Day 14 : Our last Friday together.

Friday. My last official EAD Day and our last Friday Night Fire as a family in China because Josey and the girls will fly out a week from today. It's all wrapping up too quick.

 

Friday Mornings:

When the weather is nice, Friday mornings are my time to take one of the kiddoes out for breakfast (darn you McDonalds!!!). This morning, it was Eden's turn . . . and Pandy's (for class, she got to "babysit" Pandy). 

Eden and Pandy, ready for Water Day at school!

 

I love riding the scooter with my kids (don't worry, I stopped for this picture). I love the wind, them sitting and almost cuddling behind, and the little talks we can have on the way. 

But my favorite is when the ride is a bit longer and they begin to sing to themselves. It's just so precious. 

 

In my office, before school begins, Eden gets to work on some artistic endeavor. 

 

Friday Night Fire:

As much as possible, we tried to have Friday Night Fires with the family, and this was the last one in China. 

Without the need to plant this summer, the weeds have take over a bit, but this our woodpile. Scrounging for wood in a city of 14 million is a bit rough. Often times its scraps from discarded crates in the complex, at other times its the scrounging of the Neighborhood Haircuts. This wood though, is from the mountains. Last summer, on one of our last camping trips, we bought wood from one of the farmers and brought it home with us. And this is the last of it.

 

In our first summer in this home, I built this bench to cover a flowerbed because we were in serious need of sitting room. It has supported many a butts that have come to Gather here with us. And tonight, it supports the last of our family rooftop dinners. 

 

Zion LOVES this ledge. Hearing her little voice play and argue and sing to herself with her little toys and worlds is about as precious as her curls. 

 

A rare city skyline sunset from our roof. Almost like a waving goodbye. 

And it was. The mornings, our roof, the growing up, and the gathering. They were all very, very good. Which makes the "bye" hard, but worth it. 

 

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Day 15 : The Beginning - Zhonghai

On our whirlwind tour of goodbyes, we headed back to our old and first home in China. We walked old streets, thought a lot about how much different our China experience would have been if we would have stayed (it is SO much quieter and suburban-like, compared to where we live now), and did a lot of explaining to Eden and Zion. They remembered very little of this place.

 

There used to only be one option, this corner Hongqi (now we have a four right outside our gate), and it was almost midway from our home to the school. 

I used to buy a milk tea everyday on the way home from work.

 

This complex was, and is, beautiful. No cars allowed, overflowing with vegetation, and dozens of little trails and small parks. This is right inside the main gate, and turning left, we headed towards our first apartment.

 

The entrance to our first apartment building. We lived on the 7th floor, like we do now, but here we had an elevator.  Life was very different then.

 

A return to the scene, where Judah fell from the glass ledge, cutting his arm, and needing over a dozen stitches but getting only six, because we didn't go to the hospital but to a nearby friend. And they didn't have any Novocain.  His scare now tells a pretty fantastic story.

 

Down the road is one of our favorite parks. It hasn't changed much except for the trees - they are huge and, finally, provide the shade it so desperately lacked when we first lived here.

 

This is the park where our whole family, starting with Judah, contracted hand, foot, and mouth. I endured the worst, being knocked out for almost two weeks.  By far the worst I've ever experienced . . . not sure why we wanted to remember this place.

 

To many, this is just an ordinary intersection, but to us, it's pretty special and we ended up standing here for a few minutes, just reminiscing.

Following the gray van is the entrance to where many of our friends lived when we first moved here. Most notably, Bekah and Sarah who, over the next few years, would become Aunt Bekah and Aunt Sarah. This intersection holds a lot of beginning memories to China, and Josey's first flower shop.

Turning left, instead of following either van, is the ground floor of the apartments. Josey's favorite flower shop is still there.

 

The main drag of Zhonghai, and a typical China scene. 

 

Our favorite mode of transportation. 

 

Zoo Coffee was our first "Western" coffee shop in China, and one of my first places to sit and write. It's also the place where I learned to bring earphones into public settings because it became fairly common for Chinese parents to drop their kids off at my table so they could practice their English. At first it was cute, then it got annoying because I had lesson plans to write or memories to store.  

Sometimes, I didn't even play music in my headphones, I just wore them. And for the most part, the little tikes got the message.  For the most part.

 

I hate McDonals. Always have. But when the city doesn't really wake up till around 9am, the Golden Arches become essential to early mornings. This one means a lot to me because it was the place Travis Miller and I would meet on Friday mornings. Once, we were joined by a giant rat that climbed up on a nearby seat. Another morning, a HUGE pickup truck thought it best to ignore the entryway. It drove over the medium, through the grass and over a fairly large sign, then parked perfectly in a nearby parking spot. 

Travis and I sipped our coffee and carried on. 

I miss Travis and, for the first and possible only time in my life, I'll miss McDonalds. 

Eden and Judah, snuggled in a taxi . . . a perfect ending to the day.

 

 

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Day 17 : Just the two of us, with Elias, and other people too.

Today, with all of secondary on Spring Trips, I cashed in one of my paternity days and spent the day with Josey and Elias . . . and a few others.

We went for a walk, drank some coffee, and for the first time in several weeks, talked. And cried. We took a few pictures because these days are flying by much too fast.

For dinner, I met Trent at McElroy's, an Irish pub, where we've played a few shows. This is on the inside of the menu and, while I waited for Trent to arrive, I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. The humanness of it. And simplicity. 

"Just live your life."  

I'm try'n Red (that's the owner), I'm try'n.

Thanks for the taco salad and beer!

 

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Day 19 : The Juggling

It's hard, trying to pack up and sell off our life here, stay well at work, and keep some sort of family chemistry in tact. Really hard. We've done pretty good, for the most part, over the past few weeks, but as the departure inches closer and life is uprooted, we've begun to crack a bit.

Today, we tried to ground ourselves, even if just for a few minutes, by taking a walk around our neighborhood. It helped. A little. 

I think we need to do more of this - even at the cost of selling more things or having our bags packed with time to spare. 

Day 20 : Packing, and the big shift.

For the past four years, this hung by our door. It came down this weekend.

For the past four years, this hung by our door. It came down this weekend.

Today, we officially packed up our home. We've been teasing it for several weeks - sifting through clothes, selling away knick-knacks and books and things, but these weekend, some of our biggest furniture left us. Everything came off the walls. 

Our house is no longer home. 

Yet, in the midst of it all, Enosh stayed the night.

Enosh was new to our school this year, but with his love of basketball, he has quickly become on of Judah's buddies. He's also one of the girls' favorites.  

We've told Judah, "Mom and Dad will judge how good a friend is for you on how they treat your sisters." Enosh is a good friend, and he will be missed. By all.

Day 22 : Getting Lost in Travel

My whole life, I've loved exploring and traveling. As a kid, I would take my bike and ride as far as possible, trying to get lost in the neighboring towns of Griffith or Munster, and then working my way back home.

When I finally earned a license, I'd drive to neighboring states. Eric Beard was often with me. To Philadelphia and New York, to Montana, Colorado, and many little weekend trips where we'd get lost in Wisconsin or fall asleep on the beach in Michigan. 

Luckily, while living in China, I have been fortunate to continue exploring. Below are just a few of those places.

KangDing, China:

 

Not Chengdu, China: 

I don't remember all of these places, I just know they're not in Chengdu and were probably taken while trying to get lost on some random streets. Which is the best.

 

Hawaii:

Last summer I attended an AP Literature training and was blessed with a week in Hawaii and some good friends . . . and some beautiful blue skies and ocean.

On my last day, I went for a hike. I think the mountain was called, "Three Sisters" or something like that. Although not that high, it had three peeks and was pretty intense.

After the hike, I ran to the ocean, swam for a bit, then tried to get back to the family I was staying with, but I got lost on the public transportation and had to call for a ride. 

Surrounding the school where my classes were held was a community of homeless men and women. Over the course of the week, I became friends with a few of them and several others. You can read about them and their stories here.

When I'm lost, I'm found. 

 

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Day 23 : Happy Valley Splits the Leg

This week is a wrapping up of the craziness that is Spring Trips. Today, I offered to run over to Happy Valley and take pictures for insurance and was met with more Global Center-like frustration because, after almost an hour of broken discussions, being passed on over and over to another slightly more highly qualified worker until I finally found myself in a back room, drinking warm water, and having a translator run back and forth from my room to her boss' room, I discovered that I did in fact have to pay the 200 RMB entrance fee even though I was in and out within 10 minutes. 

I had to fight strongly the urge not to say, "Well then to HELL with it!  We WON'T bring our 100+ kids here next week!" but I knew I couldn't, because 100+ kids and over a dozen adults would be pretty pissed at me. 

The next urge was to slam my ticket down on the counter on my way out, but I couldn't do that either because I needed that ticket so I could be reimbursed. So instead, I ordered a McDonalds coffee and sat until the sweat left my brow and my heart calmed down a bit. 

Afterwards, I could laugh at the sign above and draw another line on the "Good Story" scoreboard.

Day 24 : Those of the Day

I woke up today already at my wits end. And I hate it.

Yesterday was rough, and a shitty night's rest didn't calm the heart or clear the mind. And then I hit my head on a branch while trying to get my scooter out of its parking spot. My headphones dropped to the ground. I cursed. Then sat, biting, and holding down everything that wanted to spill out, because Daddy didn't raise no baby. 

Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind. How much more so when the brutality is conscious, when the wounds are purposeful, and when they are done under the guise of love and kindness and, "I just thought you should know."

Then Warren MacLeod emailed me, without provocation, and gave me this verse:

I Thessalonians 5:9-21

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.

I have a little green New Testament, plus Psalms and Proverbs, Bible from Australia. It's pocket-size, and therefore fits neatly in my pocket, but I rarely carry it around because I hate things in my pockets. Today though, I carried my little green pocket-sized Bible and added a little red sticky bookmark on I Thessalonians 5:9-21. 

 

Over and over I read it.

Over and over.

Like the soothing voice of Dad

In the early hours of mo(u)rning,

my eyes opened. Slowly.

Slowly.

I read it.

And the voice . . .

And the morning . . .

And my eyes opened slowly.

Because

Over and over I read it.

I read it.

 

Verse 8 reads: "But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation."

Those of the day . . . I like that. 

Those of the day are not subject to wrath and slander. They edify and encourage. Those of the day warn those reaching out for the darkness, they comfort and uphold t, and they are patient. 

Those of the day hold fast to what is good. Even when it doesn't feel good. 

Because they are those of the day. 

Day 27, 26 : Either a good time, or a good story. For Mother's Day, we had both.

Somewhere over the past five years the phrase, "It's either a good time, or a good story," has crept into my philosophy of life, and I love it, because it helps see beyond the moments of frustration or disappointment. It allows for perspective, and the idea that someday, we'll all laugh at this.

This weekend, we had a healthy portion of both.

Last year we celebrated Mother's Day in the misty mountains, alongside a gushing river, nestled in a wonderland of ferns and moss covered trees.

This year was a bit different.

With Elias only a few weeks old, moving across the world just around the corner, and little time to prepare any sort of camping trip, I surprised the family with an overnight stay at one of the largest buildings in the world, Global Center. When I told the kids, minutes before leaving, they screamed and jumped and hugged everything in sight. When I asked them why we were going, instantly, Eden yelled, "Because we stopped biting our nails!"

"Nope," I said, "but close. We're going to celebrate Mommy."

The goal of the weekend was to provide a couple days where Mom could relax. Where she could take a nap, chat with some friends, and otherwise be calm and quiet. 

What we got was something like that, only very different.

We should have been warned when she ordered her first drink.

The first day, Saturday, Josey and Jennifer sat on the outside the "beach," because we didn't want to pay the 150RMB to have her sit for just a few hours. For dinner, we moved to the hotel pool, comfy chairs, and into our second complication. For the kids to swim in the pool, they had to wear head-caps. We didn't have any, so we had to buy some - 20RMB a cap, but no worries, we were having a good time, the kids are thrilled, and Momma wass sitting comfortably on a nice lawn-chair. All was good.

For dinner, Josey's only request was for "something large and fresh," so I went hunting, in a mall of 19 million square feet, and was sure I would find something. But I couldn't. Instead, what she and the rest of the family got was a loaf of bread and sliced ham and cheese. With Pringles and Yogurt of course, because it's Mother's Day and I know how to make it special. 

By 9:30, the party was beginning to die down.

(This is actually Zion on day two, but it's really just a duplicate of day one)

(This is actually Zion on day two, but it's really just a duplicate of day one)

The next morning, though, started with only promises. Breakfast was provided and waterparks called in the distance. 

We were dressed and ready by the time the park opened, then quickly hit a snare: I had too many bags and wasn't allowed into the beach area. 

So I walked back to the front desk, waited in line, rented a locker, stuffed the locker, then went back to the gate and met Josey, holding Elias, stuck at the gate. She wasn't wearing a bathing suite and therefore wasn't aloud in. They had to call a manager, then another, because I speak limited Chinese and they spoke limited English. 

"You need a bathing suit," she was told again. 

"She's not swimming," I said, "She's just sitting right there" and I pointed "With her family. She doesn't need a bathing suit." 

"But she's not wearing a bathing suit," he pointed out, again.

"I know, because she's not swimming, she's just sitting, right over there," and I pointed again.

We did this for a while, as a small crowed gathered and watched, until finally, cooler heads prevailed. 

The lady behind the counter, the one who initially stopped us, reached into Josey's purse, grabbed Elias' burping towel and laid it over Josey's shoulders - brilliant!  Now, she could go in. 

So we did. But before you could get through the gates and into the beach area, we had to have a life jacket. Had to. No questions. So we took that too, because it's Mother's Day and we were there to relax and enjoy the day. 

And we did. The rest of our stay was a good time. The kids LOVED the water, the slides, the lazy river, and the freedom. Mom, eventually, was able to relaxe and enjoyed the day. 

Good times, with good company - thank you Birdsongs and Joneses for a great weekend!

Good times, with good company - thank you Birdsongs and Joneses for a great weekend!

Another Mother's Day in the books, full of good times and good stories.

 

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Day 28 : Guys Night Out

Several are missing, but throughout my five years here, these guys have been my iron - refining me into a better teacher, husband, father, and man. 

Dan is from New Zealand, Wilson is Chinese-American, John from neither northerner nor southerner American, Cody is all Texan, Caleb is Chinese, Senny Korean-American, and Jeff is deep south. And we all sit around a table, drinking, eating, laughing, and sharing. 

Dan tells my favorite of his childhood memories - leaping for the ferry - and Senny steals everyone's coins so he can battle another round in the batting cages. 

I have truly enjoyed these men and the lives they have shared with me and my family. When I left Gillette, I said goodbye to Eric Trauger, Kasey Schirtz, and Matt Hard and great conversations.

In China, there has been a revolving door of people who sat with me and laughed and argued and wrestled with Life and books and teaching, and it has watered my soul.

Some of those not pictured here are worth noting: Josh Keegan, Travis Miller, Ed Blanchard, John-Ross Jones, Garon Dugas, Jesse Wells, Brendan May, and Dave Yost.

Thank you, my dudes. You will be missed.

 

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Day 29 : Eden's Goodbye

Eden has spent five of her seven years in China. More than America, it's her home. She loves tea eggs and jiaozi for breakfast, wants to carry an umbrella on sunny days, and loves traveling in cars and buses without a seatbelt. 

More than any of our kids, perhaps more than anyone in the family, she is struggling with the unknown of moving, the changing of faces and friends, and saying goodbye to her room, her school, and her home. 

Like she did with Judah, Josey sat with Eden to try and understand her thoughts and perspective of a life in China. 

You moved with your family across the world to live in China when you had just turned two years old. What is your very first memory of our life beginning here?

"Moving to a new apartment complex (the second one in China, after our first year) and helping Zion learn how to walk while you and daddy unpacked our bags and boxes."

 

You have lived in West China now for nearly five years, what are your favorite memories to look back on ? 

"Adventures with daddy like walking all the way to Tianfu Square with a picnic lunch. 

Learning how to swim, going on a train trip to the mountains with mamma, sleepovers with my cousins, all our camping trips, making cupcakes with Bekah, staying at the hospital with my baby brother, and getting my very first camera for my birthday."

 

You leave in a few weeks to go back to America, what are you really excited for? 

"Seeing all my family again, holding my new cousin Tessa, camping and swimming, Seeing Aunt Lou ann and Dave, the bright blue sky, cold cereal with milk, and seeing more horses."

 

What will you miss the most about living in China? 

"I will really miss my friends and jiaozi. Concrete park, my cousins, our rooftop, my school and my teachers, and Kangding. Oh and also Levi the turtle."

 

Do you think you'll ever come back here to visit or live someday? 

"No, I don't think so."

 

Will you be sad to leave? 

"Yes, but also happy too. I don't like when everyone stares and touches me, but I have no idea what they are saying. It feels embarrassing to be here."

 

Is there anything you wish you could have done before you get on the plane to go back? 

"Go to the place with the horses, camping by our favorite wall one more time, and saying goodbye to my CDES friends and going to the Global Center once more."

Last summer, Josey took Eden on an Adventure. Eden is growing up with an adventurous spirit, an artistic mind, and a sweet and gentle heart. 

She's growing up to be like her mom.

On the trip, Eden took a LOT of pictures. These are some of her favorites. 

This is my favorite because, well look it! Why wouldn't it be anyone's favorite? A horse, wild flowers, and a backdrop of pure wonder.

This is my favorite because, well look it! Why wouldn't it be anyone's favorite? A horse, wild flowers, and a backdrop of pure wonder.

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Day 30 : When the ending wasn't so near

This quote has been in my head the past week or so.

I haven't had time to take pictures or work diligently on our last hundred days, so it comes in waves or clumps and sometimes with a "that's good enough" mentality, and I hate it. 

But putting on the Ring and walking off into the mountains isn't an option.

So, instead of nothing or another, "I'm just tired" sort of post, here are some old pics, from years ago when I didn't know the ending was so near.

: Thoughts and Style :

: Thoughts and Style :

: Watch your Toes :

: Watch your Toes :

: Flying Kites :

: Flying Kites :

: Gotcha :

: Gotcha :

: Heading Somewhere :

: Heading Somewhere :

: The Light :

: The Light :

:Mah jiang :

:Mah jiang :

: Together :

: Together :

Some of these mean a lot to me, either because of the memory surrounding it or because they, for me, capture China.

"Flying Kites" is one of those "China" moments for me. "Together" was on a Sunday afternoon family walk, about two years ago.

"Ma jiang" was when we visited Sarah Cole during her first year in Xipu, "The Light" was on one of my 50 Days : 50 Faces walks. It was a beautiful night for a walk, after being treated to a beer and some pizza by some strangers. 

The other three were just stumbled upon moments, moments that I'll dearly miss.

Good God I'll miss this land.

 

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Day 33 : A tossing, but with anticipation

Dishes have been a constant for Judah these past few years, but today, for the first time, his routine had an extra pair of hands.

Josey and I both have a collection of memories with our siblings that surround washing dishes, and it blessed my heart to hear and watch these two get after it. They sang, the argued, they laughed, and the worked - together. Just as siblings should.

I could hear them, over the music, while packing up our first bag.

There's something relieving about trying to fit one's life into a dozen or so bags.

It's a sifting, an organizing of what's important, and what can be left behind. 

I threw away two shirts today, one of which I've had for over ten years. I bought at a thrift store and wore it often, in the summer and winter months. Then, when the collar started to fray, it turned into my campfire shirt. Throwing it in the trash today, with coffee grounds, empty water bottles, and banana peels, seemed unfair, like it deserved more. A ceremony, or something . . . I don't know. It's only a shirt I guess, but it's been with me since California, when Josey and I were less than a year married. 

But, now, there's no room for it, because we need to pack baby clothes.

I love that shirt, but it's just a shirt. Just like a home is just a home and a sink just a sink. None of them are packed in the bag, they'll all be left behind. But not the memories, not the stories. They're coming with us, in droves and droves, and when their edges fray, when our memories begin to unravel, we won't throw them away. We'll do the dishes. We'll sing and argue and laugh and work - together. Just as family should. And the memories will come roaring back. 

Or, like old shirts, we'll toss 'em. And that too will be okay, because baby clothes are full of promise and life and hope of what's to come. Not a longing for what was or what should have been.

It's is a sifting, an organizing of what's important, and an anticipation of what's to come.

 

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Day 34 : River Market and Campbells

Taxi rides : not the safest, but the best. Judah loves the wind in his hair, and Eden, our window watcher, loves the show.

Taxi rides : not the safest, but the best. Judah loves the wind in his hair, and Eden, our window watcher, loves the show.

We took the kids to the River Market today, one of Josey's favorite spots. The people here are beautiful. Ancient artifacts litter the narrow streets and dozens of kind hands reach for blonde curly hair. Zion doesn't mind; Eden gets overwhelmed. Judah loves the old coins and old knives. 

Mom and Dad love the faces.

Eden buying Mulan . . . in French (the book, not language spoken).

Eden buying Mulan . . . in French (the book, not language spoken).

 

For dinner, we were invited to the Campbells, one of our favorite spots. The people here are beautiful. Ancient toys (kept nicely in boxes) hide throughout the house and there is always a set of hands eager and ready to reach out and help. Zion loves it; Eden gets giddy. Judah can never have enough. 

Mom and Dad feel at home.

We missed the company of Davis and Donovan, but still, as always, walked away with our hearts minds, and stomachs full.

We thank and appreciate you THIS MUCH (arms stretching from China to Hawaii)!!!

Donovan and me, when I was fortunate enough to visit him and his family in Hawaii last summer. Holy blue ocean!

Donovan and me, when I was fortunate enough to visit him and his family in Hawaii last summer. Holy blue ocean!

 

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Day 36 : Mannequin in the street

I left for work at 3:30 this morning for a hopeful semi-interview. On the way in I saw and took this mannequin. 

I'm not sure, exactly, how I will use it, but I have ideas. I'm sure they'll be posted later.

 

After arriving, I called a potential job in Montana, only to find the phone not working. Frustrated, I decided to email him a Zoom meeting link. My computer shut down unexpectedly and I about flipped.

Almost a half hour later, I finally got through and we chatted for a bit - not great, not terrible.  I find out the 10th if I made it through the first round or not.

 

This week is a bit more busy than normal. Spring Trips are in full reboot mode and Bekah is out of town for 10 days or so.

 

Josey and I tried watching a movie, but I fell asleep on the couch. It was 8:30ish. 

Day 39 and 37: Eden's Birthday Week

May is an expensive month with three birthdays and Mother's Day, and it all starts with this tender-hearted girl.

This week, starting with Monday, Eden was loved on, and it brought joy to her heart, and mine.

 

Thank you James and Wendy Wright (Origins Coffee)!

Free dessert on her birthday

Free dessert on her birthday

Birthday cookies 

Birthday cookies 

 

Thank you Ms. Leitner for the BEST pre-birthday present!

 

She had a blessed and joyful week, topped off with her second most wanted birthday present, a camera (her number one was a pony). 

Happy Birthday Eden!!!  And thank you all who love her so well. 

Day 38 : What circumcision looks like. And more cockroaches.

After a little over three weeks of life, Elias had to go back to Angel hospital to be circumcised. None of us enjoyed it, but I'm guessing he had to endure the worst.  

While waiting, I saw these pictures hanging on the wall and remembered that I had documented a few of them when we were here for his birth. To console all of our hearts and minds, I decided that these, in fact, were the images running through Elias' mind throughout his stay, and nothing else.

They're a bit creepy, but I'm sure they're an improvement.

 

But before any of this, when I came to work this morning, I was greeted with yet another surprise:

My coworkers have entirely too much time on their hands . . . but they also help create a great and fun place to work. And I will miss it.