  There's always someone to stay with the patient and someone to run to the cafeteria.  There's someone to help calm the other adult.  It just helps having Daddy there.

Bennett woke up from his procedure ok but seemed he may have been hurting.  In recovery, I asked if the nurse could give him tylenol.  Bennett needed to go to the bathroom so Brian and I took him.  When we got back, the nurse had fentanyl to give him.  I knew it was a strong med but I didn't think much of it until we couldn't wake him up a short bit later.  The fentayl is a great pain reliever but it's also a sedative.  So, Bennett's waking up process took considerably longer this time.  Bennett was very loopy for a while which was quite humorous to us.

Our hospital stay has been good. This time, I printed out a paper of "requests" to give to the doctor who was admitting us - requests like "please give mom permission to do respiratory treatments" and "please make pancreatic enzyme medicine PRN (to give as needed)."  These are small requests but if they aren't in the chart, they can result in frustrations between myself and the staff.  Nurses and therapists have to play by the rules very carefully.  So, it's important to set the rules up correctly.  And to do so, it's important to have buy-in from the decision-maker, like an admitting doctor.

Thank you to our friend, Amy Van Vranken, Executive Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Chapter in Dallas for sending Bennett this "epic balloon" (as he calls it) and little set of build-a-robot toys. It was a super fun treat to receive. ❤️

One of the greatest disappointments about our next procedure (other than its number 5) is that Bennett is going to have to have a colonoscopy prep to prepare for it. That means eating only clear liquids for 24 hours and then having a full colon cleanout (which includes loads of Miralax and lots of potty time).  

I cannot even express the knot I already have in my stomach about this.  I know the doctor is only wanting to be able to be the most successful she can by requesting that we prep Bennett appropriately.  She feels badly about it too. But it doesn't change that I am super disappointed that we will have to make Bennett go through this kind of prep again.

Our procedure isn't until September so there's no sense in fretting about it now.  Once we get discharged (hopefully in another hour), we will head home and focus on something much more fun: Bennett's first day of 1st grade next week.  Pictures to come. :)

Ballgames for Bennett

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

For the past 3 years, Bennett has been named the honoree of the Annual Sonny Rose Memorial Softball Tournament in my hometown of Minden, Louisiana.  This year was a special year because it was the first time where our family could attend the tournament in person, which we were thrilled to be able to do!  

My friend Casey, in red, who I have been friends with since high school, reached out to me several years ago when he learned that our son had cystic fibrosis.  Having tragically lost his own brother, Casey explained he wanted to help us find a cure for Bennett so Oliver would never have to experience that kind of pain.  Casey has worked tirelessly since then to help us raise money for the CF Foundation in honor of Bennett ever since.

This year's tournament was it's 16th year and biggest ever with 33 softball teams and 8 wiffleball teams.  I understood it was a softball tournament but what I didn't realize, until I arrived in person, was just how involved it was to put on nor did I know how passionate the people were who played in it!!  

There were 18 coed teams, 15 men's and 8 wiffleball teams.  Although there were a lot of local players, some teams had come all the way from Texas and Mississippi!  The tournament began at 8AM and lasted until 3AM.  

YES!  Three o'clock in the morning!!

This is a picture of Casey's team, which was affectionately named, "In it for Bennett."  This crew won 2nd place in the Coed Division.

First place of the Mens Division went to team "Smash It" (top).  Second place went to "LA Hustle" (bottom).

See the boy in this picture?  That's Bennett.  Ok, look beyond him.  See the guy in the blue shirt?  That man spent all day outside in the direct sunlight and 100 degree heat as a referee for the softball tournament.  At the end of the day, when Casey and his mother tried to pay the man for his work, the man and his wife refused to take the money.  Instead, they said: "donate it to Bennett."

I came upon those words in the conversation between the man's wife and Casey's mom when I re-entered the concession stand where I had been working and where they were speaking.  I was grateful I overheard their conversation because I was given the opportunity to say thank you to this woman in person.  It was meaningful to be able to do so since I had already recognized that so many people I didn't know had graciously given and were currently giving of their time, money and energy to make this weekend successful for the benefit of my son - people I didn't know, would likely never meet and never be able to adequately thank.      

One such crew I never fully had a chance to thank were these little guys and their mothers who were sitting behind the batters box while our family (and a few sweet area volunteers) played a round of wiffleball in the Wiffleball Tournament.

I didn't have anyone to watch Avonlea while were were infield so I brought her some toys, put her on the bench in the dugout and told her to "stay put."  That worked for all of 10 seconds since she's 3 years old, so I was much relieved when I heard a sweet motherly voice from behind me ask, "can I go get your daughter and have her come sit underneath the shaded tent with us?"

I was so appreciative of the kindness of a stranger, one whom I inherently trusted (and later learned I actually knew).  I hated having to leave Avonlea in the dugout but I didn't know what else to do for her while we played.  In this mother's arms, Avonlea was able to sit behind homeplate and the chain-linked fence to watch our game while she, too, was being watched.

The game lasted only 20 minutes.  But I was proud of Bennett and Oliver for trying to play wiffleball, especially considering the 100 degree heat was intense. At one point, I yelled out to Bennett in the out field as encouragement.  One of the mothers from the tent of boys behind the batting cage (where I was playing the role of catcher) piped up and asked, "is that Bennett, the one who this event is raising money for?"  I smiled and explained that it was.  Several of the mothers let out a sweet sigh.

Bennett came up to bat a few minutes later and I began noticing cheers coming from this group of mothers and their little boys, all who were dressed adorably in matching purple and white baseball uniforms with their respective nicknames hot-pressured in gold to the back of their shirts.

The cheers made Bennett feel like a million bucks.  He swung at the ball and ran towards through the bases as fast as his legs would take him.  It was a memorable moment for me, a microcosm of the entire day: to watch Bennett joyfully experience life using his precious lungs, at a fundraiser hoping to get him a cure, with a group of strangers cheering him on.

The top picture is of the 1st place Coed team called, "Highly Favored."  The bottom picture is the winner of the wiffleball tournament, team "Nursing Home Mafia."  

These sweet men, known as the Nursing Home Mafia, played against our family in the Wiffleball Tournament.  After they smoked us, everyone lined up to give high fives.  When we were done, Bennett walked up to me with a new one dollar bill.  I don't know who it was but somebody high-fived him a dollar as a sign of love.  He was delighted as the surprise he received. 

One of Bennett's favorite part of the tournament was most definitely being a concession stand worker.  Not only did he appreciate the reprieve of being inside the cool concession stand and eating candy when concessions were slow, Bennett loved helping people at the window.

Another special moment for Bennett was when Kyle Pearson, who plays on Team USA for ASA softball, autographed him a softball to keep.       

This is Laci, Sonny's and Casey's little sister who organized and coordinated much of the tournament this year, despite that she's 9 months pregnant with a baby girl.

I wish I also had a picture of Casey, Laci and Sonny's parents Charlie and Susan Rose who worked diligently to make sure things went right.  Charlie played on our wiffleball team at one point but spend much of his time fetching ice.  And Susan ran here, there and everywhere trying to track down more quarters and Gatorade for the concession stand.

I also missed a picture of Geoffrey Orr, who also worked incredibly hard to make sure the softball fields were in ready-for-play condition (did you know they actually burn the fields to get them ready??)  There are others that I don't have a picture of that are worth mentioning, such a the sweet ladies and two youngsters who worked with us in the concession stand and who volunteered their Saturday to help us raise money for Bennett.  I have no doubt there are others I did not and will never know who helped and for whom I am thankful.

When it was all said in this year's 16th Annual Sonny Rose Memorial Softball Tournament raised total of $6,800 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of Bennett!

The next day, before Brian, the kids and I left Louisiana to head back to Texas, our family had a chance to have lunch with Casey, his sweet wife, Sarah, and their two children.  It was such a treat to get to meet Casey's kids, whom I had only seen in pictures and to get to see Sarah, who had been watching the children all day the day before while Casey was busy with the softball tournament.  They are such a sweet family.

Casey has his own children to care for.  His sister and his parents know many other people who they could fundraise for in memory of Sonny.  So, the fact that this family chose our family and our Bennett to support again this year is even more meaningful.

I couldn't help but think of Sonny this weekend.  His presence was noticable - how dearly he is missed and loved.  I grateful that Sonny's family chooses to turn their loss into life...their grief into giving...and their love of their own into a love for my own.

Sincerest thanks, Rose Family,

Happy 3rd Birthday, Avonlea!

Monday, July 25, 2016

She's the cherry on top.

Her bear hugs are our favorite.  Her belly laughs are contagious.  She loves baby dolls, princesses and dressing up.  She hums the Star Wars theme song by memory and regularly plays "conflict resolution" with Bennett's Batman and Superman action figures.  She feels like everyone is her friend.  She has her brothers wrapped around her finger. And if she thinks you're cooking, she wants to be right next to you.  

It seems only yesterday we were announcing we were pregnant with this sweet girl.  Today this little bundle of joy is celebrating her third birthday!  

I thought long and hard about what kind of birthday party theme might best envelope who Avonlea is and what she's in to at this age.  But it didn't take long for me to recognize that, when you're a little girl who wants to regularly be referred to as a kitty cat, a kitty cat themed 3rd birthday is the best.

In order to keep birthday parties manageable as the children grow, Brian and I decided a few years ago create a family rule to limit the number of kids we invited to the children's party using their birthday age as a guide.  So, this year, Avonlea invited 2 little friends to her birthday party.

Avonlea was tickled pink over her kitty cat cake (which I found on Pinterest here and asked SimplyDelicious to make).  Three is such a fun age because *everything* is the most wonderful.  My favorite line that Avonlea regularly but randomly quotes is from Tangled: "Best. Day. EVER!!"

The little girls enjoyed fresh milk with their cake because every kitty loves milk (milk glasses were found at Target in the Dollar Spot).

Kitties also love mice.  These little strawberry mice, found here, were made with strawberry bodies, almond sliced ears, mini-chocolate chips and pull-apart Twizzler tails.  It calls for honey to keep the little eyes, nose and tails attached but I found honey to be a challenging adhesive.  Nonetheless, they were fun to make. 

Oliver wanted chocolate cake but Bennett wanted vanilla so I decided to make vanilla cupcakes (from a box) and used cut-in-half marshmallows as a "kitty cat paw print." For decorations, I made yarn-balls and hung some from the light fixture.  For party favors, each little girl went home with a stuffed kitty.  (Originally, I had wanted to have live kittens for the girls to play with at the party.  But, considering Brian is super allergic to cats, I decided to nix that idea.  Anaphylactic shock would not be a good way to end a birthday party.)

The girls mainly wanted to play with each other the whole time but one little activity I set up for them included "dressing up as kitty cats."  I cut several white marabou boas into 8-inch long strips to be used as kitty tails.  Felt, headbands and a hot glue gun were all that was needed for creating kitty ears. And then, to top it off, I also bought several pairs of white athletic socks at the dollar store and glued pink felt on them to make "kitty paws".

We've been practicing all day, regularly asking Avonlea, "how old are you!?"  She is still working on getting that new little finger to rise up with the other two.  

You couldn't be any more purrrrfect for our family, sweet kitty cat!  Happy 3rd birthday, Avonlea!