The Jay Beach Diet

Toward the end of 2013, I was doing terribly. I spent the night in the emergency room due to an extreme experience with then-undiagnosed PVCs (which ended up being entirely benign). I started using a CPAP, and though I slept better than I had in my entire adult life, I dealt with a range of odd side effects caused by the fact that I was no longer thrashing around as I struggled to breath while asleep. Lots of joint pain, trouble training my body to a new sleep position, etc.

Then my left leg swelled up and I was off to the emergency room again with concerns of a clot. I was tested in every way, and they found nothing. It reminded me of that scene in The Meaning of Life (“Get the EEG, the BP monitor, and the AVV.” “And get the machine that goes ‘ping!’.” “And get the most expensive machine – in case the Administrator comes.”). My leg kept swelling daily, and I started having severe pain in my left ankle.

Have I mentioned weight gain? I packed on almost 15 to 20 pounds in a three month period while all the rest was going on, in spite of having a relatively stable weight the previous 12 years after all my reconstructive foot surgeries. What about arthritis? I was suddenly having trouble, and significant pain, with the fingers in my right hand, and my left hand was gradually becoming more tender.

In mid-March I finally started to figure things out, though none of the many doctors I had seen offered more than another test and another prescription (or, in one case, a walking boot for 6 weeks). I don’t mean to diss any specific doctor. This was a complex situation. As far as I could tell, I was having a severe reaction to omeprazole, which I had started taking in September of 2013 based on the recommendation of my gastroenterologist. The timing fit, and if it was causing inflammation, it could connect the dots to many of my problems.

If I was swelling in my gut, and I was now lying perfectly still at night on my left side due to the CPAP, perhaps that was why my left leg kept swelling. I had watched that leg for a couple months, and become convinced the swelling was starting at the top and working its way down to the ankle. When I had finally shifted my sleep position to my back, I was sometimes experiencing swelling in both ankles.

The weight gain, the feeling like I was TIGHT in my abdomen, the sense that I couldn’t take a deep breath due to pressure on my diaphragm, the inflammation leading to arthritic symptoms… perhaps it was all connected.

I took action. I dropped the medication, significantly simplified my diet, and started exercising as best I could, given I can’t run or jump due to my many foot surgeries.

First, the diet. Tricia and I had a sort of running joke. She’d say something like, “But you can eat such-and-such. It is allowed on the South beach diet.” And I’d say, “But not on Jay’s beach.” I did adopt for a time a diet that resembles south beach, or paleo, or whatever, but I kept it super simple, and ultimately fairly satisfying to me. I limited my consumption to 5 categories:

1) Water (and lots of it)

2) Dairy (full fat, no reduced fat anything)

3) Meat (I love healthy meats, but that wasn’t the point… meat of most any type was allowed)

4) Non-starchy vegetables

5) Liquor (and occasional red wine)

I tried to totally avoid ANY added sweetener of ANY kind to ANYTHING. I avoided foods with super-complex ingredients as much as possible. I generally avoided substitute pretend food items (no pancakes made out of bacon, no kale made to taste like a cinnamon bun)… I wanted to take the food on its own terms. I ate no fruit, no sweet potato, not carrot, no corn, no bread, no pasta, no chips (can I tell you how hard that was here in Texas?), no desserts, no soda, no smoothies… you get the idea.

The exceptions. I drank coffee (lots of cream, no sweetener), ate the super-dark chocolate on occasion (the entire bar had to have 12 grams of sugar or less… think 88% cacao and up), and ate whatever I was served in small portions if I was a guest and served the food. I am truly opposed to being an ungracious guest except out of dire medical necessity.

I held this diet for two months, and then began softening it a bit. I’ve softened it by simply taking an occasional break from it, not by modifying it. By “taking a break”, I mean for a single meal (like the fried oysters I ate this weekend), or a single dessert. In a sense, doing something like this cold-turkey is easier than allowing exceptions, so I’m trying to toughen up my will power to allow for those exceptions.

That’s the diet… I call it the Jay Beach diet. When I give the list to someone, they often raise their eyebrows at #5 (liquor), and I joke that liquor may not be on the south beach, but it is on Jay’s beach. I don’t drink beer, and I rarely drink wine, but I’ve found liquor (served neat, e.g. straight from the bottle to a glass with nothing added) is both enjoyable, and helps suppress any cravings for sweets I might have. In the end, I don’t consume much liquor, and the amount I consume is far less caloric than the food items I’m craving. Honestly, if I let myself go I can eat half a carton of ice cream, which, if we are talking Blue Bell (and we are), is 136 grams of sugar, and 1440 calories in total. Suddenly that 96 calories in a serving of whiskey seems pretty modest.

About those cravings. The first two weeks were TOUGH. My body used hunger pangs to try to force me to eat sweetened food. Continuously. I could eat four pounds of meat and vegetables, and my body would signal that I was about to starve. It still happens occasionally, but has largely stopped. My pallet changed during this time, too. Green beans steamed with butter taste sweet to me now. Very sweet.

One last point on the diet. Contrary to my Blue Bell example above, I don’t pay attention to calories. I don’t even track how much food I’m consuming, let alone the calories in the food. I just stick to my list.

Now exercise. This one is really easy. I started swimming. For a couple months I would swim as many laps as possible in a 30 minute period, three times a week, then I shifted to swimming a mile as fast as possible. My first swim was 34 25m laps in 30 minutes. This past Monday I swam 64 laps (a mile) in 36 minutes, so there has been a ton of improvement. I also do a lot of pushups, mainly from my knees since it hurts my post-surgery toes to do a full pushup. I use one of the ab roller wheels several times a week. I do an exercise I call “doing pull-up.”  Maybe one day I’ll do pull-ups… okay, I actually broke in to the multiples a few weeks ago. And I walk up the 122 steps to my office when at work.

I listen to music while swimming, which is a huge help, and I have a gadget to count the laps. I also have a daughter who swims with me and pushes the pace, which is a huge blessing.

That’s about it for the exercise.

I dropped the over-the-counter medicine omeprazole, changed my diet, and started exercising. The results? In a word, it was transformative.

First, though, here’s what it wasn’t. It didn’t turn my body into some ridiculous 20-something lean, mean fighting machine. I’m 43. That ship has sailed, and I have no regrets, and am not looking for eternal youth. It also didn’t heal my every hurt, increase my IQ by 20 points, or cause me to love my children better.

The first surprise, though, was how much muscle mass I put on in a very short time. Again, I’m not a 23 year old body builder. I didn’t put on 30 pounds of muscle. But with relatively little exercise, I did see significant gains in muscle mass across my entire upper body. It turns out when you consume a ton of protein as a major component of your diet, start swimming, and sleep well (thank you, CPAP), your body responds. Pretty cool.

The swelling in my legs went away. Just gone, after months of struggling with it and seeing several doctors. My aches and pains of sleeping with the CPAP gradually lessened and went away as well. The tightness in my abdomen faded away. And the arthritis was greatly reduced. I regained full motion in all but one finger.

My energy level started to increase, and my waist dropped 2 inches in under 3 months, almost down to where it was coming out of college. And I shed all the weight I had gained, in spite of gaining muscle mass. My acid reflux (the reason I had started taking omeprazole) didn’t go away, but it was so reduced I can now manage it with Tums and an occasional ranitidine.

In short, I’m experiencing less pain and discomfort than any other time in recent years, and have more vitality. I’m a fan of the transformation. Your mileage may vary.

13 Days of Awesome!!

Sometimes, the best ideas are not ones we create ourselves, but ones we steal (or borrow, if you will) from others. We are grateful to our good friends, the Clemmies, for sharing with us their pretty fabulous way of celebrating a child reaching the rather momentous milestone of becoming a teenager. And so I give you…

13 DAYS OF AWESOME!!

13 Days of Awesome refers to 13 events scheduled at various times on the calendar leading up to the 13th birthday of the child whom is being celebrated. They could be consecutive days leading up to and ending with the actual birthday of the child, but in our case we’ve chosen to stretch it all out a bit given that we are about to enter the holiday season. Admittedly, we did not grab ahold of this tradition when Abigail became a teen (and yes, this oversight has already been expressed to me by my dear daughter) but I always say better late than never.

And so tonight we kicked off our 13 days of celebration for Mr. Jonathan, who, in late December will officially become a teenager!!

Now….those of you young folks who are hard at work calculating when best to try for a baby, come close while I whisper a special secret in your ear, ok?? Listen carefully to what I have to tell you: The most inconvenient week in all the calendar year to celebrate a birthday is the week between Christmas and New Years. Since no one thought to share this little tidbit with us back when we were doing our family planning, our firstborn son’s birthday falls smack dab in between these two wildly popular holidays. Our hope this year is to wrap up this boy’s birthday revelry a full two weeks before the date of his birthday…with the intent that our celebration of Jonathan will hopefully feel a bit more purposeful than it’s ever felt before.

Earlier this evening, we took a family trip out to the Ballpark in Arlington where we were treated to a wonderful concert by Switchfoot. Wow, what a great show, and what a cool band. It was one of the more fun concerts I’ve ever been to — fabulous music, and lots of singing from everyone (including the audience!). My kids love Switchfoot, and I have always been ok with their music, but (for me, at least) there is something hugely significant about seeing someone perform in person as opposed to listening to their music on the radio. That, and the fact that lead singer Jon Foreman shared perhaps my all-time favorite quote ever (by CS Lewis) early in the show, and I was hooked.

Concerts don’t make for amazing photo-opps, but here are a few pics just the same. Per his wishes, I don’t take too many photos these days of my almost-teen, so I was glad he willingly posed for a few this evening.

Pre-concert stop at Steak and Shake to fuel up:

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 Gratuitous and fuzzy concert pic:

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 Happy kids:

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New T-shirt:

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Cocoa As Art

Oh, and a really cute brunch date, too!!

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Christmas in Pictures

In between nursing all our flu patients, we did enjoy some sweet moments this past holiday.  Here is a little recap in photos.

To the delight of the children, we put up our first “real” Christmas tree in many, many years.

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Despite two of them being down with the flu on Christmas morning, we got a picture of all four…plus one doggie who was willing to pose. Sasha still had her cone on from her recent surgery and refused to sit for a photo.

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The snow on Christmas day was gorgeous, what a treat to have a White Christmas in Texas! Some of us got out to play in the cold stuff…Abigail and Josiah even built a little snowman, complete with baby carrot nose!

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When we were well enough, we enjoyed time with some of our presents

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(Thank you, Nana for the jingle bell collars!)

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Do you remember making these potholders when we were kids? He was so proud!

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After people recovered from the flu, there was much merry-making!

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And even cake for the two birthday kids.

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This random photo doesn’t really have a place in the Christmas story, but I thought Hare E Potter holding his own carrot was absolutely blog-entry worthy!!

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By January 6th, Jay felt well enough to crawl to the table for a few minutes. We enjoyed our Christmas ham and accompanying feast on Epiphany this year, but it was nice to finally sit down at the supper table with everyone present.

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From our family to yours…

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Reflections on a less than perfect Christmas

I don’t usually make a ton of resolutions for the new year, but this year I do have just one.

My New Year’s resolution is that I’ve decided to write no more spiritual-sounding bloggy posts on giving thanks in all circumstances when my family is sick for Thanksgiving…bc it turns out when you do that, you will be given an even greater opportunity in which to give thanks by your entire family being sick with strep and flu for the ENTIRETY of Christmas vacation, and then some…and you will fail miserably again and again at feeling anything resembling thankfulness. And feel sort of like a hypocrite.

Ahem.

This has not been my most favorite of Christmases, not by a long shot. Influenza hit our family the week before Christmas and has lasted past the time when Jay should have returned to work were he not down with fever still. It is no fun to watch your family members, one by one be taken out by the worst flu bug you recall seeing in your 40 years.

It is no fun to watch your babies (yes, they are still my babies) suffer with fevers for 7, 8, 9 days long, to watch them one by one all throw up their flu meds till you disgustedly toss the meds in the trash because they are making things worse. And then to see those same babies, even after the fevers break, continue to lay there with no energy for playing.

It is no fun to watch your oldest son of 11 years old so overcome with fever that he cries when he realizes he has now caught the flu, too, and as a result, will be missing his much-anticipated, first trip ever to Winter Scout Camp.

It is no fun to sleep on an air mattress on the living room floor by yourself night after night during Christmas vacation b/c there is nowhere else left in the house to go sleep where people don’t have high fever and flu germs, and you are the only healthy one left to care for all the sickies, so you’d best do everything you can not to catch it.

And it’s REALLY not fun when the kids finally all get healthy but dear old Dad is taken down and has to spend a week (yes, a week) back in the bedroom while the kids take turns asking over and over when he’ll be well enough to come play and have fun before he has to go back to work!!

But….whenever I’d grumble about how sad I was about our “ruined” Christmas, courtesy of this horrid illness which hit every member of our little family (except yours truly), knocking healthy folks on their backs for a week and more, with high fevers and wracking, painful coughs…my sweet, wonderful husband (who has his flaws, but being discontent is not usually one of them) would smile patiently. And give me a hug (well, at least when he wasn’t contagious!). And he’d propose to me that maybe a Christmas holiday full of sickness and sadness is a much more realistic picture of why we need Christmas in the first place. And even, perhaps, a better representation of the first Christmas long ago. Much more so than any perfect holiday we could dream up.

God’s sacrifice in sending Jesus to earth, though romanticized for the sake of our Christmas stories and songs was not pretty or tidy. Jesus was God, he was king of the universe: immortal, omnipotent, and he humbled himself enough to become human. He chose to leave the glory and majesty of heaven and come live in our world of sickness: flu, strep, fevers, coughing…and sadness….and death.

The first Christmas wasn’t Norman Rockwellian in the slightest. There was no mention of influenza upon Jesus’ arrival in this world. But his impending birth was announced under questionable circumstances to a woman not yet wed, and he made his first appearance in a stable of all places. Labor in a stable? Freshly born baby placed in an animal trough? And this little king’s first visitors: not the wealthy, noble, royal types you’d expect to show up for the birth of God’s son, but shepherds. Some of the most humble, lowly folk in town were the first to worship and pay respects to this little boy.

My guess is that none of this is what Mary had in mind when she dreamed of becoming a mother. And yet this was the incarnation. This was Emmanuel, God with us…because he loved us enough to bring himself into our world of pain and suffering, to know our sorrows, to take them on as his own. Even the manner in which he showed up reflected such humility and recognition of the world in which he’d come to live. And oh how thankful we are that he came to dwell with us, and to save us…from things far, far worse than the flu!!

I haven’t done a good job of feeling thankful in all things this Christmas…and how true it is that my circumstances are nowhere near as hard as some of the realities and hardships that friends of mine are dealing with this year. And you know what? It is ok. Because in spite of my circumstances, and perhaps even more because of our circumstances this holiday, I can still thank God for Emmanuel. Christmas is still Christmas…Jesus still came. And as a friend who himself was also down with the flu this Christmas so simply and beautifully put it…

We don’t need a perfect Christmas for Jesus to be real.

Amen.

Thankfulness

I Thessalonians 5:18 is a well-known verse: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…”

This verse arrives in the chapter right after we are instructed to rejoice always, and pray without ceasing. All of which God must have known we humans would struggle with, and struggle with aplenty, especially in this fallen, sin-riddled world.

It seems then, that during a season of Thanksgiving, I should not be surprised when my ability to give thanks is tested. Such was the case this year, though nothing we struggled with was nearly as challenging as some of the very, very hard circumstances many in this world are faced with each day. This blog entry will feel a bit long and tedious and I don’t expect many to read it all the way through, but I want to get it down in writing for my own remembrance. Because we truly have so very much to give thanks for this year.

The Monday night before Thanksgiving, our oldest child began experiencing very sharp chest pain which continued through the night. Any sharp intake of breath also caused pain, and she was unable to lie down, and could only get relief while sitting propped up with pillows. We got her comfortable in the recliner in the living room and there she spent a fitful night. These were scary hours for her, and for us, and a morning call to the pediatrician didn’t offer any answers except the directive to go straight to the ER and get a chest x-ray. Jay accompanied Abigail so that I could stay home with the rest of our children, and hours later we learned that our daughter had a nasty case of bacterial pneumonia which had resulted in fluid accumulating in her left lung, thereby causing the excruciating pain. We were shocked at the diagnosis, but actually quite relieved it was “only” pneumonia, given some of the other possibilities chest pain presents. But we called my family immediately to tell them we could no longer spend Thanksgiving weekend with them as planned, and this was terribly disappointing for all of us, because we all get together once a year at best due to one of my siblings living in the Northeast now. My mother had planned a professionally-photographed family portrait for Friday morning since there were two new babies in the family since we had last taken a picture together, and I hated to be the one to ruin her wonderful photograph, but of course it couldn’t be helped.

And yet, here was an opportunity to give thanks: for incredible medical care not five miles from our home, for relief from pain for my precious daughter, for antibiotics to combat the infection in her lungs, for the ability to bring her home and put her to bed in a warm, comfortable place where she could rest and recuperate. For all the family and friends who prayed for us during that day while we waited for news, and loved us enough to keep calling/texting/emailing for updates.

While Jay was with Abigail at the ER, I had to accompany our second oldest to the surgeon’s office to have some pins removed from his arm that had been placed there during surgery several weeks before. The pin removal was done with no anesthesia, and our boy, who has some sensory issues combined with quite a bit of anxiety was rather undone by the procedure. It was not only painful, but a highly stressful ordeal for him, and all this was going on while we continued to wait for results on Abigail’s situation. To say I felt a bit of stress myself puts it mildly. If they’d offered me a margarita to suck down before they began the procedure, I’d have gladly accepted, and shared half with Jonathan.

But here was another opportunity to give thanks: that despite his very real struggles, Jonathan made it through the procedure without fully “losing it”, and had that little victory to be proud of.  That after a bad break, and surgery, that his arm was nicely healed, and that we enjoyed care from one of the best orthopedic surgeons in Dallas who tended to his injury. That I had not one but at least five offers of childcare for my younger two while I took him for his pin removal, again for family, friends, and neighbors who care for us so well.

Thanksgiving Day we spent at home; due to the somewhat last minute nature of our holiday plans, we opted not to cook a turkey feast, but Jay kindly offered to try his hand at a prime rib roast, which it turns out he will now be asked to prepare for each and every family holiday because it was so. incredibly. delicious!! While the lovely roast was cooking, and we were cleaning up the kitchen from some of the meal preparations, we noticed the sink starting to back up, not just in the kitchen, but the laundry room as well…and yes, of course, we ended up with a plumbing backup on Thanksgiving Day, when it turns out, no plumbers will call you back even if you offer to pay them a premium to do so. After a couple of hours of effort to dislodge the leak himself to no avail, Jay spent the last hours of the evening on his hands and knees doing dishes in the stand-up shower near the kitchen. Sigh…

So…thankfulness here?? Well…honestly I wasn’t feeling all that thankful. I was actually leaning more toward fretful, because after delaying their visit to us due to the pneumonia, my sister and her family were due to arrive on Friday, and here we were without ability to clean dishes or laundry, and the mess was right in the area of the house where they would have to stay. But I was reminded that I take for granted our constant access to clean, running, hot and cold water, and the reality that we have machines that will wash our dishes while we sleep, and clean our clothes while we take a trip to the grocery store. Amazing. How thankful we should always be for these admitted luxuries.

We figured after the plumbing backup was cleared on Friday morning that the worst of this weekend was behind us, and we could concentrate on preparing to welcome our beloved houseguests who were soon to arrive from Austin. But before they could get here we were greeted by houseguests of another kind, and I don’t mean the human kind. During a trip to the garage to grab something out of the fridge in there, I heard the tiniest movement near the wall, and reported my suspicions to the man of the house, who quickly confirmed that yes, there was a critter hiding out behind the refrigerator, likely having come in from out of the cold to take refuge under the warmth of the nice garage appliance. Sigh. Over the next 48 hours, the man of the house and his eldest son trapped 9 of these critters and as I write this, they are still waging war on the uninvited houseguests, much to the dismay of yours truly. I hate critters. Despise them. Get all yucky feeling just imagining them…so let’s just say that knowing they are trying to take advantage of and stake claim to my warm garage is quite upsetting to me. And what’s even worse: I have had the unfortunate experience of being in the garage while a trap goes off loudly, mere feet from where I am standing, accompanied by awful squeaking sounds…and well, this was almost more than I could handle.

I’m still working on giving thanks in this circumstance; the best I can come up with is this: if I have to have critters in my garage, I am so glad I have a brave husband and son who are willing to handle the nasty task of disposing of them. And at least for now, I am very, very thankful that the vermin are out there and not in here…and I pray it stays that way.

I told a friend at church yesterday that I’m waiting for things to settle down to normal around here…that I’m really and truly ready for normal, whatever in the world that looks like. Admittedly, I’d love to experience “normal” before we get that call for a referral for a precious little girlie in Ethiopia who we are dying to meet. I’d like to be able to fantasize about bringing our girl home to a more “normal” household and family. Wouldn’t that be best for her, anyway? Doesn’t God think maybe she could use some “normal” after all she will have been through in her short life? And it is with this thought that it hits me that no, I don’t think I need to be looking around the corner for “normal”…because didn’t that verse back in Thessalonians talk about rejoicing always and giving thanks in every circumstance (even, and especially when life isn’t “normal”?).  Because how much more incredible is it that God sees fit to use me, to use us, our family, in all our imperfection and with all our various “issues”, to accomplish his will in this world?!

I don’t really know if I will be any better at giving thanks in all circumstances from here on out. However, I’m quite sure our family will never forget this rather odd Thanksgiving week where we were faced with a little collection of opportunities in which we could choose to rejoice and give thanks, or throw up our hands and pout about life. May God give us all the grace and ability to see his hand at work in each of our lives, so that we can give thanks in both the good and the bad that comes our way. And now it is only fitting that I tell you, dear Reader, that if you have managed to hang with me all the way to the end of this long entry, that I am very thankful for you and your patience!!

A little surgery

Last week, Jay was kind enough to take the children to their piano lesson for me, since I was at a dr’s appointment. While I was still waiting for things to wrap up with the appointment, an employee from the front desk area popped in to tell me that my husband had been trying to contact me for some time, but wasn’t getting any answer on my cell phone…and oh by the way, he was taking our son to the emergency room. And then there was something about an injured arm…that was all. Which was not nearly enough information for this Momma.

A trip to the ER is never good, but it seems even worse when you are the parent who doesn’t know what is going on, and with which one of your children? After a bit of panic over what might be happening, my first thought was, “I have three sons-which one’s turn is it for an ER trip?”. After all, two of the sons were supposed to be at their piano lesson by now. How many people have been seriously injured at a piano lesson?

Well, suffice to say we have a new rule at our house: no playing in the tree outside Mr. Q’s house before piano lessons begin. It turns out they’d arrived early for their lessons and while they waited for it to be time to go in, Jonathan was swinging in the tree like a monkey. All was well until he attempted what would have been a very impressive dismount, had it not been for the fact that he slipped, and plummeted to the ground. Where he then began screaming in pain and clutching his arm. Jay told me later that it was fairly obvious the arm was broken…that near the wrist, the point of most pain, he could see that the bone angled oddly.

I met them at the emergency room, where our boy who is normally tough as nails, was clearly in a lot of pain, and none too happy about it.

Little brother provided encouragement in the form of helping his brother watch movies on Daddy’s Ipad while they waited for the x-rays to come back.

The verdict was indeed a break, all the way through the radius. Jonathan received a splint from a very nice EMT, and we were told to follow up with an orthopedist later in the week.

Turns out there are lots of orthopedists in the Dallas area, but among our friends, there was one doctor whose expertise with pediatrics stood out, and we visited with him late in the week. We entered his office in rather high spirits: Jonathan and I both thought we were going to walk out of there in a couple hours with a cool camouflage, maybe even waterproof cast.  Instead we received the rather disheartening news that due to the angle of the two pieces of broken bone, Jonathan was going to need to return the following week for surgery in order to properly set the break before they would even consider applying a cast.

To say that this announcement was not happily received is perhaps a bit of an understatement.

And so, tomorrow, our boy will undergo surgery. He is apprehensive about the procedure, and would really like to fast forward to the recovery part of all this so that he can concentrate on figuring out how many signatures he can possibly fit on an arm cast. And me? Well, after the call from the friendly employee who works in the financial portion of the orthopedist’s office, I’m reeling at how expensive it can be to play in trees. And counseling my children that perhaps they ought to strongly consider a career in medicine!

Taking a break from our normal routine…To visit the newest member of the family!

Last week, Abigail and I had the joy and privilege of flying to Connecticut to spend five days with my sister, Sandra’s family. Many thanks to my wonderful BIL, Keith for masterminding this trip, and helping make it happen!!

Sandra and Keith welcomed Baby Lilian Clare in late March, and I am so very grateful that I got to meet her this soon!!

We don’t see nearly as much of the Nedells as we did when they lived here in Dallas, so it was a huge treat to soak up a few days in their beautiful new home with them.

Most of the pictures included here are pirated from my sister since I didn’t bother dragging our new camera on the trip. Probably just as well: getting through airport security with the few things we did bring felt pretty intimidating after having not flown for more than four years!

I was blown away by how lovely everything is in the Northeast. Yes, I was born and grew up there, but I forget the tallness of the trees, the lushness of the surrounding hills, and the cool crisp air that just smells “right” to me.  Don’t get me wrong; I love our life in Texas, but the local topography just cannot compare to the beauty of New England, at least in my book.

Even more wonderful than the gorgeous scenery was the relaxed time we got to spend with two year-old Jacob and his new baby sister, Lilian, or “Yiyee” as Jacob refers to her.

She is the prettiest little baby, and rewarded our efforts to charm her with smiles and coos aplenty! How fun to snuggle a tiny baby again! Abigail, for her part, was also smitten with her newest baby cousin, and announced that we absolutely need another baby in the family, STAT!

Jacob was tons of fun, gave us awesome new nicknames (you hereby have permission to refer to me as “Auntie Cheetah”, thank you very much!), volunteered to make us smoothies a gazillion times a day, and was a complete joy to be around.

Sandra and Keith were wonderful hosts: despite the busyness of a new baby in the family and a full workweek for Keith, we were treated to several outings, enjoyed delicious food, and great company! Here are Abigail and Jacob at Flamig Farm, feeding Indiana, the goat.

Thanks, Guys, for a truly wonderful visit.

My absence from home would not have been possible without the amazing efforts of my sweet Hubby and my dear MIL. Thanks to Jay and Grammy Ruth for holding down the fort in my absence, and even managing to accomplish some schoolwork with our three rambunctious boys!! I’m so grateful to both of you for your hard work while I was away.

I leave you with a short video clip of Baby Lilian showing off her cuteness. Please excuse the silly woman in the background who is trying to speak “baby talk” while filming. :-) (Note: you must click on the link below to see Lilian’s video.)

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Thankful, Day 22

Today I am thankful for blue sky breaking through the clouds, for hot coffee after a chilly morning walk, for old friends and time to catch up, for the fun of introducing a fourth child to the warmth and humor that is Paddington Bear (and the snuggles I get whenever I find time to squeeze in yet another chapter), and for Chicken Pad Thai.