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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of the Advent

I've debated long and hard on the the title of Christmas 2014. To review:

Christmas 2012 - The Year of the Flu
Christmas 2013 - The Year of the Purse

This Christmas season in general has been busier and more difficult than I remember, although it came to me about 2 weeks ago that this is the first holiday season in about 7 years that I have been a working mother. Simply making that distinction helped me feel a bit better about the craziness. It is also the first year we have been involved in a church Christmas program in several years (and while I loved it, the practices certainly consume a certain percentage of your holiday season). Missing basically a week of December for chemo was also not helpful on the whole "keep your holiday simple" motto.

So it was with a sigh of relief that we loaded into our rented van last Monday morning (thank you, 180 Church) and traveled to Illinois to be with family - where the real holiday season happens.

Cousins quickly settled in to play; Brian continued to recover from the flu (he is still fighting off the lingering congestion and cough 3 weeks). My mom had arranged for the girls to spend an afternoon at the local crisis pregnancy center (we managed to whip out 4 hours worth of work in 3).  Cinnamon rolls were baked and consumed (my request).

I could call Christmas 2014 The Year of the Rash since it was Christmas Eve when blisters started to appear on my hands and legs. Or it could be The Year of the Burned Toys since a new Lego set might have been accidentally sent to the burn pile and not discovered until too late.

But I think this year will be The Year of the Advent. Our holiday week had some hard moments. A long-existing rift with family came to the surface, and our brother chose to spend Christmas apart from us. It was a sobering reminder that I have not been faithful to love him the way I should, as well as an overwhelming awareness of how hard life can be when choosing to live apart from Christ. There were tears and much joy missing from our week as a result, and I thought over and over how grateful I was that our families had chosen to spend our December evenings reading Ann Voskamp's Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration. It was such a lovely and real reminder of what is this baby King who came to save us. My favorite memories from December come from the discussions following our nightly readings. My favorite memories from the week are found in the prayers said and carols sang each night.

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We chose, as we have in the past, to give the kids 3 gifts: something you need, something to read, and something you want. Camden received house shoes, the Warriors Box Set by Erin Hunter, and a Nerf Mega Thunder Bow Blaster. Rory received p.j.'s, an Amelia Bedelia box set, and a purple Nerf Guardian Crossbow. Why, yes, we did have World War 3 after Christmas morning - especially since the cousins also received Nerf Mega Thunder Bow Blasters. :)

Micah, Becky, William and Xavier had to leave Saturday (amidst many tears from the cousins, which always breaks my heart). My parents played the part of doting grandparents while Brian and I got out of the house. We finally got to see Mockingjay, and it was exactly how I pictured it to be. We loved it!

We're closing out 2014 quietly. Yesterday we spent a family day together - family photo shoot (I did not take the pictures, thank heavens), the kids did some window shopping trying to decide how to spend Christmas money, lunch at a Mexican restaurant and then a viewing of Big Hero 6. Today Brian is back to grading papers, kids are sleeping in, and I am going to try to finish up my 2014 blog book before my Blurb coupon runs out tonight.

I kept the camera put away for most of this year's Christmas break, but I think these few still capture the memories for us.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Caught Off Guard

We arrived home last night after 7 days away with my family for Christmas (recap coming later). Today has been spent catching up on laundry, unpacking, putting away the multitude of Christmas blessings that came home with us, grocery shopping, making lists for the rest of the week, etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, a call earlier today changed my plans for the week. I was scheduled to have chemo December 31 (which was perfect timing, by the way, since Brian is still home from school and my office is closed - thus, no missing work for either of us). I experienced a pretty bad reaction last week - think blisters and rash covering about 75% of my body that needed steroids to fix - from my current chemo drug, and my oncologist has decided I cannot have treatment this week. In fact, I may have to skip this particular drug altogether.

This development has the possibility of being terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad news. I don't know what drug Dr. C will recommend next, but this one had the best shot of working.

I am trying to adjust my expectations for this week and roll with the punches - you know I'm not good at that, right? Here are a couple of ways I can look at this change in a positive way: I can attend a church event Wednesday night; I can attend Addison's birthday party Thursday. I get to help put away the Christmas tree and decorations (wait . . . . that's not a positive since I thought chemo was going to get me out of that task).

I haven't exactly talked myself out of the funk, but there's nothing to do but swallow the news and move forward.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

The few cards I sent barely went out before Christmas, so if I missed you this year (and that is a very definite possibility), Merry Christmas from the Lewis family!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Radiant Orchid

Let's all pretend that I chose Camden and Rory's outfits based on the 2014 Pantone color of the year - Radiant Orchid. 

There was a time in my life when I would have planned that, but this is not the year.

Notice Rory's surprise haircut? If it's possible to get cuter, she did. And she knows it.
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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Color Teal

Friday's schedule included meeting Brian and his co-workers for their annual Christmas luncheon at Outback Steakhouse. Shortly after arriving, I noticed the teal shirt Brian's 4th grade partner was wearing and asked why he didn't have that color. And then I spotted more and more teal . . . it is the official Ovarian Cancer color, after all. Teal manages to stand out on its own, much less when nearly everyone present is wearing it.

And then I noticed that some of them said "Love for Lewis" on them, and I started to think this gathering might be a little more than a Christmas lunch.

Turns out one of Brian's co-workers was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and the subsequent treatment was fresh on her mind. When she heard about our family and started reading the blog, she organized the teal, collected money, gift cards (totally almost the exact amount we unexpectedly had to spend on Tamiflu and van repairs last week, by the way) and notes of encouragement. Even Brian's former school got in on the action. They were all so sweet, and I feel so undeserving.

Thank you isn't really enough, but it's what I have to offer.

One especially poignant note was from a teacher whose grandmother died as a result of ovarian cancer recently, and their family had decided to spend their Christmas money on an ovarian cancer-related cause.

To be honest, the teal show of support was enough. Everything else was just an incredible blessing for our family. Once again, we have been loved on in a special way during a difficult time, and I can only hope that our children especially will learn from this and pass on the love to others.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Snapshot #17: Tis the Season

Kids are at school attending the school party (God bless their teachers). Christmas cards are finally addressed and ready to go in the mail. Brian finishes up at noon today. Presents are bought; baked goods have been made (and mostly sent out the door for parties). All photoshoots are finished and delivered. Plans are made tonight to surprise the kids with a Christmas light tour and a harp concert from "our Claire!!" as they put it.

What I'm saying is that it finally feels like things can slow down, and we can start soaking in the experience of celebrating Christ's birth. Even if we are hopelessly behind with our Advent reading.

Outside my window: Oh, so gray. I think the lack of sunshine in the past month has been contributing to my lower-than-usual mood.

I am thinking: about all the people in my life going through tough times. And feeling so convicted about the day-to-day complaining I do. I double dog dare you to watch this or this and not feel inspired as well as slightly ashamed.  "I beg of the world. Stop complaining. Find ways to be happy. Seriously. Dig deep. Even in my worst times, I still try. No matter how hard.” - from Annie Goodman, a 33-year old Fox News producer who died this week of breast cancer.

I am thankful for: the distraction my job provides in the midst of a time that could feel quite depressing if I was still staying at home every day. I mention this so often, but the opportunity came into my life at such a perfect time - God knew how much I was going to need this job.

I am wondering: what 2015 is going to look like.

Future plans I'm looking forward to: Well, our trip to Illinois next week, of course!

Kid funnies: Rory is loving singing Christmas carols this year. It's well-documented she is slightly (or not-so-slightly) musically challenged so you can imagine that when I say she's doing the Pentatonix version of Christmas carols they are practically unrecognizable. ;)

I am reading: Oh, my reading has slowed down so much now that I'm working. I'm hoping to do some reading over the break although my trip to the library last night was very unfruitful. I would really like to read Love and Respect by Emerson Eggrichs for self-improvement and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion for fun.

In the kitchen: Oh, boy, life has been so busy we're scrapping bottom. Jumping right back on the cooking, healthier lifestyle as soon as Christmas break is over. You know, just like the rest of America.

On my frequent play-list: Needtobreathe Holiday station and Pentatonix Holiday - both found on Pandora. Also, the Serial podcast, which also explains why there's been not as much reading. I've saved the last 4 episodes to binge-listen to on our trip next week.

Rest-of-the-day plans: Lunch at Outback with Brian and his fellow teachers, tour of Christmas lights, going to see our friend play the harp, catching up on our Advent book with the kids (we are about 6 days behind!).

And because I can't post without pictures (but have nothing current to share), here is an outtake from our Christmas card photoshoot. Could they be any more awkward? It might be the exact reason I went home and booked a photographer on this very day.

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There comes a day when you should stop trying to take official photographs of your children. That day has arrived.
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And how about one more from an official photo shoot on that same day - because I need to feel better about myself. Aren't they sweet?
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Isaiah 45:3

I've run across this verse twice in the last 48 hours so I'm sharing it in hopes it will bless you like it did me.

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you m ay know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. Isaiah 45:3



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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On the Mend

The flu crisis of December 2014 is over.

Knock on wood.

Brian and Camden both went back to school today, and since Rory and I have yet to show any sign of the flu, I'm going to just assume we're past the danger zone.

Knock on wood.

While Brian was doing this . . .
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and Camden was doing this . . .
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Rory was doing this.
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And this.
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And this.
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And this.
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While I nursed 2 patients (have I ever mentioned that I am about the least compassionate person ever?), Rory's energy was through the roof. It was an interesting 4 days to say the least. My sanity was saved by the 8 hours of play practice on Friday/Saturday because there were plenty of high school girls and college boys (she is so smitten before she even really knows what smitten means) to entertain her.

Camden, who is always my sweet kid when sick, had a tough time with the strep throat swab and flu nose swab. The solitary tear that rolled down his cheek broke my heart. Not enough that I got any closer to his germs than rubbing his back . . . from an arm's length away, but it was sad.
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I'm working from home today, in the office tomorrow, and then I'm done until January 5. Brian and the kids finish up Friday, and we leave town Monday. There is ALOT happening between now and then, but I'm determined to somehow get this house back under control, do some baking, and make some holiday memories before the month is over.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tis the Season

When I heard on the news this week that this year's flu shot had missed the mark, I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal.

As of this afternoon, however, Brian has a confirmed case of the flu, and I picked Camden up from school today with a fever. Hurray for us!

Let me just go ahead and apologize to everyone our family has come in contact with over the past 48 hours. The doctor was proactive by calling in a prescription for Tamiflu for me, and I have already taken the first dose. (Did not know Tamiflu was so expensive!)

We've quarantined both boys upstairs, and Rory and I are disinfecting and washing our hands like it's our job.

Here's hoping for a Christmas miracle. Two miracles actually: that Rory and I don't get sick and that Brian and Camden are well enough to participate in the Christmas play Sunday.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Reads, Part 2

I've had several friends tag me to list my top 10 books. I thought this list was going to be hard. And I thought there would be a lot more fiction on here, but I decided to just quickly jot down what came to mind and this is the result.





my very first John Grisham book - I tore through these in college

my very first historical fiction. I read it multiple times throughout high school and college.




And here are a few blog posts I've read recently that stuck with me.

A post by LosWhit (I will not type out the actual title of blogpost)



Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits

It's been a week since my first chemo, and I think we're going to just pretend it never happened. And because I woke up Sunday feeling very close to normal, I think pretending it never happened is possible.

Am I the last one to jump on the Serial bandwagon? If you're not listening, go subscribe right now. It's incredibly fascinating. Even Brian, who generally has no time for entertainment, is hooked.

Also. Michael Buble's instagram account is quite entertaining. His band does warm-ups every performance and takes requests via instagram.

I went back to work yesterday, and it felt so good. If I would have known how good it felt to get back in the work force, I would have done it long ago. Actually, probably not because I am fairly certain it is this specific job that works.

This week is a marathon, not a sprint with work days, play practices, lab appointments, Christmas programs (times 2), etc. etc. etc. I am taking it one day at a time and focusing on feeling grateful that I am healthy enough to manage all the busyness.

Speaking of lab appointments, I have an appointment this afternoon at the same time and area where Obama is visiting. Something tells me there is going to be a little more traffic than usual.

Scheduling a photoshoot with me this season pretty much guarantees some form of rain, wind, mud, storms and Saturday was no exception. Thankfully, we were able to pull out this family shot of dear friends.
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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Happy Birthday, Brian

Today is Brian's birthday, and because I was kind of stuck on the couch with massive doses of nausea I didn't make him a cake or even buy him a card. (I did, however, purchase a gift.) I wanted to just publicly wish him a Happy Birthday along with (yet another) list of why I love him.

1. Coffee. He wakes me up every morning with the coffee ready to go. Obviously, this isn't really about coffee - it's just one of the ways he shows me he loves me. I could list many more.

2. He makes me laugh. Most people don't know how funny Brian can be. He's a pretty reserved guy so all the goofy is saved for those he is most comfortable with. We've spent a lot of time laughing over the last 17.5 years. I hear that his 4th grade class often gets a glimpse of this goofiness in the form of math rapping. I pray often that these stressful days will not make him lose his sense of joy.

3. He's a great dad. Brian is the parental unit in this family who is patient, who is kind, who gives the kids second chances. He's also the fun parent. Of course.

4. Reliable. You can count on Brian. Everyone knows it. And while that's a major bonus if you're his co-worker or lucky enough to be a kid in his school class or church class, it's especially fantastic if you're his wife.

5. He works hard. When we decided I was going to stay at home 9 years ago before we began the process to adopt Rory, he went back to college and got a second degree and has been working 2 jobs ever since. Not only does he teach 4th grade, but he is the children's pastor at our church. Both of those jobs require a lot of behind-the-scenes work that no one except those who live with him will ever see. And he does it without complaining.

Happy Birthday, Brian. I'm not good enough with words to sing your praises, but we love you!

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Another List

Just in case there is any misunderstanding going on here between me and my blog readers (especially my new internet people):

1. Cancer does not turn someone into a saint. I am very cranky.

2. Having a mom with cancer does not turn my children into saints.They're still just regular kiddos with some rotten mixed in with the sweet.

3. I think I might have underestimated what starting chemo would be like. I kind of laser-focused in on the fact that my oncologist said most people tolerated this chemo well, but you just can't ignore that it's still chemo/poison.

4. Brian and I have already had our first fight over who should do what. Working with 4th graders all day trumps chemo in my head, but chemo trumps working with 4th graders in his head. And so we argue over who does what around the house. The real argument, of course, is not about the actual work. We're just each trying to take care of each other.

5. I'm not a big fan of naps in the middle of the day or accepting help. I'm re-learning that both are necessary sometimes.

6. What is up with all my lists these days?

Moving on . . .

Our family tradition has always been to put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. I'm always a little too OCD, the kids a little too hyper, and this process is never quite as full of joy as I imagine it will be. Becky and I talk about it every year, and we can only conclude that we remember only the good stuff from our own childhood tree experiences and hope that's what our kids remember as well.

This year the lights wouldn't work, we forgot my cute burlap ribbon, and we started on a Friday night after a long day that came at the end of a long week. It felt like a bit of a disaster, but I think it was all fine in the end. The tree is up, and it was so nice to walk into the house after our Thanksgiving trip and have it completed.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Pretty Pictures

Well, I may not have achieved 8 hours of sleep last night (more like 4), but it allowed me to keep nausea meds in my system, and I am so happy to report that I'm feeling significantly better this morning.  My hands are no longer swollen or feel like they're on fire, which is a very good thing. It's a gray, dreary day outside and I'm going to take full advantage by binge watching season 3 of Suits and possibly trying to do a Project Life layout or two. No promises.

I may not had been taking pictures of my own family, but here are a few from recent photoshoots, as well as just a couple of non-people pictures.

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Unfortunately, we had horrible weather for this shoot, but these kids were so cute and well-behaved. My own two were running around like wild banshees in the midst of it all. When we got back to the van, Camden said, "Well, I think that went well." LOL
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It's too bad she has no personality whosoever.
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One reason I love my new camera? This is straight out of the camera, no editing.
This was after their afternoon at the shooting range, and I think Rory might have been a tad worn out.
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Hello, new Vera Bradley laptop bag for my work computer. On sale for $32!
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Pretty flowers delivered along with supper Tuesday night.
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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

13 things

A few more things from my first day back in the thick of cancer.

1. The medical fellow who is working with Dr. C right now (this means she has completed medical school, 3 years of residency, and is now studying oncology for 3-5 years as her specialty), very narrowly avoided the terms late stage cancer and last ditch effort. She caught herself in time and was very kind and professional for the rest of the visit. She was also wearing a short skirt, black tights, and VERY high heels. Brian and I both commented after she left that she must have a shorter day than the other doctors because how could she possibly work a 12 hour shift in those shoes!

2. My only reaction to the chemo drug yesterday was swelling in my hands. Could have been worse! The swelling is actually still around, but I'm assuming it will go away as I start the lose the fluids they put into my system.

3. The very specific feeling in the back of my throat and pit of my stomach that accompanies chemo (I can only describe it as gross) is definitely present.

4. My steroid is Decadron, not prednisone as many of you mentioned yesterday. I have no idea how they compare. I did notice that without the combo of Decadron plus Benadryl (which they did not give me yesterday), the dizziness was kept to a minimum. Previously, it was a crazy head rush when they would push the steroid/Benadryl combo.

5. Interesting facts: I'm to avoid all things extremely hot or cold. I asked about coffee multiple times. The nurse told me that since coffee seemed to be important to me (ha!), the point of chemo is not to ruin my quality of life but to enable me to have quality of life and so to drink coffee with the precaution of letting it cool for a moment after pouring and to hold the cup by the handle instead of wrapping my hands around the cup. Also. Because chemo is toxic, I am to flush the toilet twice after using it for the next 10-14 days. And no exchanging bodily fluids. Who knew!

*When I texted my mom and sisters with the toxic comment, I said they should imagine Britney Spears singing that line. You're welcome.

6. Because even chemo should not interfere with an appointment at the hair salon, I had my hair cut last night. Seriously, life is way too short for bad hair days and at 6 weeks post-hair cut, there were some bad hair days happening. When you have hair as short as mine, a few days make a big difference. In fact, (confession time here) I see my stylist every 3 weeks. She does a full cut one session and then just a tiny $5 trim 3 weeks in.

7. Steroids did not give me late-night scrapping opportunity as has happened in the past. I could not keep my eyes open and slept nearly 8 hours last night without waking up. It was fantastic.

8. I do feel better this morning, although that gross feeling is re-appearing and I've noticed that I'm quite shaky when I move around the house. Thankfully, all I have on the agenda for today is getting the kids to and from school. ETA: I ended up calling on reinforcements to take the kids to school because, turns out, being on my feet makes me toss my cookies.

9. I have taken exactly zero intentional (aka dress-up, planned photos) with my children in TWO years. Well, I just remembered the cousin shoot in Illinois, but that wasn't just my own kids. This situation will be remedied Saturday as I attempt a Christmas card photo (yes, I running just so late with these) and I've contacted a photographer about taking family photos in January. As I looked through my folders and attempted to put together pictures for a family calendar, it was too depressing.

10. One of my teal sisters (that would be fellow ovarian cancer friends) passed away last night. I am comforted by the fact that she is in heaven and has already met Jesus and is feeling better now than she ever has before.

11. I had completely forgotten that me and my stomach have a weird agreement during chemo. It rebels if there's nothing in it. I'm sure you know what I mean by rebel. This means that I eat all day long, which is stupid, but keeping small bites of food helps somewhat with the gross feeling.

12. After leaving the kids at breakfast this morning because I couldn't sit upright anymore, Rory came in and asked if she could pray with me.

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13. Thank you to my friend Brooke for sharing this song with me. Music is my favorite thing in the world, but I tend to pick up the melody/sounds of it before the lyrics. Watching the video made me hear the words, and they are so comforting.

A few of the lyrics:
Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can't see
And this mountain that's in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on you
And through it all, through it all
It is well.

So let go, my soul,
And trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name
So let go, my soul
And trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

It is well, it is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well
With my soul

Please go watch. I bought the whole album after hearing it.



I TOLD you I would be chatty!

Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” — Psalm 16:1-2

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Kill Cancer, Take 4

When Becky was going through treatment for breast cancer, Micah always called chemo days Kill Cancer Days. I adopted the term and now here we are almost 4 years later starting my fourth set of chemo treatments. As a review:

  • May 2011-September 2011: the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad mix of Taxol, Carbo, Cistplatin
  • September 2011-December 2011: the not-so-bad Gemzar
  • July 2012-December 2012: the hotly disputed and very expensive Avastin with the milder Topotecan
  • December 2014 - ??: the we-have-high-hopes-for Doxil

My very awkward attempt at an infusion selfie that did not involve a nurse walking in on me. Because, hello, embarrassment.
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On the positive side, Vanderbilt has some perks when it comes to infusion. Not only do I have my own room with 2 recliners and a personal TV, they have snack and drink service as well as automatic Ativan with infusion. Score.

On the negative side, We were here before 8:00 this morning. It is now 10:46, and we have been to 5 different check-in points and I have still not actually started chemo. I have had the pre-drugs: a steroid (friends from back in the old cancer days might remember the steroid makes me very, very chatty), Ativan, and Zofran (for nausea). As I suspected, chemo days at Vanderbilt are going to be all-day events.

Brian brought papers to grade.
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I may need to figure out how to do some scrapping on this laptop because it appears as if I will have time to do so on chemo days. Now that we're back in my own private area, my feet are propped up, I've got a little anti-anxiety medicine in my system and steroids to make me hyper productive. 

Last night I was feeling a little bit cranky about the whole idea of starting treatment again, and Camden said to me, "why are you upset? Look at all the things you have to be thankful for: friends and family who love you and pray for you; co-workers who pray for you; all your internet people who like you; church people who pray for you; daddy's co-workers who are bring you meals; God who pops verses into your head; good doctors to take care of you." 

I stopped him at that point because he. is. totally. right.

I unexpectedly have the rest of the week off work, which makes me feel good. I'm hoping it allows me time to rest as well as gives me a good idea of how my body is going to react to this chemo without the stress of work. Next week is a very busy work week so I'm hoping that these extra days off will actually make next week easier. 

Considering the bag of steroids that just went straight through my system, you can probably expect me back writing on a more regular basis over the next couple of days. :)

Thanks for the prayers, friends.
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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

We've been out of town so this Happy Thanksgiving greeting comes a tad late. We spent the holiday in east Tennessee with Brian's family and woke up to snow on Thanksgiving Day. There was lots of food and coffee, some laughs, just a few tears, plenty of family, and many things for which to be thankful. I did not take as many pictures as I would have liked simply because it was busy and we spent most of our time indoors (which is never my favorite for pictures - I'm sure you can tell I took all pictures from one specific spot in front of the window). There were cousins for Camden and Rory to play with, a new sister-in-law to meet, and deer to be hunted (that would be the boys + the new sister-in-law's area of interest).

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Brian requested a picture as they got ready for their first hunt. You know, long johns and all that. Apparently, this is a big step in the hunting world.
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Slumber party
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A little pre-Thanksiving wrestling . . .
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. . . and tickling
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Miss Rory was a bit sassy since I let her wear my earrings and lipgloss for the big day.
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You'll notice I not in the hunting party.
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No, we stayed home and played dress-up with the girls. Notice the glitter tattoo. We all had them, even Gram.
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