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!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Stop-over in Washington

I know it is almost Christmas and I am just now posting about something that occurred way back in Aug/Sept. I have the normal excuse: I've been busy. But I just had to document this and I knew if I posted anything before I did I would never get back to it.
Be forewarned, there are a TON of pictures here. It was just so hard to decide which to keep and which to pass over!

We arrived at the airport with my sweet mom who flew there with us. I love the excited feeling that always comes with arriving at the Seattle airport. I love the instant feeling of coming home; not only to my childhood home, but also to my Northwest home. The airport has salmon and leaves swirling and swimming around on the floor, the drinking fountains make the sound of a gurgling brook, and almost every shop has a depiction of "the mountain." Charlie insisted on pulling the suitcase all by himself (except up the "big" hills). And once we got home, oh boy! Charlie went into fun mode right away.

 Jane loved it too. She rode happily in the front carrier on our hikes (which was a shock) and loved playing in/eating the sand and water.

She especially enjoyed all the attention from Grandpa and Grandma!
 A big bonus of my recent trips home is that I get to see my former roomie Whitney and her girls! I love getting together with her (and what each of the kids are doing in the picture on the right).

Charlie went on his first ferry boat ride. He was both fascinated and apprehensive on the first trip but by the time we re-boarded after a drive around the island he was nothing but excited. It was fun to see the little wheels turn in his head as he figured it all out; the bridge raising and lowering, the tunnel that the cars went in one side and came out the other, and what the various parts of the ship were for as we walked around on it. He walked off on the island end and watched with great interest as the cars drove off.

Sarah put together a group a couple years back called "hiking with kids." They go on a hike each week or so in the summer to kid friendly trails. The one we joined in on was near a big sandy beach, where the kids happily got covered in sand.

The icing on the cake for the whole thing, as far as Charlie was concerned, was the deck construction project going on outside. It is no secret that Charlie is fascinated with all things construction/machine related. He "discussed" the plans with Papa and Uncle Joe, helped frame and pour the concrete supports, helped fill up gas containers, etc etc etc.

Cousin and "Ama" time! Top: Charlie, Grant, and Ben. Bottom left: Jane and Grant. Bottom right: Grandma with Charlie, Grant and Jane.
Charlie also LOVED helping with the cutting and stacking of wood. He got quite profecient at operating the wood splitter, loading the wood onto the tractor, helping Joe drive the tractor to the wood pile and unloading the wood. Needless to say, he slept very well each and every night.

Mom and Dad were renovating various areas within the house as well as building the deck (they were having a very busy summer), one of which was the master bathroom. One of the first days we were there, before I had seen the upstairs, Charlie came running down the stairs to tell me with a very concerned expression, that there were "some problems" he wanted to show me. He took me by the hand and urgently led me up the stairs. He led me first to the bathroom where there was a hole where the toilet had once been and told me quite matter of factually that this was the first problem. Without letting go of my hand he took me to where the bathtub had once been. With an even more serious tone he told me "and this is a really BIG problem." Later when I told the story to my mom she said she should call the contractors (who were having difficulty showing up when they should) and tell them that even her 3 year old grandson recognizes that this is a problem!

When my parents built our house they put Liz and Sarah's hand prints and my foot prints in a bit of concrete on the patio. They are still there today, purposely preserved when the patio was redone about 7 years ago. Anyway, we thought that it would be fun to do the same thing with the grand kids. Although it took a bit of coordinating, (the concrete drying, naps, etc) we successfully (more or less) put the kids mark on the platform that will serve as the base of the stairs for the deck.

Hiking and eating blackberries in the woods next to our house.
Uncle Joe letting Charlie take the excavator for a spin and Dad mowing thistles the old fashioned way.
Charlie serving me up some dinner in the old playhouse that used to be my Grandma's. Her brother, Lyman, built it for his kids and then sent it up the hill from the Puyallup valley it to my grandma to use for her kids. I remember playing in it at her place (just adjacent to our place) as a kid. Later it took another trip up the hill to it's present location, where it was next to the wooden big toy that is sadly not there anymore. It got a paint job back when we painted our house.
Jane bonding with Uncle Joe after a rough beginning. He gave her an "airplane ride" (i.e. flew her around the room) soon after they met and from that point on she would cry when he got close to her. Until he gave her some watermelon, which she can't resist (something I figured out shortly before this trip). He showed her a piece as she was taking refuge in my shoulder and she quickly snatched it up and then retreated like a cautious little animal. After several of these interchanges she warmed up to him and they were like best buds from that point on.

The Fair! It had been quite some time since I had "done the Puyallup" and I was excited to introduce it to my kids (Charlie had gone once before but he was younger than Jane at the time so he wouldn't remember). We were on the way to let Charlie pick out some taffy (a fair tradition) when he fell asleep, hard.

It was really fun to see him enjoy so many of the same things at the fair that I did as a kid.

This collage isn't just fair pictures but I like all the pictures of the two Charlies.

One of my favorite rides: the Giant Slide! I really wanted to do it with Charlie but was some what worried that he would get scared at the height and decide that he really didn't want to go. Much to my surprise and glee he didn't show any apprehension except for a fleeting gasp at the first drop.

The cousins: Jane, Charlie, Ben, Grant.

The best picture of all (except the traditional family pumpkin picture which was tragically lost): Grandma and Grandpa with the grand kids. This one always makes me smile. I am so happy that my kids have these two wonderful people for grandparents.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saying Good-bye to North Carolina

When I first came to North Carolina I had a lot of worries: no "real" mountains or rock climbing or backpacking, about as far away from family as we could get while still being in the country, crazy hot and humid in the summer, didn't know anyone, etc. So much has changed within those three short years. Although no mountains appeared out of nowhere and I never went rock climbing, Keith and I found things that we really enjoyed doing: walking along the beach in the morning calm, walks and bike rides around Lake Johnson, the amazing farmer's market, uncountable waterfalls in the hills, and most of all some treasured friendships. In the end it was really hard to say good-bye. (Well except for the crazy humidity).
Last visit to the metabolic clinic.
One of the toughest good-byes (at least for me) was our last visit to Charlie's metabolic clinic. They have taken such good care of Charlie and us. Julie, Charlie's dietician, is wonderful beyond words. She was always available to answer questions, help when we had trouble getting formula, or had concerns and gave great advice about things we hadn't even thought of. Leaving to a new place away from them was hard. The one comforting things is that all of our dieticians we have ever had have been great. Personally I think that all potential dieticians have to go through some sort of "niceness" test. So I am not too worried about who our new dietician will be, but it is always, always, hard to say good-bye to people that are so much more than a doctor to you.

On a similar note (although unfortunately I do not have a picture) I almost cried saying good-bye to Dr. Radtke who has been my neurologist through out my entire seizure ordeal. I was walking out of the room where we had been visiting when I suddenly realized that this was the last time I would ever see him. I am kind of glad that I hadn't had that realization earlier because I don't know if I would have been able to make it through that appointment. He would answer emails that we would frantically send any day of the week asking what we should do now when some medication wasn't working or I was having major side effects, etc. After that final visit he gave me a hug and softly and lovingly whispered "I hope all goes well for you. You have been through a lot." The way he expressed it with genuine care almost brought me to tears.

All the people at Duke took such great care of me; Dr. Friedman my brain surgeon, Eve my midwife, Dr. Peters my neuro-oncologist, Dr. Radtke, and all of the many therapists and nurses that helped me along my difficult path. It made me feel sad and vulnerable to leave all of them behind.

Another thing we miss is the state farmer's market. It was like no other farmer's market I have ever seen; huge, open year long, the variety was amazing and fun local fare like okra, pickled everything (really, everything), etc. Not to mention the most beautiful and cheapest ceramic pots ever. You would have to see it to believe it. Unfortunately we don't live there anymore so I won't be able to show you.

"Our" Lake Johnson is another one. Oh how I miss that place! I took walks there almost everyday. It was my sanity keeper especially while I couldn't drive. Keith and I went boating there on a couple dates. Charlie played there and that is where Keith taught him to skip rocks on the water. It is the place where I felt the most "normal" after my surgery. It was relaxing and I always felt peaceful there. My thoughts were clearer, I felt more confidence in facing the day and my body felt stronger after walking/running there. But most of all I miss walking with my friends there. I miss the conversations we had and watching our kids play together. It was terribly hard to take that last walk around it, knowing that I would never do it again and that there would be nothing even comparable to it in Fargo.

Of course the friends we made were the hardest to leave. I couldn't say enough about our dear friends so I won't try, except to say that they were the jewels of our life there, as true friends always are.

Johannah, for instance, gave me the privilege of watching her son Jack who is the same age as Charlie. They quickly become great friends and it was truly a delight to watch them play together. I don't think Charlie understood what was happening when we said good-bye to them for the last time, but I did and it broke my heart to know that Charlie would never see his dear friend again.

Shortly before we left Johannah took me kayaking out on Lake Johnson. It was the freest I had ever felt since the seizures started. Seriously. I don't think she knows that gave me so much more than a ride in her kayak. It was the first time that I felt like my old self again; the self that at times I thought would never come back to me. After my ride I came back and picked up Charlie. He doesn't look like it in the picture, but he loved it. He peppered me with questions about the big pipe under the bridge and how the house on the pier stayed on the water.

The Fergusons and Flores' are also friends that we still miss very much. They had been my walking companions and as a result we became good friends. I know that Emily was the answer to the many prayers that I offered while in St. Louis and was scared of moving to yet another place where I knew no one. We met the first week we were there and quickly became very good friends. Our boys all became friends too as they played together on play dates and when we did babysitting swaps. While I took the picture on the right, Charlie said "I will miss you Thomas." Oh how it broke my heart! I don't know which was the more difficult: saying good-bye to our dear friends or knowing that we were taking Charlie away from his friends and he couldn't understand why or what was even happening.

These are just a few of the people we miss and were dear friends that we still think about and miss. Looking back I realize that the list goes on and on. One of the blessings of the seizures that I see in hindsight, is that it brought me in contact with many more people than I would have reached out to without being in that situation.

During this time, and before we left North Carolina for good we "house sat" for Keith's adviser and her family as they spent a month in Morocco where her husband is from. They have an extensive garden and Charlie was my big helper (and at times my not so big helper) in taking care of it.

When we weren't working Charlie would cool off in the wading pool or go inside to build long train tracks that wound their way under chairs and around table legs. That third picture I just had to throw in somewhere because I love how intently lobster Charlie is examining his pizza.

Boxing up the apartment and then a celebratory lunch (and lemon) before beginning the cleaning.
And then whoosh! We packed up and were headed off on to the next chapter in our lives and new adventures!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

PhD: check!

WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The day we have been anticipating for the last 3 years (or more) has come and gone! Keith passed his dissertation defense without any strings attached. The presentation part was open to the public so I went. It was really hard for me to stay in my seat and clap politely instead of whooping and hollering. After that everyone except for his committe members left and he spent the next three hours answering any questions they thought he should know the answer to. Then he called to say he had passed without any "as long as you fix this on your dissertation" attached to it.
I am sooooooo very excited to be able to spend more time together as a family and as a couple. For the last few months the norm was Keith got home from work, greeted us briefly, went to work in the office, came out for dinner and usually would play with the kids for awhile before we got them ready for bed. After which he went back to working in the office until some where between 1 or 3am. That was not everyday, but that is how it went most days. So can you see why I am so thrilled that we are done?

Keith with his committee. I am not going to try to give the names of they three other guys in the picture, but the lovely lady in green is his wonderful adviser who has been a gem with all that has been thrown at us. His whole committee has been. [Keith's addition. From left to right: Paul Murphy, Keith (obviously), Ross Whetten, Gina Brown-Guedira, and Spencer Muse]
To celebrate we went out to dinner with my mom (who came into town a few days earlier for the soul purpose to fly back with me and the kids to prevent major seizures again). It still seems a bit surreal. I am in Washington now with my family and will go visit Keith's parents after that and then fly to Fargo ND. Keith is taking a road trip with his brother Shawn and will get to Fargo in about a week. It is crazy how after planning so long for something it happens in what seems like a blink of an eye. So here we go!

P.S. I know we have said this before, but it can't really be said enough; we would not be here with out all the friends and family who helped us. We truly would not have done this by this time without all the prayers, fasting, visits by family, friends and ward members who helped me when I needed it most and allowed Keith to go to work with the peace of mind that I would be okay. For all the meals, babysitting, calls, texts, offers to help, and support in general, we thank you. Most of all, I thank Heavenly Father for sending his angels, on earth and in heaven, when we needed them.