31 October 2013

Comparing Pumpkin Patch Pictures

This blog post is absolutely all for me.  I just love comparing pictures and seeing how people change over the years.  The following pictures are how our family has changed in the last six years.  These are all pictures from our family visits to the Pumpkin Patch:

Pumpkin Patch - 2013 (Oliver, almost 6; Bennett, 4; Avonlea, 3 months)

Pumpkin Patch - 2012 (Oliver, almost 5; Bennett, 3)

 Pumpkin Patch - 2011 (Oliver, almost 4; Bennett, 2)

Pumpkin Patch - 2010 (Oliver, almost 3; Bennett, 1)

Pumpkin Patch - 2009 (Oliver, almost 2; Bennett, almost born)

Pumpkin Patch - 2008 (Oliver, almost 1)

October 2007 (Oliver, in Mommy's tummy)

Again, just random pictures for myself.  Here is how our kids (and the Carney's kids) have changed as well:

2013 - New addition to the picture: Avonlea

2012 - No new additions

2011 - New Addition to the picture: Mabel

2011 - New Addition to the picture: Bennett

Happy Halloween 2013

Happy Halloween From The Gamel Family!!

Last year, the boys were superheroes.  This year's theme was "Under the Sea."  
Bennett chose to be a dolphin.  Oliver chose to be an octopus.  Avonlea was a mermaid.  
(The kids' costumes were handmade, with *much* help from my good friend Kristin, who cut and sewed them together for me.  But, I should say, I proudly hot glued. :))

Our little fish-girl.  She didn't mind at all being placed into a fin-suit.

I found the idea for this costume on the Internet and it turned out so well!  It's almost creepy how much it looked like an octopus when we were done.  Oliver's choice in sweatshirt was his favorite color: orange.

Want to know what Oliver originally asked to be for Halloween?  Check out a Red Belly Comb Jelly:  That thing doesn't even have a face or head.  I couldn't figure out which part of it was the head and the body. You can now understand why we went with an octopus. :)

On one level, Bennett's costume was super easy.  But, on the other hand, it was a challenge.  The belly, fin and tail were nothing more than a sweatsuit, fleece and stuffing that we sewed together.  But the dolphin head was fairly difficult.  We worked on it, for what it seemed to be, forever!

Finally, we were able to figure something out.  We ended up creating the head by using a baseball cap, gray fleece and some thick foam.  Kristincurled the bill of the baseball cap with a rubber band and stuck foam inside to give the dolphin head a "bottled nose."  Then, we stuffed the top of the hat to make the top of the dolphin's head.  It took us lots of tries to figure it out but we were pretty proud of the end result.  :)

Bennett's favorite part of his costume was definitely his dolphin tail.  And I'll have to admit that, while watching him from behind and seeing that little tail that bounce along the way, it was my favorite part too. :)

I love how Oliver instinctively put his hands inside his over sized sweatshirt and gave hugs with his tentacles.  I could tell he really loved channelling his "inner octopus."

 After a few pictures, the kids started playing.  Next thing I knew the octopus was eating the dolphin! :)

 Octopus+Dolphin peace.

Daddy with his sea creatures.

Under the Sea with Mama.

Off we go!

Trick or Treat!

I had to make sure to get a picture of Oliver's octopus tentacles by the end of the night.  One of the compromises I made for Oliver, since I had to confess to him that I was never going to be able to create him a Red Belly Comb Jelly costume, was I would give each of his octopus' tentacles' glow sticks (to which I ended up gluing to the ends).  Oliver really loved it and, as it turned out, the glow sticks really highlighted his eight tentacles while he was trick or treating. :)
What a fun Halloween we had this year!  The boys had such a great time visiting our sweet neighbors.  And Avonlea was happy to watch her brothers collect candy while I held her around the neighborhood.  She's such a peaceful baby.  But besides...she knows she gets to do all of this next year. :)

29 October 2013

The Tooth Fairy Comes For A Visit

Recently, our kindergartener lost his first tooth.  Oliver had been eating pretzels during lunch when "it just fell out."  He was SO excited!

So, for the first time ever in the Gamel family household, a tiny baby tooth sat underneath a child's pillow awaiting the arrival of the Tooth Fairy.

Thank goodness for Pinterest!  The Tooth Fairy made sure to leave not just a dollar but a dollar with fairy dust on well as a tiny little letter written by the Tooth Fairy herself.


Oliver has loved being toothless.  He feels so grown up.  The funniest thing happened shortly after Oliver awoke to find the surprises left by the Tooth Fairy.  I caught him repeatedly throwing his dollar in the air and watching it slowly fall to the ground.  When I asked him what he was doing, he said, "trying to see if my dollar will fly... because it has fairy dust on it." :)  

26 October 2013

A difficult goodbye.

Our friend David, the father of Bennett's best friend, Parker, passed away this evening.

While it has been known for some time that David was dying, this knowledge has done nothing to make the loss of him any easier.  Death is a loss that feels so final.  And that finality feels so very sad.

I had a chance to say goodbye to David a few days ago.  He wasn't able to speak very well but he did acknowledge me, which was such a gift to receive since I had not expected to receive it.

I was able to share with David how much Brian and I love him - and I was able to thank him for being there for our family in the way he and Dana were these last few years.  Many times, David and Dana helped relieve my stress by taking one or both of the kids for a few hours to the zoo or other activity in order to give me break at home.  David always did it cheerfully.

David is one of the best daddies I know.  He loved the heck out of his kids as well as his wife.  David was adventurous, interested, selfless and liked to laugh.  I found him to be caring and tender,  courageous and patient, smart and very competent.   David loved God and he was strong...very very strong.

One of the hardest things about the loss of David is knowing his two young children have lost their father's physical presence here on earth.  But something that comforts me greatly is knowing that Audrey and Parker have within them their Daddy's strength.   Just as their father demonstrated amazing resolve, I have no doubt they will, too, as they follow their mother's lead in creating a new normal for their family, never forgetting their father in the process.

David was much to young to leave us so soon.  
But I consider myself incredibly blessed to have known him as I did.
David's Memorial Service will be held next Saturday, November 2nd.  
Please keep Dana, Audrey and Parker in your prayers.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.  Psalm 34:18a

20 October 2013

CF Clinic and Annual Chest X-ray

Last week, Bennett had his 3-month regular check up with the Cystic Fibrosis clinic at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. It was also time for his annual chest X-ray.

Can I just take a few minutes to say how incredibly proud I am of him? That child has to go through so much and he handles it with such bravery!

Bennett has done a chest x-ray several times so he's pretty used to it.  But this time, since I had Avonlea and Oliver with me, I had to step out of the X-ray room during the X-ray.  My heart was a little nervous to leave him in the room with strangers all by himself.  But he did so great.

I tried to act like I wasn't worried about him.  And he mirrored my confidence by showing I had nothing to worry about!  Before I closed the door to the X-ray room, I reminded him: "don't forget - when they take the picture, make sure to tell your lungs to smile" :)

While we don't know the results of the chest X-ray or his regular throat culture, Bennett's CF doctor decided to increase the antibiotics he is currently on for a sinus infection.  In addition, she has decided to start Bennett on Tobi.  

Tobi is the nickname for Tobraycin, an inhaled antibiotic medication used to treat pseudomonas aeruginosa, a damaging bacteria often found in CF lungs (btw, just for the record, pseudomonas is not something healthy people need to be concerned about "catching"; it is not something that is a threat to healthy people - only those with Cystic Fibrosis or a compromised immune system).

Avonlea joins Bennett (and his dog) on the couch while he watches TV during his early morning treatments.

I knew we would one day begin treating pseudomonas but I wasn't quite ready to start just quite yet.  Typically, with Cystic Fibrosis, once you begin treating an infection, you will continue to treat it for the rest of their life.

I knew, when the doctor casually but carefully mentioned wanting to begin Tobi, what she was saying.

I asked, "Tobi?  So you want to treat Bennett for pseudomonas?  So, you think he may have pseudomonas?"
The doctor carefully nodded and explained, "he has never cultured it.  And I'm not so convinced he has it that I think he should do Tobi twice a day, which is the typical dose.  But I want to make sure that's not what he's dealing with so I suggest we begin it once daily."

So, once the medicine arrives at our door, Bennett's nighttime routine will increase each night from 20 minutes to 30 minutes daily.  

I'm disappointed, not just because his CF routine is being lengthen but because I am reminded once more that this is a progressive disease that won't go away.  Our only hope at this point is to manage it.  It is moments like this these that push me out of denial and force me to be present with the fact that we have an awful disease working against us.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is not necessarily a death sentence.  But it is one of the primary lung infections that slowly causes damage in the lungs.  PA, if not well controlled, can be very damaging over time.  Bennett's own CF doctor helped write this article on PA, which explains that "Chronic infection with P. aeruginosa is the main proven perpetrator of lung function decline and ultimate mortality in CF patients."

I wouldn't be fully honest if I didn't say that there is a part of me that feels really sad for our little boy.  PA is common in the CF world.  It's "normal" for those of us with CF children.  But it doesn't make it any less disappointing to hear we must begin treating it.

But, thankfully, we have a very smart and vigilant doctor who will diligently work to help Bennett's lungs survive any potential of damage as we wait for a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.  And just as wonderful, our little guy feels healthy and has no idea of this tiny but very significant change in his CF care.

Overall, he is doing *really* well with regards to his health.  

This is a picture I had to make sure I grabbed.  I don't typically bring all three children by myself to Dallas for our CF Clinic appointments, especially in the pouring rain.  However, when you have one child who can't go to school yet, one child who has an appointment and another child who is sick, you have no choice but to bring them all! :)  As soon as we got in to our appointment, I put Avonlea up on the table to let her stretch out.  The boys couldn't get to her fast enough.  They loooooove her!!!

Once I could get their attention again, I asked the boys to smile for the camera. I cracked up when I saw this picture. Apparently, when I asked the boys to smile, Bennett immediately (but for no reason) took his banana and stuck it directly to Avonlea's head. :)

By the way, Bennett is holding stickers the nurse gave him for doing so well when she took his vitals (every CF Clinic appointment begins with a weigh-in, taking of blood pressure and an oximeter reading).

This is a picture from Bennett's 4 year old check up at his Pediatrician's office during his hearing screening the day after our CF Clinic visit.   I was just so proud of him sitting in the chair at the doctor's office.  He feels a lot of pride when he pleases the nurses with his independence.  This picture was when Bennett made the nurse laugh because every time he would hear a "beep" in his ear, instead of pointing to the ear he heard it in (like the nurse originally requested he do), he would take the giraffe's hoof and point to the correct ear.  Such a sweet and tenderhearted babe he still is.

For documentation's sake, I'll mention that we are going to change Bennett's g-tube night feeding from using Elecare formula (30 calories per oz) to using Peptide formula (45 calories per oz).  This will hopefully help bump up Bennett's weight and keep him healthier.  He is currently in the 50th percentile for height but 30th percentile for weight.  We know studies have shown that keeping CFer's weight in the 50th percentile is linked to better lung function and, therefore, a longer life expectancy.  We'll see how it works for him!

08 October 2013

Mama And Her Boys

This might be most interesting just to me, Brian and the grandparents.  But I still thought I'd share. :)

This is a very sweet video my talented photographer friend Khimberly Caton of Snaptastic Shots put together for me and the boys around mother's day earlier this past year. I was still pregnant with Avonlea at the time.

I'm a HUGE fan of capturing life through photographs.  But it's really neat to see how much more of life can be captured through video.  Being a journalist at heart, this makes me wish to have a simple video like this every year capturing my boys' growing personalities and the love I feel towards my kids.

Sometimes in those quiet moments, after the children have fallen asleep and my day is coming to an end, I can find myself wondering if I'm a good mom or if I had been as present as I could have been for them that day.  But I was reminded of when I watched this video was that being a "good mom" isn't about being a perfect mom, it's about just being mom.

Snuggles, kisses and laughter are the currency of children.  


03 October 2013

Bennett's Dinosaur Birthday Party

Bennett turned four years old on September 30th.  To celebrate Bennett's fourth birthday, he chose a dinosaur theme and asked to have his party at the park ("where there is a slide, mama").  

Most of the time in Texas, it's gorgeous outside.  But for the second year in a row, it rained on Bennett's birthday party day.  So, at the last minute, we moved Bennett's party from outside to the backside of our church.

Designed for worship, our church is a bit dark inside so my pictures didn't turn out as well as they might have had the party been outside.  But, it was kinda cool to feel like the party was being held in a dark "dinosaur cave."  We made the best of it. :)

My sister Brooklyn did a great job helping me decorate.  She is always so good at this kind of stuff!

 "Happy Dino Birthday" sign - up and ready to go!

Dinosaur themed yum-yums!

At first, we had planned to keep Bennett's party guest list small, preferably limited to 4 of his friends.  However, it became clear in no time that too many people love and connect with Bennett to not invite them to his party.  So, we invited a combination of his friends from school and church, their siblings and some of our friends' kids. :)

It was a lot of fun to have so many children.  It may have been a bit like herding a bunch of cats at times but the preschoolers all seemed to really enjoy their time.  And, most importantly, Bennett thoroughly enjoyed having soooo many friends there!

Since we didn't have a playground to keep the kids entertained, I decided to search Pinterest for some cute dinosaur games.  One of the cutest games I found suggested putting a balloon around each child's ankle and, with the start of the music, letting them try to pop each other's balloons.

 It took only all of about 30 seconds in to the game before I realized, "wait!  Three and four year-olds don't like popping balloons!!!"  My biggest clue?  I looked up and saw about a third of the kids holding their ears out of fear of loud popping sounds.  (Oh, and to make matters worse, did I mention the room we were in echoed alot?)

The good thing is it turned out that the 3 and 4 year-olds were too tiny to pop each other's balloons anyway.  So, within a few minutes, myself and another mother were cutting the balloons off the kids ankles and just letting them play with them!  Whew!  No popped balloons and no tears! :)

Thankfully, we had another game ready to go after the balloon fiasco.  The kids really enjoyed hitting the pinata.  Each of the 3 and 4 year-olds had a few turns to try.   We didn't have a tree to hang the pinata on so Brian had to hold the pinata out using a dowel.  Kudos to daddy for holding the pinata up for so long! :)

Despite that every 3 and 4 year old at the party took a turn, none of the kids were able to break open the pinata.  So, it was great when 9 year old Judah was finally able to to knock the candy out!

Sweet friends Myles and Parker.  (Bennett's shirt was a gift from my talented friend Kristin who hand made his shirt to match the sweet little dinosaur on his invitation.)

After the games, it was cake time.  Bennett's adorable birthday cake was given to him as a gift from our friend Paola, a very talented baker in town.   Paola knows Bennett's birthdays are very special so it is her way of making sure that day is even more delightful.

Bennett just *loved* his dinosaur birthday cake and will most definitely talk about it all year long.  In fact, he still loves talking about last year's birthday cake Paola made. :)

Make a wish!!

Of course, the children really loved getting a party favor bag.  Each tiny bag was labeled with the child's "dinosaur name" (a version of their own name) and inside held a tiny plastic dinosaur, a dinosaur tattoo and a fun-sized bag of M&Ms.  (I am so very thankful to Kristin for helping me at the last minute to get the party favor bags completed. I hadn't realized how difficult it is to do things at the last minute now that I have three children, one of which is an infant.  :))  

When it comes to raising our kiddos, Brian and I try very intentionally to minimize the need for "more stuff."  It's hard to do in our own lives as well as in the lives of our children.  But, in an effort to help our children to not become "entitled" or "spoiled", we decided to place "no gifts, please" on this year's invitation.  It was a hard decision because typically we do appreciate our children getting gifts.  Receiving birthday gifts is one of the most fun parts of having a birthday party.  And we think receiving birthday gifts is a great way to train our children how to accept a gift graciously (and learn how to write thank you notes).  But, with such a big guest list, we thought so many gifts would not be in line with our desire to cultivate appreciation and humbleness in our children.  So, we spoke with Bennett beforehand and explained he would get plenty of presents from me, daddy and his grandparents but that his friend's gifts would be their coming to his party.  He was ok with that, as long as he was going to get some presents (which he did).

A few friends brought a gift anyway (which was very kind - Bennett received them and wholeheartedly embraced them).  But one of the unexpected things I LOVED that came out of our "no gifts" request was the number of sweet little children who brought Bennett hand-written cards and pictures as their own personal gifts.  I loved getting to see the gifts that each child put their heart in to.  And I loved watching Bennett open each card with the same amount of interest as he would have had they given him a toy.  It melted my mama heart.

There was another surprise that was particularly touching to receive.  One of Bennett's little classmates gave him a birthday card.  When he opened it after the party, I found his classmate's family had written a note inside that said that they had donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on behalf of Bennett's birthday.  That was really meaningful surprise to receive.  As my CF friend Josh Mogren best said when he wrote me shortly after I posted on Facebook that Bennett "had made it to four years old": "He's going to "make it" to A LOT MORE birthdays.  Trust me, this ain't no countdown.  It's a count up!"  In light of Bennett's birthday, I am SO appreciative to all those in Bennett's Brigade who give financially to the CF Foundation so we can continue to "count up" Bennett's birthdays each year.

 Happy Birthday, Bennett!!  It is hard to believe how much our life has changed in the last four years.  You continue to teach us what it means to live life to the fullest every day!  We love you, big boy!!