Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ol' Razorback Red's Maiden Voyage

We have hit our thirties. Officially. We bought a camper.

For a while we had been considering a camper since the kids are mobile and love using that mobility outside. So a few months ago we made a trip down to San Angelo to check out their selection. We went in knowing the basics of what we wanted: small enough we could be comfortable hauling it yet big enough we would actually be comfortable in it. We found the perfect size and shape in a Winnebgao, and lo and behold we found out they also come in a bright red.

Now I thought the bright red was pretty, but what really sold me was the salesman who tried to claim this red as Texas Tech Red Raider Red. No. I could not have that. This is Arkansas Razorback Red. So. We got a red camper to haul all over the country. Funny thing. After 3 weeks of football season, I am trying to find a new favorite red-colored team.

This past weekend my folks came into town to help us out on the maiden voyage. We were nervous as cats, but all in all it rode smoothe and we had no major hiccups. I'm sure no one noticed the black water hose hanging out and then the black duct tape holding it in the bumper. And I forgot olive oil and butter, but hey-no one is remembering all the things I DID get.

Here we go!

The food still tasted good thanks to our camp chef Cash.

If you are unfamiliar with West Texas, all you may know of it is Midland/Odessa. Midland: home of George and Laura Bush (heyo, I am super proud her childhood home is 1 block from our house). Odessa: home I'm sure to someone but it ain't me. Okay, fine, Odessa is where Permian High School is and all the Friday Night Lights hoopla. Some of you may have heard of it.

But there is so much more to West Texas than oil rigs and tumbleweed. A couple hours south of Midland is a tiny ranching town called Ft. Davis. Here the school is so small they don't have 11 kids to field a football team, so in Texas High School style they play 6-man football. This is a thing. Everyone should watch at least one 6-man game in their life.

He's just here for the cheerleaders.

A solid 1:2 flag to player ratio

6 players. 4 cheerleaders. 1 team.

Ft. Davis Indians vs. Sierra Blanca Vaqueros
(You can't make this up.)

Also in Ft. Davis is the McDonald Observatory which is actually part of the UT-Austin campus. On weekends they host star parties. I know you're snickering. You think I'm a real big nerd. I've actually been to 3 star parties now, and I admit each time they get cooler. I am obsessed. At the star parties they point out to you all these constellations you still can't see, but they also tell you neat facts about our solar system and beyond. To steal my dad's quote, on a good night I can pick out the moon. But man, at the star party you see so much more. They had one telescope set on Saturn where you could actually see the rings around it. My mother, bless her Arkansas-farm-girl-don't-you-dare-take-me-to-a-nerd-convention heart, even admitted it was worth the 45 minute wait in line to see the 6th rock from the sun. Who knew we had this deep love for Saturn?

From the top of the state park you can see the McDonald Observatory in the distance

On Saturday we went to Marfa. Marfa is one of those places you can see, but it is best felt. You with me? Marfa has all these funky little shops where artists are sculpting on the doorstep or hand sewing self-designed clothes at the cash register. My sweet man snagged me a beautiful leather purse handmade at Cobra Rock as I chatted with the owner who was busy making a pair of shoes. He said it takes him 3 weeks to make 1 pair due to drying timed but he could do 8 in a week. 8! That's it! They literally make every last stitch and then sell them right there.

West Texas comes alive in Marfa

Over in Alpine we stopped for lunch at Reata. It is a pretty famous restaurant, but most folks know it by its Fort Worth franchise. Right outside of Alpine is one of Claytie Williams's ranches where he always had his infamous Ranch Parties. Driving by that ranch had me all kinds of nostalgic for the old days.

We stayed both nights at the Davis Mountains State Park, and the kids had the best time running and driving trucks and going on walks. On our way home little Henry begged to go camping again. I don't know if it was the good times or the incense I bought in Marfa, but I seriously considered asking Cash to just keep driving to the next state park. There we would've shown everyone our Roll Tide Red camper.

Monday, September 3, 2018

That Ol' Ballpark, Man, Was Back in Gear

The summer flew by. I have no idea how I went to sleep last night when it was Memorial Day yet today I woke up and it is Labor Day.

I love fall. I love winter. I love spring. I hate summer.

Every year as the temps begin to rise and shoot into triple digits and the grass starts turning brown and school is out I get into a rut of depression. In May Cash asked me what about summer makes me do this. I didn't know. I just hate being so hot and confined. Maybe it goes back to being a single teacher when I got extremely lonely in the summertime. I don't know what it is. But I feel summer with my whole heart, and I hate it.

Then this summer happened.

In June I saw our local Double-A baseball team was looking for host homes due to our housing crisis in Midland. I called to ask about what it involves. Cash and I talked about it for about a week when we finally decided to just give it a shot. We figure we wouldn't have anyone for a month at least.

About an hour after I turned in our application, the office emailed to say they had just had players moved up the day before and this would be perfect. (The A's pay for 2 nights of hotels when the players get moved up. Then they're on their own.) Needless to say that night we got an email from a player saying he would be moving into our home the next night after the game.

We were shocked! It happened so fast, and we started scrambling to get his room ready and make our house look presentable and not look like 2 kids tear it up on the daily.

The next night we met our house guest. Over the next 3 months, however, he became so much more than that.

Somewhere between playing trucks with Henry and eating leftovers when he got home every night and watching The Bachelor with me so he could recap it with his girlfriend we gained a member of our family.

Starting lessons at 2 years old with a 90 MPH fastball

Brothers ❤

He is a starting pitcher, which I learned only pitches about every 6 days, so we went to every home game he started. When he was away, we listened on the radio. I became this baseball stats kind of woman. I found myself saying things like, "Oh, he pitched 7 and a third innings, no hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts. He did great. Yeah, they lost, but no one cares about that because he didn't get the loss because those weren't his runs." When you stop looking at the final score and only care about the stats, you are a baseball fan. When you start wearing your shoes on the wrong feet and eat the same food every game day because that's what you did last time, you are a baseball fan. In all my life no one ever accused me of being a big baseball fan. Baseball pants? Yes. Baseball itself? No. But Summer 2018--that was my summer of baseball.

Summer 2018

Signing autographs 

His biggest fan ⚾️

During his time with us, the team traveled to Arkansas to play both the Naturals and the Travelers. My parents got to make the trip to Little Rock where they met his grandparents and watched him throw an exceptional game.

Rockhounds dominated the Travs!

Last week his parents came into town and got to stay down the street at my in-laws'. I knew it'd be fun to meet them, but my gosh I cried when they left!

While his parents were here, we snagged them from the baseball game on Friday to take them to their first Texas high school football game. They brought sweet presents, each one so thoughtful, and even introduced us to sugar cream pie. If you've never heard of sugar cream pie, you have not lived (you also probably have never been to Indiana). One morning while Cash was at work I dropped the kids off and met our player's parents for coffee and after an hour of just chatting I drove like a maniac to pick up the kids because I was late. I found myself wishing we lived closer because although we hosted their son, they quickly became wise, older friends to us. And what an awesome moment when I got to tell them my heart ached for a third kid I would never have but that their son filled that gap for us this summer.

All the 😍 for new friends who feel like old friends
This summer has been surreal. What was once a season of depression and sadness for me became a time of learning, hospitality, and new friends. It wasn't a change in the weather or a new house or a fancy trip. All that changed was doing as God calls and opening our home to others. That one gesture of opening the door of our home opened up so much more for our family.

Today we gave our hugs and a small goodie basket and waved goodbye to the nicest guy in baseball and a whole summer of memories. With tears streaming down my face, I walked in his room to make sure he didn't leave anything. Instead I found a bottle of wine and a note...and a Starbucks gift card labeled "for Avery during Mother's Day Out."

I died. That was too much. Hilarious and sweet at the same time.

As the sun goes down on this Labor Day and puts the final stamp on our summer hosting a minor league baseball player, I thank God for His provision. Of all the players we could've received. Of all the families he could've gotten. Of all the things that had to be timed perfectly, I truly believe God blessed us all this summer when we grew our family by grafting in a whole clan from Indiana.

Pullin family of five

Never underestimate the power of an open door, especially when there's a guy in baseball pants on the other side.

Be blessed,

Friday, April 13, 2018

Men of the Mountain

Arkansas was as beautiful as you may imagine. If you're not from there or haven't traveled to Northwest Arkansas before, may I suggest you give it a shot? I'm totally biased and admittedly love the whole Arkansas Traveler image, but honest to goodness if you get off the beaten path and let yourself wander you will come across scenes you would never believe. In fact last weekend Cash got to experience some of these fascinating views and learn all about what backwoods can really mean.

West Texas is a desert. It is dry and barren and just today we suffered through a terrible dust storm all day long. When I dream about a new flower bed in our front yard, in my mind I toss around the idea of cactus and yuccas. So you take a guy from this geography and plop him in the backwoods of the Ozarks, and you have the making of a pretty comical reality show on your hands.

Because I genuinely love North Franklin County so much, my dream is to have a second home there even if we only get to go a handful of times a year. I had been homesick something fierce a few weeks ago and told Cash about this dream. He saw the pain I was enduring and assured me one day we'd consider it.

The next day I found out a cabin close to my parents' was up for sale. I could not contain my excitement and did not sleep a wink that night. The next day I called the owner and set up for us to go look at this cabin when we were there last weekend.

So we did. The view was stunning. I love trees and water and mountains. Currently I live around none of these, but this cabin has it all.

The day I found out it was for sale, I would've written a check. But Cash thought if we were going to entertain this idea then we needed to look at other cabins too. He found one on a road called Cat Holler. Note to self: if something is deep in the holler, maybe that's the first sign it isn't the place for my desert dweller.

Before dinner we drove over to Cat Holler and started down the road. We came to a creek. Now it had been raining for several days, and even though I had grown up in the area I had never been on this road. I didn't know if the creek was high, and Cash certainly didnt have experience fording a river. I also should say I get super psyched out about driving through water as my best friend in college died doing such. So it was another early sign that maybe our hearts couldn't get on board with this cabin.

At that time we decided to just go to dinner. We were meeting my sister and her family for dinner at the new Stockyard Feed & Grain Restaurant at County Line, so we just turned around and headed that way. At dinner my brother-in-law started getting curious about this "river crossing" and cabin up in Cat Holler. He decided he could guide us. So off we went back to Cat Holler with an army in tow.

Once we got to the creek crossing, I thought my brother-in-law was going to lose it. It was absolutely laughable to him that his West Texas brother-in-law was scared of a little stream.

What do you think? Major waterway or shallow creek?
We passed, with ease, the first crossing. Then we came to another. Then another. And yet another. We finally decided to turn around at a house we had come to when the owner stepped out of his truck in the front yard. He had been out there listening to the Razorback baseball game (because of course) and hopped out when he saw us turning around in his driveway.

He was super friendly and told us we had about 4 more creek crossings before we got to the cabin we were looking for. My brother-in-law concluded we had come this far and should just try to find the place. So we kept going and came to a fork in the road. We chose our route and plunged full steam ahead.

A minute or two later we passed a cabin on the left and a clothesline on the right. I thought it was odd that the road just split his front yard like that. It was maybe about this time we heard banjos in the distance and thought we should turn around.

In rain and the dark and soft ground on top of a hill Cash made an Austin Powers maneuver and finally got us turned around. We came back up to the cabin/clothesline and the closer we got the more we realized the owner was standing in the road, beer in hand, waiting for us.

A few F bombs later, he finally caught his breath and asked what we were doing on his property. We tried to explain we were looking for a cabin for sale. Once he calmed down, he told us we were only halfway (HALFWAY!!!) there. Then he looked at Cash's Titan and said, "And I dont know if you can make it up there in this thing." Ouch.

We apologized immensely. Look, I get it. It's dark on a Friday night and a random out of state truck just barged through his front yard. And considering this cabin is for sale no telling how many times that has happened lately. Luckily, we got out of there but decided that even if it was the most perfect cabin in a whole world of cabins that it most definitely wasn't the cabin for us.

The next day we headed out for Turkey Camp in the snow and freezing rain. What?! It was so stinking cold, but it was all worth it when we cozied up next to the fire and ate that famous camp breakfast.

Huddling around the burn barrel

Camo & coats for days

Camp comedian Rocky Joe

Sorry to rush you, horse, but we are trying to get back to camp

Mountain creeks 😍

View coming off the mtn

The whole weekend the kids played and ran and laughed and went for walks and looked for sticks and rolled around in the dirt. They had the time of their lives. It was awesome to see my kids playing with my Hub sister Heather's kids. Heather and I spent our entire childhood together, and after moving so far away I often feared our kids wouldn't know one another.

Hub friends
I love friendships like that. Those that neither time nor distance can stop. I cherish my friendships in Midland, those that help me get through day to day life. But those friendships of years gone by are so sweet and special. I hope everyone has at least 1 of those friends.

After a weekend at camp it was time to head back to Tejas. This was my last week before I officially start my new gig as the Children and Women's Ministry Coordinator at our local Anglican parish. I also serve on the board at our local Boys & Girls Club, and our 2nd annual gala was this week. Between wrapping up silent auction donations for the gala and trying to find a sitter for staff meetings, this week flew by.


Girly girl 😂

Getting in all my cuddles

And all those giggles

I love how this metal print turned out! My former colleague did this. Check out his gallery!
I also was so proud of this Farmer's Market basket!

with our friends the Rules

Sunday brings about so many changes for our family. I have worried about our kids as I begin a part-time job, but I also worry about myself. I've never had to leave them. I've stayed home even before Henry was born, and in my heart I never thought I'd go back to work. But this opportunity came up and felt like the perfect thing at the perfect time. So here's to new beginnings...and hoping that this new path doesn't lead us to a cabin and a clothesline somewhere deep down in Cat Holler.

Be blessed,

Friday, April 6, 2018

Stories of Miracles and Hardships and Life

Back in March we went down to Houston for AL's checkups. We decided to make it a vacation of sorts, see family, and enjoy a week out of town together. In that we (me) wanted to take the kids to the Houston Rodeo. But come to find out the whole week was our own personal rodeo.

Cash's brother lives in San Antonio, and most of his extended family lives just south of there in these small Texas towns. We were able to spend a weekend watching his nieces play sports, visit with his Mamaw, and go to dinner with his aunt and a couple uncles. His Uncle Bobby used to be the sheriff down in Karnes County and loves small town politics. Uncle Bobby and I got to talking about Franklin County (my old stomping grounds in AR) and just the small town way of life. I could've sat there for days living in those memories, but Cash pried me away for our final stretch to Houston.

The Bug & Henry

Softball days

Mamaw and the youngest great-grandkids

Henry and his namesake

In Houston we had all kinds of things planned: children's museum, rodeo, zoo, train. We went to the zoo and rodeo on Tuesday, which was a blast, but the kids were acting terrible the next day. We thought they were just tired, so we stuck with dinner plans at some friends' house on Wednesday. These are old CWEI friends who were kept by Noble after the sell and transferred to Houston. We were so excited to see them, their new house, and their little man.

What's better than room service in your undies?!

The lion at the zoo got to hear some real roaring.

Not his first rodeo!

AL was acting lethargic, so she ended up just sleeping in their crib much of the evening. Henry was doing pretty good playing until he suddenly started crying. I was trying to calm him down and hold him when he threw up all over the both of us. I could've died. Our friends are super sweet, but here we were in their brand-new, 5,300 square foot, all white decor home and my kid is throwing up. I shutter. I cannot imagine them moving back to Midland now; I'm certain they will want to keep their 1 year old as far from us as possible.

The next day AL had her appointments. Instead of an ultrasound this time, she was scheduled to have video urodynamics which would measure her bladder, bladder pressure, and kidney reflux. We sat at the hospital in the medical center for an hour and a half before the doctor called and said the radiologist had canceled. I am breathing fire just typing it.

So we were told to travel out to Memorial City where the radiologist there would do a VCUG. This only measures the kidney reflux. However, we got GREAT news! Her kidney reflux had been grades 4 and 5 last year in the NICU but had lessened to grades 1 and 2 now. The reflux is no longer up to her kidneys; it stays in her ureters.

Through this her urologist decided to take her off the daily antibiotics and begin discussing closing her vesicostomy. We kept looking at each other in shock because we didn't know these were even up for discussion! The doctor also said he received a text from the radiologist saying although the VCUG doesn't measure bladder pressure, she did visibly see urine come out of the urethra only once her bladder had pressure.

This was huge. We knew she could urinate from her urethra. We've seen it ourselves. We just didn't know if it could hold urine back until enough pressure built up. With her vesicostomy plugged during the VCUG, her urethra held urine until the bladder was pumped almost full. So instead of going back into her kidneys, she peed! I have never been so proud of my kid peeing as I was that day! (And we are potty training Henry so that's a bold statement.)

Then at the nephrologist an hour later he noted that her bladder had shrunk. Let me repeat that. Her bladder had shrunk! That wasn't even supposed to ever happen. I think the exact words I had been told in the NICU were, "Her bladder will never shrink."

Despite feeling crummy much of the week, we left Houston excited and confident and Rx free. Cash and I were on such a high that we drove the entire way from Houston to Midland at 5:00 in the evening. We stopped once at Buccees because of course. And we stopped once more for gas. I think we rolled in about 2 AM. Exhausted.

When we woke up, Henry was running fever. I took him into the pediatrician. Strep.

Of freaking course. The night before we had thrown AL's meds away. That day we were going to pick up more from Walgreens. A nice 10 day supply.

On Sunday AL woke up with a fever. They finally saw her on Monday. Strep. Of freaking course. Another nice 10 day supply from Walgreens.

We finished both of their rounds of meds. About three days later AL started getting a fever. We were able to manage it pretty good with Tylenol and chalked it up to teething. But by the third day of this Tylenol could no longer sustain us. She got up from her afternoon nap blazing.

A quick call to my friend Meredith, and her husband came over to pick up Henry for the night while we took AL to the ER. I have always been so anxious for this moment. Our first ER trip. Our first big Prune Belly scare. It was finally here.

The ER staff was pretty quick for an ER. Isn't it ironic? We go to the EMERGENCY room knowing it will take a long time.

Brave & Strong

The ER got everyone to sleep
But within 3 hours they had drawn blood, taken an urine culture, done an Xray, performed a full body exam, gave her meds, diagnosed her, and discharged us. UTI. Her very first one.

On Monday I got on the phone with her pediatrician, urologist, and nephrologist. The plan of attack was set for another round of bloodwork and ultrasound in a few weeks. For now she gets to stay off the daily antibiotic, but if she gets another one she will go into surgery to close the vesicostomy.

It was Good Friday that night she was diagnosed with a UTI. As Cash and I held her down on the bed for 5 sticks to get blood, I kept thinking about sacrifice. 2,000 years ago on that very day Jesus was held in the same position. He was mocked and beaten and crucified. Yet not the cross nor death could hold him down. His ultimate sacrifice saved our eternity. It also saved our present. I could not help but think without the love of God and his miracle in AL, we wouldn't even be able to be in this moment. God did not take His own Son off the cross and save him from crucifixion. Yet He saved my child. I cannot comprehend that love.

Going through the heartwrenching yet miraculous pregnancy with AL then receiving the diagnosis of Prune Belly Syndrome has opened a new world for us. From the people we've met to the medicine we've learned, I would never take away what we've gone through to get here. I've had chances to speak and write about this miracle from God, and I've seen my own faith increase 1,000 times over.

Recently I got to talk with another mom going through a pregnancy with a PBS daughter. It absolutely crushed me when I heard they lost their daughter this week. It has brought back pain and memories that many times I try to keep hidden.

We see this miracle of AL and think anytime this platform gives us a chance to share about it, it will all be good. But this time when I was contacted about PBS, it wasn't good. My platform (if you can even call it that) was used to share our experiences and give what little wisdom we have in that arena, but for this family their world crashed and did not have our same outcome.

My mom and I were talking the other night when I told her about this family. She said, "I can't imagine what they're going through." My response was, "I can."

Every day of my life I think about that month of planning my daughter's funeral. I think back to those nights I stayed awake feeling her kick and wondering how...how was I going to hand her back to the nurses. I could picture the delivery. I could picture holding her. I could even picture the funeral. But I could not picture handing her back to the nurses.

The last month has met us with sickness and sadness. It has also met us with miracles and hope. If nothing it has been a reminder to me to appreciate the quiet days. The days where we are just living. The days where I beg my kids to just let Mommy finish her coffee. The days where I cry because their naps didn't line up at the same time. The days where I boldly ask myself, "Do they want breakfast and lunch today? Or do I think they'd be cool with brunch?" We all know the answer. They want all 3.

Living her best life

Helping Daddy

After this month I am ready to have my own momma. Sit in her house and drink her sweet tea. As we finish up the last 50 miles of this 600 mile trip we are on, I can honestly say I've never been more ready to be home. I have longed for Franklin County more in the past 3 weeks than I have my whole married life. As I look in our backseat at the 2 tornadoes waking up from their nap, I wonder if they'll find comfort in us like I do my parents. If one day they'll drive 600 miles just for that feeling of home. If they'll say, "Remember when you took us to Houston and had it all planned out? Yeah, we just wanted to swim in the hotel pool." If they'll sit in church on Easter Sunday and the other 51 Sundays of the year and thank God for this breath, His love, and the ultimate sacrifice of His Son that gave it all to us freely.

Be blessed,