Sunday, March 1, 2015

Becoming Bionic

Really early Friday morning (I really hate that they always schedule surgeries early in the morning) Keith and I went to the hospital for a same-day surgery. The purpose was to implant a vagal nerve stimulator (VNS) device. It is a kind of pace maker for the brain.

Photo taken from
  This is the basics of how it works (if you don't really care about how it works just skip to the next paragraph ;) ). There are two vagus nerves, one on either side of your neck. They are in charge of telling your body to do all the things you don't have to think about (heart beating, breathing, etc.). The implant is done on the left side because it sends more signals to the brain while the right one sends more signals down to the heart. I will have it turned on in two weeks at which point it will begin stimulating (sending little shocks) to the nerve at regular intervals that can be adjusted by my neurologist by this cool wand thing. A common setting is 30 seconds of stimulation every 5 minutes. The side effects are minimal and only occur while the nerve is being stimulated. They include tickling sensations in my throat, hoarseness and shortness of breath. Another bonus feature is that is comes with a magnet that can trigger a stimulation when I feel a seizure coming on. This can make the seizure stop completely or at least minimize it. 

Very rarely does it take the seizures away completely, though it may decrease their frequency (sometimes dramatically). It is designed to decrease the medications people with drug-resistant epilepsy (i.e. the drugs just aren't working) need to take which, it turn, can dramatically increase their quality of life. Boy can I testify to that!!! That alone would be worth it!!!

The positive results won't be immediately evident. The side effects decrease over time and the benefits increase over the following months and years. So it will be yet another test of patience, but Keith and I both feel that this is the right road to take. During the weeks before the surgery I told Keith that I had never been so excited about a surgery! I really am excited to see how this will affect my seizures over time.

P.S. I am discovering that same-day surgery isn't the same thing as same-day recovery...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Birthday Charlie!

This post is long over due, but I didn't want to pass over it and not have it documented. Our Charlie is 4 now!!! Where has time gone!?!
He has become a fun-loving, very curious, imaginative, machine obsessed, thoughtful and clever guy.

Here are some of my favorite things about Charlie:
-How much he loves us telling him stories about our childhoods as we lay in bed at night. We try to fit in a scripture story or a children's classic (aka: three little pigs, how the elephant got it's trunk, etc.) but almost always he asks for "one about when you were a kid." It is nice because it helps me remember cherished memories and stories.
-His wonderful imagination. He imagines pretend pets, tools, machines (especially cranes), camping trips, indoor snow and water, fields that need harvesting in the living room, flying on airplanes to visit family, and on and on.
-Reading books. Especially silly ones.
-Being tickled and rough housing with Keith after work.
-Giving us "Charlie hugs." I just can't get enough of them (especially because they are a whopping seconds long.)
-Singing to Jane whenever she is fussy. I love hearing him sing "I am a Child of God."
-How he is experimenting with new words. For example, the other day he came up the stairs as if every step was a monumental effort, threw himself on the couch, let out a heavy sigh as he said "this is such a boring day." Moments later he sat up and asked "what does boring mean?" It was all I could do to not burst out laughing. I don't know where he gets this stuff!
-His increased interest in biking. Almost always his toy of choice to take out in the snow is his little bike. He often tells us how he just can't wait for the snow to go away so he can ride his bike.

We celebrated his birthday a day early while we were still in Utah. Grandma and Grandpa Lowe made the drive up for it and even remembered that he could have Jelly Bellies so they brought a bag of them (bottom left). He got a book from each set of grandparents as well.

We invited our good friends the Clegg's over for the party. Charlie loved having friends to play with and Keith and I loved visiting with Dan and Becky.
Charlie can be the biggest frustration at times but mostly he is a wonderful big brother and my little companion and "helper boy." Oh how we love him!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Christams Get-Away

Keith's folks gave us one of the best gifts ever during our stay with them: three days without the kiddos. It was the first time since Charlie was born (4 years) that we had spent a night without them (not including hospital stays, which totally don't count). I know to some that doesn't sound bad at all, but it was getting hard on us. We didn't spend those two nights any place fancy (just a local hotel) but it felt just like we were dating again! We didn't have to pre-plan every little detail (how long we could be gone, when the kids would be getting hungry, what to bring for Charlie to eat, getting back when the babysitter would need to leave, etc). We just went places when we decided. We were carefree and, for lack of a better phrase, flew by the seat of our pants!

We had some priority things we wanted to do but we had the freedom to fit them in whenever we wanted to. One those priorities was to go to the temple. When your home temple is three hours away and you are somewhere that has them all over the place you must take advantage of it! It was really nice to be able to not feel pressured about time. The session we had planned on was full so we had to wait for the next one. Normally this would have made me nervous or even force us to change our plans but because time didn't matter I just relaxed and enjoyed the extra time.

Another priority was to go to The Quarry. The Quarry is the rock climbing gym in Provo and Keith and I went on many a date there. Our skills had waned some but it was so fun and refreshing to just be doing it again!!!

We also went bowling (one of Keith's favorite activities). I know almost nothing about bowling but I still actually got my personal best score! (Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure I had only gone bowling once before as a pre-teen at a friend's birthday party. I got way below 100 which is a pretty bad score, so it didn't take much to do better than that!)

It was so great to just spend time together. More than any activity we did, it was simply the time together that was so wonderful. It meant a great deal to us. Thank you Granny B and Grandpa Joe for taking such great care of our Charlie and Jane while we were out playing!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Christmas Time Was Here!

Merry (belated) Christmas from the Merrills!

We spent the holidays in Utah with Keith's parents and brother Shawn. We had an absolute blast and when the time came to go back home we weren't ready. Even now Charlie will occasionally ask if Uncle Shawn can come over for dinner. I love these times when family comes together, three generations and sometimes more. I love seeing our kids fall in love with the people who we love most.

Our Christmas Eve went a little differently this year. We knew that Charlie wouldn't enjoy, or even have the patience, to sit and listen to the Biblical account of Christ's birth and the surrounding events. So we simply used the kid nativity that Bonnie had set up in the basement for the kids to play with to act out the story. Charlie listened intently and asked questions but it wasn't until Christmas afternoon that I realized that he had really understood any of it. I saw him playing with the set. He took Mary and Joseph to the inn and upon arriving there he had Joseph say that they needed a room and the inn keeper responded "Sorry. No rooms left." At which point he had them continue on to the stable.

After acting out the nativity story with Charlie we moved to the couch and sang Christmas songs together and Granny B enjoyed getting Jane snuggles. The traditions of telling the story of Christ's birth and singing those sacred songs always puts me in the right mindset to remember the real reason for Christmas the next morning. It also fills me with gratitude for all those in the story that had the faith and courage to do what was needed to bring this all to pass. Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, wise men, Heavenly Father and Christ who, knowing beforehand what would be required of Him, came to earth and atoned for each of us.

We woke the next morning to a white Christmas. It was almost too perfect to be true. The big picture is of a tiny hummingbird nest. Grandpa Joe (and I vicariously through his pictures and videos) greatly enjoyed watching the hummingbirds this past summer and is hoping that it will be reused this next summer. Fingers crossed!

It was SO fun to watch Charlie open his stocking and pull out the various items inside. The little construction machines were first and he was as excited as, well, a kid on Christmas morningx10. We put them in so he could use them in the kinetic sand table that my parents shipped to him. It was cute when he got down to the traditional orange, apple and can of olives that he was still jumping up and down with excitement as he pulled out each one. "Look! Look! I got olives!!!"

Jane was also excited about the oranges. So much so that she promptly started munching on one of them before we could get it peeled.

The picture on the right really should have gone with a different set of pictures but oh well. It is Keith's favorite Ansel Adams photo and he wanted it for his office at work. It was Shawn's gift to him.

Charlie was incredibly excited about the tool set that Keith's folks gave him! It came complete with safety goggles (of course), drill with interchangeable drill bits, skill saw, jigsaw and chain saw. He used the chain saw to help Grandpa Joe take down the fake Christmas tree later. Charlie was on a chair pretending to saw through the top of the tree when Grandpa Joe popped that part off. I can't even describe the expression on Charlie's face when the top came off as if he had really cut it off; it was a mix of shock, excitement, confusion and pride.

As per tradition each grandchild also received a Christmas tree ornament from Granny B. This year they were from Germany where Granny B had recently gone to visit Paul and Jenae and their family. The ornaments are lovely in the details that went into them.

Poor Shawn came down with the nasty flu bug, that we had accidentally brought to Utah with us, on Christmas morning. The sweet guy still wanted to join in on the festivities and did so laid out on the living room floor most of the time. He had recently traveled to Mexico with an aid group he had worked with before. He brought us all back wool sweatshirts and a little Mexican doll for Jane (which she LOVED and still will sit and play with it's little ribbons between her equally little fingers). He also gave me a nativity set made entirely of agave plant fibers. The skill and time that must have gone into making it makes me love it all the more.

Shawn also got an agave plant fibers nativity for Bonnie. For Joe, and his love of birdwatching, Shawn got him a pair of Mexican birds to hang in his office. Shawn's gifts were both really thoughtful and generous.
You probably have noticed the random mountain pictures. It felt SO good to see mountains again! Unfortunately though, we didn't get to take a drive up into the canyons due to weather.

We gave Jane a cute little book called "Peek a Who?." She seems to like it. I see her occasionally sit and flip through it and then when she reaches the last page with the little mirror she giggles and puts it up to her face. Super cute.
What was really fun to watch was her squeals of excitement when she unwrapped the doll that Granny B and Grandpa Joe gave her. I caught it on video but it decided to not record the sound! Grrr. That was the best part. The pictures still make me smile though as I remember her holding it up to show us.

After Christmas day (I don't remember when exactly) we took Charlie to his first basketball game! He was impressed at the size of the arena, confused at what everyone was so excited about and unsure about the loud sounds (as you can tell in the picture on the right.) What you can't see is the huge grin he also has. He would clap when everyone else clapped but I don't think he understood much of what was going on. BYU was playing Gonzaga and we were almost guaranteed to loose, which we did, but not nearly as badly as we thought we would. It was my first BYU basketball game as well. I had never gone because I had always thought they were as long as football games and I am done with football games generally by halftime. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong.

The day after Christmas (I think) we had a big get-together with the Lowe (Bonnie's) side of the family. It was so nice to get to meet people we haven't seen in years. Grandma and Grandpa Lowe have found their way into a special part of my heart. Every time I see them they ask about how I am doing and how my family and siblings are doing. It is clear that it is more than just polite conversation; they genuinely care and want to know. They are truly good people.

Grandpa Merrill came for dinner the Sunday after Christmas. He had barely sat down when Charlie began enthusiastically showing him how his new tools worked. He can understand a bit of what I had experienced because he had a hematoma in his brain which required a surgical procedure to fix. So we got to swap brain surgery stories over dinner. Fun stuff.
As somewhat of a side note, the idea of four generations being together all at the same time, multiple times, is really somewhat of a new concept for me. None of my great-grandparents (to my knowledge) were still alive when I was born. I love looking at these four generation photos and thinking of Charlie and Jane looking at them someday. For some reason, that extra generation in there just makes family history become a bit more real to me.

At least according to Charlie, Granny B and Grandpa Joe have the funnest toys! Charlie loved, loved, loved the marble tower with its spinning wheels, winds, and funnels. He, Keith and Granny B all joined in on the fun as well. Granny B treasured every bit of time she had to snuggle with Jane (with Charlie too, his snuggles are just a whole lot shorter).

Grandpa Joe loved the Jane snuggles (and playtime) as well. I love the picture of Jane with her paper and pen. She is always very serious when she pretends to write.

Clockwise from the top left: Wonderful Becky and Liam, the kids at the earthquake table (it was pretty fun), Jane in the wind "tunnel." The girl LOVES wind. She was made for Fargo.
A trip to Utah just wouldn't be complete without a visit to Dan and Becky! This go round we got to see them three times! One night after the kids went to sleep we went over to their place and had fun visiting without the kiddos around. Ya know, just the adults. As fun as it is to get everyone together, it was nice to sneak out and visit without the kids being the wiser. They also came over for Charlie's birthday celebration (another post) and Becky and her kids came with us to the Museum of Natural Curiosity. We went there before but only saw a fraction of it. This time we saw more but still haven't seen the entire place. It is huge! It was really fun to go with Becky and her sweet kids. It is always neat to me to see how quickly kids make friends with each other.

Keith explaining to the kids how the oil is refined with the hands on display. I like that it looks like little Jane is explaining it to everyone: 'the warm water goes way up!" The picture on the top right was of a bouncy table in the physics (motion) section of the museum. I forget what it was demonstrating but Jane sure liked the bounce! Also in the physics section of the museum was a pedal powered light. It would get brighter the faster you pedaled. Hannah and I were rockin' it.
The entire trip was wonderful. It really was. Let's do it again!

P.S. There are more posts coming about Charlie's birthday (I can't believe he is four!) and Keith and my special three-day get away...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas Bug!

I got too Skype with my "little" brother Alex (i.e. Bug) today. He is on a mission in Moldova. He told me that although they are next to Ukraine and Russia they haven't had much snow and do not have a white Christmas. When I told him that we did here in Utah he excitedly asked me to take pictures for him. 

Since you can read my blog, I am posting these for you Alex. Merry Christmas.

The backyard. 

The Merrill home.
Another shot from the backyard. 

The hummingbird nest in the front yard tree that had tiny eggs in it last summer. Grandpa Joe kept a close watch on them up until the little babies flew away. Hopefully more will come back to the nest next year.

Love you Bug! I hope you have a great and joy filled Christmas. I feel blessed to have you as my brother. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


 A sight for sore eyes. I must get closer.

A Quick Trip to Utah

After our Washington visit we flew to Utah to have about a week of fun with Granny B and Grandpa Joe.

The first full day we were there we went to a new museum called The Museum of Natural Curiosity." It was so much fun! The whole place was hands-on and child focused. We only saw a portion of the museum but I was really impressed. Charlie liked the animal facts displays where they would say things like how hard a boa constrictor can squeeze and then let you see how strong your squeeze is on this big post. Or give the amount of hours that a sloth can hang from a branch and then have let you see how long you can hang from a horizontal rope. They were fun (for me at least). He also really liked the high jungle ropes course. A winding maze of rope bridges led up to a little plane perched up high over the museum floor and then wound its way back down to a platform that you could slide down from. I stayed down with Jane while Charlie went up with Grandpa Joe and Granny B but figured that they were having fun because they were gone for quite some time and I didn't hear any distant crying.

In the various sections of the museum there were padded little corners designed for the smaller explorer (i.e. Jane). It was in one of these that we played while waiting for the others to return from their high climbing excursion. There was a tunnel/cave, a little baby slide and a little baby mountain, but her most favorite part of all was playing with the other fun little girl in the mirror.

Back when I was going to BYU I spent some time in the Monte L. Bean Museum of Life Sciences (Bean Museum for short). I had a couple of classes there and spent some time studying and doing some research in the "behind the scenes" parts of the museum. It was a neat experience and gave me a deeper appreciation for the important role and work that museums provide.
Well since my time there they have greatly expanded the museum and added some neat displays. So of course we had to go check it out! Charlie was fascinated at seeing things like elephants and giraffes in real life sizes. It was fun to see him have little "ah ha!" moments as he would see a peacock (or a moose, or a rhinoceros), recognize what it was from a book or nature show, and refine his view of it now that he had seen a real life example.

I love this. I think this pretty well sums up my feelings about our earthly stewardship responsibility. "If we love our children, we must love the earth with tender care..."

See that little boy on the left? He is mine, and I love him. I hope that has he grows older he will always "find joy in being alive."
After our visit to the new life sciences museum we took a look around the new life sciences building. I had seen the plans for this during my final year at BYU but hadn't yet seen the completed building. It fills the role of the sorely outdated Widtsoe building where Keith and I basically lived (albeit on different floors) during our BYU years. It is has much better views than the old building and can support the modern technology used in today's labs and overall it is a beautiful building; but there was also something very sterile feeling about the whole place. Maybe it will get better with time.
While there I tracked down one of my all time favorite professors, Steve Peterson. I loved loved loved his classes!

We also got a chance to get down to Mona to see Grandma and Grandpa Lowe and introduce them to Jane. It was really good to see them.

We also took a short walk down the street from Joe and Bonnie's home to visit Dan and Becky (well, Dan was at work) and their kids. These guys are so great! I felt a bit guilty visiting all of these places that I knew Keith would have loved to see and visiting the people he would want to visit with, but I kept on reminding myself that in a few short months we would all be here for Christmas, and guess what, here we are!