Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Drawing & the Mama Gut


It's been months.

I have more free time, thanks to Young Living... you'd think I'd be a responsible blog author and write often.

 It's on my list of "things to resolve."

So you know how when you're a parent, your child's pain is your pain?  Your child's victories are your victories?  And so on?

My two older kids are getting to that age where I've had to reign in the mama bear, cage her and calm down. Example:  At a five year old's soccer game, don't make comments about "the kid who isn't running as fast as the others."  Because that kid is mine.  And caging the mama bear is difficult.  I picture myself with a finger in the offenders face, going off about how these are KIDS.  And who gives a flying whatever who wins?  Or who can run the fastest, etc.  They're FIVE.  Thankfully for all involved, I've withheld my inner Saturday soccer dialog.

One of the largest parenting obstacles I've yet to accomplish (gracefully) is evolving WITH my kids.  Because as soon as I get comfortable with one stage, they're moving on to a completely different one.  Like, Maeve- what in the world?  Weren't we happy when you were four, and ice cream fixed everything?  And you didn't know what hurt feelings were?  Or the evilness that we call math?

Kids grow.  And things that once made their world complete, don't hold a spot in their new phase of life.

As parents, it's comfortable- feels WONDERFUL- to keep your kids close, protected.  Using your body as a literal human shield from what can happen "out there."

But because we want the best for our kids, we peal that layer of connection off and as gently as possible, toss them into the water.  Swim kids, swim!  Don't sink! 

This year has been full of swimming lessons.  Henry is in school full time, at what I think, is the best school in St. Johns county.  He has teachers that love him;  that accept him for who he is.  They understand he's sensitive, and he scares easily.  They know he loves pirates, tree houses, and couldn't care less about "staying in the lines."  When he brings his art work home it's usually a "mess" of black crayon;  although he can explain exactly what's going on in the picture. 

Unfortunately his VPK program is just that- VPK.  It ends there.  Meaning, Henry needs to readjust to another school.  Sigh  There goes another layer of protection.

We have been incredibly blessed with our business adventure- or whatever you want to call Young Living;  like VERY blessed.  And the opportunity came up to send our kids to a private Latin school, that is truly wonderful.  It's small, everyone is on a first name basis (or because we're in the south a "Miss Suzie" name basis) -side note it really doesn't matter how old you are- everyone is "Miss" or "Mister."  I sort of love it.

A few weeks ago Ryan and I toured the school;  it felt like my favorite "Hello" sweatshirt.  Worn in, familiar, perfectly fitting.  We left feeling a few things:  1- "This is like a dream school- how have we been given the opportunity to actually DO this?"  2- Peaceful.  Our kids would be loved;  a name, not a number.  3- have you seen the episode of "Full House" where Uncle Jessie & Aunt Becky take the twins to be evaluated at that high end preschool?  We felt like that too.

Visions of plaid uniforms, knee socks, and my kids practicing Latin danced in my head.

Maeve went in for her evaluation first.  And as per usual, Maeve, our perfectionist, did her thing and is ready for second grade, testing much higher in several areas.  Maeve- check.  Set, boom.

Henry's turn was a little different.

They're different kids; duh.

Henry is a creature of habit.  He loves routine.  He is nervous, shy, and unsure of anything new.  He won't watch "Monsters Inc" because he doesn't like to see the kids crying.  In one word, this kid is sensitive.  I knew the day would be a challenge for him because he doesn't adapt as easily as Maeve.  He had NO interest in meeting a new teacher, or new kids. He wanted Miss Kim and Patric.  He wanted the halls of Memorial Lutheran.  And he gripped my hand as I dragged him into his new school for the evaluation.

There are few things worse than pealing your child off you, and leaving.  Your entire mommy/daddy instinct is saying "GET THAT CHILD!  Scoop him up, and rock him!"  But instead, you get in your car, mind racing through all of the scenarios that could happen;  "Is he going to cry?  Is he going to talk?  Will I get a call saying he's in the corner of the room having a melt down?" 

I didn't get a call.  (Thank God)  And when I picked him up he was shooting baskets (well, throwing the ball in the general direction of the hoop). He looked happy.  He looked like one of them.  Exhale the breath I'd been holding in all day.

 According to Henry, the day went great.  He made me a mothers day present and "circled all the right things."  He met friends, but didn't know their names, and he wants to play basketball again.  SUCCESS!

Yesterday I got a call, asking to come into the new school, so we could talk about Henry.  I know he has handwriting issues and focusing "problems" (although what 5 year old doesn't?).  But I wasn't prepared for what I was told.

Henry didn't pass his kindergarten entry exam.  As we went through his test, I saw words circled and spelled backwards.  For example, he was supposed to circle the matching word for SOAP- he circled  PAOS.  My heart sunk. 

As we flipped to the last page of the test, it was a blank, white page- the directions were to draw yourself.  Henry had drawn a head, two eyes and limbs.  No mouth, no hair, no clothes, basically no detail.

The principal explained to me that when a child is ready for kindergarten, their pictures are much more detailed.  And that Henry's picture (obviously) lacked that.

I nodded, took notes, and talked about our options. Repeating VPK, pushing him ahead and struggling, not knowing if he's ready or not;  the familiar feeling of shedding that layer of protection started to crack and all I wanted to do, was find Henry and tell him how amazing he is.  No matter what- repeating VPK or whatever- it doesn't matter.  He's mine, and he's the best.

As soon as I left the meeting, I called Ryan.  He had the same reaction- how?  Henry is going to be SIX.  A six year old in VPK???  My heart ached for him and my mind raced through the years;  he'll be the 17 year old freshman in high school...omg.

I came home, feeling like we had failed him. And it had to be MY fault, because mothers are martyrs by nature. I happen to be an exceptional one (and that's not a good thing).  I had it in my head that something I had done during my pregnancy- like eating hot dogs, or taking too hot of a bath had caused this earth shattering catastrophe.  (I hope you're getting my sarcasm here).

Earth shattering catastrophe- my child having to repeat VPK.  I'm also very dramatic.

I let my mind spend the day in that useless, black hole of doubts and what ifs.

And then I got a phone call from Miss Linda.  The only time Miss Linda calls is when Henry is sick- but she was quick to say, "Everything is fine with Henry."

Miss Linda is the principal of Henry's VPK program.  He adores her. 

I'll probably mess this conversation all up, but here's what the call was about:

Miss Linda: "Ashley, I just wanted to see if I could get your permission on something."

Me:  "Oh, yeah- what is it?"

Miss Linda:  "Well we were talking about our favorite bible stories yesterday and Henry told me his was when Jesus died on the cross."

(I'm thinking in my head.... omg my kid is obsessed with death or something).

Miss Linda went onto say that he drew her a picture, and it was so touching, she wanted to share it on facebook.

My mouth DROPPED.  This was the same day I was told Henry lacked the "detailed" drawing gene or whatever it is.

I'm a complete mom-mess, so I had tears and the whole bit.  But listening to Miss Linda explain Henry's picture and his story, was exactly what I needed at that precise moment.

As soon as the picture was posted on facebook, I screen shot it, and stared at it.

It was full of detail.  Full of HENRY.  Full of love.

My heart shed a few layers of the thick protection it had grown since hearing Henry hadn't passed his Kindergarten test.

This boy, MY boy, is Henry Ryan McKenney.

He is smart, and loving.  He's sensitive and a bit obsessive.  He's beautiful and clearly has Jesus in his heart.

What possibly more could I ask for?

The veil of disappointment lifted and it was completely clear;  Henry's ready for kindergarten.  He may not fit the typical mold, but he's ready in his own way.  And I know this.  Because I have a mama gut instinct.

He's going to be reevaluated over the summer, and strangely, I'm not nervous at all.  Regardless of the outcome, I know who he is.  And he's brilliant.  One of a kind.  He's my boy.  If the state of Florida says he's not ready for Kindergarten, so what?  He's still Henry.  And Henry is full of love, and sweetness, and most importantly the Lord.

My mama gut is working, and that's a good thing.  For some reason it had abandoned me yesterday;  I doubted myself, and Henry. 

Parenting is like a constant hands on experiment.   You don't get a reprieve.  You don't get do- overs.  You just have to believe; have faith in yourself and your kid.  Taking leaps, trusting others with your second heartbeats- trusting they'll hold their hearts like you do, seeing them for the amazing miracles they are.

No matter what the world says, maintain that iron gut.  We we're given it for a reason.

And to Henry-

As your mama, I will always, ALWAYS believe in you.  You and your sisters are the reason my heart beats.  Doubt won't be a word in this family.  You are one of a kind.  You're going to walk your own path.  And it will be a great one.  You are ours.  And I couldn't feel more blessed to call you mine.  You brilliant, loving boy.... you are our joy.

Love, mama

Saturday, January 3, 2015


I can't say 2014 was the hardest year of my life... that title still belongs to the year 2007 (Maeve's year). 

I am in such a strange place- physically and emotionally.  It's just weird.

There are days where I feel fine, and I drive; grab the kids smoothies on the way to dance.  Pick up groceries and cook a normal dinner.  We sit around the table and talk about the day.  Laughing.  Realness. 

And then there are days I don't see daylight.  I'm in my bed, under the covers.  Rummaging through my brain, trying to find out why this is happening to me.  Didn't I already pay my price?  Didn't I already lose it when I had the "great depression" of 2007 after Maeve was born?  That wasn't enough?  Because in hindsight, its still not anything glorious or heroic.  It's plain ugly.  It's medicine and horrible thoughts and dark clouds. 

I had an appointment with my therapist the other day.  He's great- let's me talk and talk and talk, slips in a few helpful tips and always assures me that "THIS IS OKAY."  I need that voice- someone to constantly tell me, "You are okay.  This is okay.  It will all be okay."  At my appointment, I reflected back on the year;

February- it was such an ordinary Sunday.  I remember it was Sunday because the kids had school the next day and when I had realized I hadn't peed that entire day, I shook with some panic.  Immediately went into the bathroom, and tried to go to the bathroom.  And that's when I realized, I had to go- but I couldn't.  I couldn't go pee.  I called my mom and dad, and with my history of kidney and bladder issues, they said I better go into the ER, because not peeing for a day can't be good.  I can't really remember that trip to the ER very well.  They have all blended into one now, with a few significant ones poking out here and there.  I think they put in a foley catheter.  And told me to follow up with my urologist.

I couldn't get into the urologist for a few days, and I remember lying in my bed, listening to life outside the door, my foley bag hanging at the end of the bed, thinking "OH MY GOD.  CAN IT GET WORSE THAN THIS?"  I didn't want my kids to see the "pee bag."  So I had Ryan keep them out;  they came in at random times to say goodnight, or to give me pictures.  And then they'd slip back out the door, my room dark again, and their life, their beautiful, loud, colorful life would go on.  I'd cry but, at that point I had hope.  I had a urologist appointment and he was going to fix this.

The day of my urology appointment could be marked as one of the worst days of my life- for several reasons.  The first being, my urologist at Mayo came without a heart.  He might have had a beating organ, supplying blood to other organs, but there was nothing else in there.  Without an ounce of sympathy, he said I needed to learn how to self catheterize and make an appointment with neurology because this is MS.  I cried so hard I couldn't drive home from Jacksonville.  The nurses had to put me in a room they weren't using so I could try and get myself together.

I never saw that doctor again.  Though I did write a lengthy letter to Mayo, explaining they had a POS working for them.  I still haven't heard back.

Somehow I got home and had arms to collapse into.  And thus began my year.  My year of collapsing.  My year of pain, doctors, embarrassment, confessing, embracing.... I could go on for a long time.

I switched urologists and found that my new urologist didn't have much of a bedside manner either.  Maybe my expectations are too high?  But can you at least look me in the eye when you say, "This is classic MS, you're going to have to get used to cathing yourself."

A super sweet nurse showed me the ropes on cathing.  And as humiliating and embarrassing as it was, she had an angel heart, and made me feel like I was normal.  This was normal.  This was okay.  I'll forever be grateful for her.

With the cathing situation under control, it was time to check out my head. 

I found my neurologist via the phone book.  Dicey, for sure.  But I lucked out.  I won't say his name (I still see him) but he's been one of the most compassionate people I've met on this journey.

Immediately he ordered an MRI of my neck and spine.  All was clear.  I remember texting "my group" (family, close friends)- IT'S ALL CLEAR!!! I DON'T HAVE MS!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I met back up with my neurologist who said it was a great sign that my scans were clear.  There was still no set reason for the bladder issues, but he gave it a name; "A neurogenic bladder" and I feel really fancy when I tell it to ER doctors and  nurses.    It's WAY better than "I can't pee."

Self cathing is so strange.  First let me tell you, it's not nearly as bad as you probably think it is.  Second, you could do it if you had to.  Third, it's an awesome way to introduce bacteria into your bladder.  Fourth, if you suffer from infections of the bladder and kidneys, cathing is like blazing a trail for bacteria.  I found this out quickly.

And let me also add, it doesn't matter HOW sterile and clean you are, if you cath, you are introducing bacteria into your bladder.  THE END.

By June-ish, I had lost count on how many times I had been taken to the ER with a kidney or bladder infection.  I was/am officially a frequent flyer at the ER.  Thankfully, when I go into the ER, I'm usually sick enough that I don't care.  But in my quiet, at home moments, I definitely think about what has become of me- the sickness- the pain- I can't count the number of doctors I've seen, the number of IV's placed in my arms, the nurses who've cried and prayed with me.  It's a blur of hospital madness.

In June, I was sick- like SICK, with a kidney infection.  I knew it.  My back ached, and I was running a fever.  The pain was nauseating.  But it was Maeve's last performance in her mermaid ballet show.  I spend the majority of the show sleeping on a couch in the back dressing room.  When it was Maeve's turn to dance I'd sit in the dark wings, watching my girl shine.  There was a sense of accomplishment when that recital was over.  Because I had been there-  I had watched every performance.  I had packed snacks, done make up, killed the ballerina bun and took stains out of tights.  I was a good mom that weekend.  And the moment that last recital was done I waved my white flag.

Someone (I can't even remember?!) took me into the ER and that marked my first hospital stay.  I had a bacterial infection in my kidneys.  I couldn't walk into the ER- Ryan (I'm assuming, haha) wheeled me in.  My blood pressure was low, labs were off and my most vivid memory of that day was my doctor pulling up a chair and telling me I was going to be admitted to the ICU.  I was drugged up.  I didn't care.  But I knew the ICU was for really sick people. 

I spent five days in the ICU- my kids weren't allowed to visit.  And I had more antibiotics than I think I've had in entire life.  Bag after bag was hung.  Drip, drip, drip, into my arm... some of the antibiotics made me vomit.  Others made me itch.  But the nurses were quick with the dilauded and zofran, keeping me out of it, allowing me to hold it together.  My mom cried.  My dad wanted to transfer me to Jacksonville.  I felt like a child; my parents talking in low voices with the doctors.  Me, lying there, knowing no matter what, I'd be safe as long as my parents were with me.

I ended up leaving that hospital stay without ever being transferred.  I was wheeled out, put in the car like a lump of baggage.  We filled my 20 prescriptions at Walgreens, and while we waited for them to be ready, I ate some kind of chocolate thing from Carrabbas.  It tasted amazing.  Maybe it was because I hadn't eaten in a few days.  But I think mostly, it was me, letting go.  It felt so easy.  It felt like my cozy bed, in my favorite pajamas.  Surrendering to whatever this was, and not shutting off my brain to feelings.  Because feelings hurt too much those days.

Depression.  Have you had it?  If you have, there's no need to read my poor explanation of it. You feel it.  You know, that no explanation will ever do that awful word justice.

If you haven't suffered from depression, I'll try and make it simple.  Everything you thought you loved, and lived for, is questioned.  Your very being- what makes you, you, is gone.  Vanished- and I haven't a clue where to find it.  Sunny days mean nothing.  Kindness makes you cry, because you don't deserve it.  And your kids... your kids break you.  With a single word, they can shatter you into pieces.  A quiet, "I miss you, mom" can burn for days.  Weeks.  During the summer of 2014, I was convinced I was made of ashes.  Just burned up words, under my skin. 

Depression is not weakness.  Depression is the hardest thing I've dealt with thus far in life, and if I were weak, if depression was about weakness, I wouldn't be here.  Therefore, I can say with confidence, if you are struggling with depression, you are the opposite of weak.  You are strong and stubborn.  Holding onto slivers of a fraying life, believing with all you have that it will get better.  And that takes immense strength.

I was hospitalized three more times that summer.  Twice for kidney stuff and once for gallbladder removal surgery.  I ended the summer optimistic;  my sister Meghan was getting married and I couldn't imagine things getting much worse.  I had paid my dues, right?  I deserved a reprieve.  A ray of warm sun, just for me. 

I can't remember the date, or even the "whereabouts"- September, I'm guessing.... but as soon as one medical hurdle was jumped (self cathing/kidney/bladder/gallbladder issues) another hurdle would pop up.  This one, in the form of vision loss (optical neuritis) and migraines. 
These episodes (which are now occurring about 2x a month) are so debilitating and painful I become disoriented and desperate.  I need the ER ASAP- I need morphine.  I need steroids to get my vision back.  I've been given medication to take at home when these strike, but so far, I haven't been able to stay out of the hospital.  These headache/vision things are unlike anything I've ever experienced.  Not only is the pain- indescribable- but combining that with the loss of vision is pure torture.  The fear and anxiety is all consuming.  And it becomes a race to the ER- a race to get an IV, to get something pumping through me that will restore some sense of security.  Maybe someday I'll be able to ride these out at home.  But at this moment, the panic, the pain, its too much.  I don't know HOW to handle it.  I've talked with my neurologist and ophthalmologist, both who've told me its okay to stay at home and treat with the meds they've given me.  But each time it creeps up, all I want, all I can focus on is "NO PAIN, NO PAIN, NO PAIN."  And off to the ER we go. 

Hands down, the worst part of this year, my sickness- MS- or whatever it is, is knowing my kids are watching.  They know I'm sick.  They know most of the time, mama will not go outside and play because its "one of those days."  They know if I'm not in their room to read a story and kiss them goodnight, that they have to bring their story to me, in my bed.  It's not even a question.  It's just the way it is.  They know if I'm not at the dinner table, it's a bad day for me.  And when I AM at the dinner table, they go on and on about how they love our big family and "it's the funnest when mom makes dessert."  This year- I can't even remember when- (probably around my gallbladder surgery, which rendered me absolutely useless)... we were packing up to take a walk on the beach.  Henry asked, "Mom are you coming?"  And I said, "Yep!"  Like, yeah, obviously- I always go to the beach.  And Henry started jumping up and down, "YES!  MOM IS COMING!  MOM IS COMING!"  I cried the entire way to the beach that day.

I am failing these kids.  These beautiful babies with the biggest imaginations and hearts, the energy and perseverance to move mountains, are failed daily, by me.  It's haunting.  At the same time, (as Ryan and I talk about this ALLLLLLLLLLLLL the time), we're not sure what else we can do at this point.  When its a good day, we milk it for all its worth.  I'm trying to build memories that are strong enough, so happy and sprinkle filled that when I am absent, perhaps those memories will fill in the gaps.  Alas, I'm not stupid;  nothing will ever be big enough to fill in the gap of me.  We all know that.  And we skate around it, trying to stay optimistic, hopeful.

There are days the optimism works, and I really truly feel like there will be better days.  That this is a crazy hard season in my life;  I'm swimming with sharks with bloody limbs.  I'm leaving an easy trail behind me- but I'm still ahead, and as long as I continue to swim, I'll get there.  I'll make it to my destination.  Blood will be lost, no doubt I'll be exhausted, but I'll come out with stories to tell and be a better mom for it.  The mom who out swam the sharks.

And then there are days where optimism is nowhere to be found.  It's gone.  And those are the really, really hard days.

What I'm attempting to do is separate these two extremes; separate them completely.  And take each one for what it is.  A good day, is a good day, life goes on.  A bad day, is a bad day, life goes on.

Something you may or may not know about me is I'm a creature of habit.  I love stability.  I love knowing what to be prepared for; what's lying ahead.  So this whirlwind of a year has been painfully harsh, blunt.  Unforgiving.  Days pass, things happen, and I'm tossed around like a rag doll.  Will I be in the hospital tomorrow?  I'm not planning on it.  But nothing is a given.

The thing is, this is your life too.  This is life. This has been my life for, forever!  But I'm just now realizing it.  We all hear those sayings, "Life is unpredictable.... We never know what tomorrow will bring."  And on, and on.  Today, I LIVE by those sayings.  It's my sanity.  To know that I'm not living an unplanned, chaotic life, separate from the rest of the world... I'm just accepting it now; learning to ride the wave. 

With every hospital stay, I tend to read scripture (thank you iphone APPS!:) like there's no tomorrow (no pun intended).  Two of my favorite verses that I meditate on are "Be still and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10 (that's tattooed on my wrist).... and "I loved you at your darkest." Romans 5:8

Romans 5:8 may sound like an odd verse to meditate on but let me tell you why this is a verse that is constantly on my heart.  When you're hooked up to bags of antibiotics and have a catheter hanging at the end of your bed, your hair hasn't been washed in a week and you're bloated from the steroids, it's pretty easy to feel low.  Unwanted.  A burden.  Ryan will come to visit me and I'll straight up ask him, "Why do you do this?  Why don't you just walk away?  Look at me."  And I'm not talking just physically- I'm speaking deep, down- I am a mess... who would love this?  Well, first of all, God.  God loves me.  He loves me at my darkest. (see?  Beautiful verse, right?)  And second, He gave me someone that also loves me at my darkest.  A whole group of people actually.  Ryan, and my beautiful family.

I place so much worth on what I do or how much I do; and none of that matters- not to my family, not to Ryan, not to my kids and certainly not to Jesus.  I am loved because I am His.  As ugly as this can get; I am loved so deeply.

I say with hesitancy that today I am okay.  (because normally when I say "today's a good day!" I end up in the hospital)... but generally speaking, today, yesterday, these days, have been okay. 

2015:  OH the hopes and dreams I have for you, 2015!!!!

Actually, a lot of priorities have changed from last year to this year.  And things that once were so important, are just sort of "there."  Not like they're not important anymore, but they're not going to make or break me.  I want this year to be a year of healing.

I understand that medically, there isn't even an official diagnosis- so healing may not come from doctors or medicine, and I could end up with more migraines, bladder issues and Lord knows what else,- but I'm speaking of healing in terms of the mind; being in a better place.  A different place- where my self worth isn't constantly on the chopping block.  I'm getting there.  I really am.  I'm not THERE... but I have confidence if I continue to remain in His word, tally up my good days, watch my kids and engage with them, laugh, accept my husband's love, even when I feel like I don't deserve it because "THIS"- my sickness, my rollercoaster ride- is too much, my mind will have no other place to go than up. 

Okay- so major props to whoever read all of this.

I guess you could call that my "story" of 2014.  Like anyone else, I have resolutions that I'm super excited about- I have reflections that I'm thankful for, and I'd love to share them with you- list style though... because all that above sucked the brains out of me...

Thankful Reflections Of 2014
  • kind doctors
  • nurses- even the grumpy ones...;)
  • my family- mom, dad, sisters and brothers- you guys have held my family and I up this year.
  • Ryan- there's too much... I'll continue to show and tell you, each day.
  • YOUNG LIVING- I try not to let my mind wander where we'd be if we didn't have YL.
  • Ningxia Red for giving me energy & deep relief for those migraines, holding me over until we reach the hospital :)
  • 4 kids that call me mom even when I feel like I don't deserve that title
  • friends- the real ones who love you no matter what.  Who don't judge friendship on how long its been since we've last talked... or other silly 1st grade behaviors that I can't even try to get into right now.
  • morning coffee with Ryan
  • the hugs and kisses from my departing littles :)  -There's nothing like a "BYE MOM!  LOVE YA!" from your big boy kindergartner.
  • Henry's school; the people we've met- the way they treat my little man.  What a blessing.
  • my dogs.....I know, I know.  But sometimes, when its a "bad day" and Ryan's out with the kids, they're my saving grace.
  • all of the awesome Bible apps I've found on my phone; many of which got me through some long hospital nights
  • my kids' health.  THANK GOD,  THANK YOU LORD, for their health.

Resolutions for 2015 
  • be thankful every morning my feet hit the floor
  • get lost in my kids;  stare in wonder as Henry explains his lego pirate ship.  Relish in every cuddle from Rosie, as those are becoming less and less.  Laugh at Stella, worry about the mess and chaos later.  Study Maeve; my baby who is becoming a girl with more feelings and emotions than I can grasp!
  • Grow as a YL leader, by watching the amazing examples the Lord has put in my life.  Lindsay, Monique, Nicole- I just love you guys; your smarts & and your selflessness is crazy impressive.
  • Okay so this one is WAY out there, but it's been a pipe dream for awhile, and now with the freedom that YL has given us, I MIGHT be able to pull it off;  Anchored Hope - a line of tee shirts (baby to adult), based on things my kids say.  I have designed a few already and they're STINKING ADORABLE (I think so :)  I have no idea what this will be- an etsy store?  A few sales here and there?  Or something just for my kids?  Really no clue- but designing has been amazing, and it turns out my kids are pretty witty.  :)  Anchored Hope= Hebrews 6:19- look it up :)
  • finding a HOME church.  As in, not attending as a guest- but as a member.  This is so important to me.
  • Giving back.  We sponsor a child through Compassion International, but we've been talking/looking into other ways to give back- specifically, locally.  Coincidentally, there's a HUGE chapter of kids here- YOUNG LIFE- (not young living :) and I'm hoping to get connected with them :)
  • No resolution list would be complete without SOMETHING about dieting.  I don't want to call it dieting though.... Just eating pure and whole foods.  That should be something so natural...
  • being a better housekeeper- I'm awful with chores.  Always have been- ask my mom.  But I'm a grown adult and I've gotta step it up in that area!
  • write...write...write...write
  • travel
  • keepin on with that mind training ;) -okay a hospital stay?  Not fun.  Also not end of the world.  Get up, get going.

Okay- so I THINK that's it for now.

Wowza.  That's a whole lot... thank you for reading- thank you for NOT judging (if you are judging, kindly take yourself somewhere else, your glass house won't hold up well here. :)


Love & blessings to YOU!!!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ahem, Ahem.... Listen Up

Hey friends- yo-

Please read this and take it, remember it when reading future posts, or hey- don't read my blog at all! :D 

It's totally your choice.

I am a few things:  Sarcastic, creative (debatable- but my mind is on 24/7 so I'm going to call it creative mode), and I have the ability to laugh at myself.  This all amounts to what I write about, how I write, etc.

When I say something like, "Taylor Swift and I are going for coffee later on"- that's not true.  That's me STALKING  WRITING with flare.

I think we'd all be a bit better if we didn't take ourselves so seriously.  Lighten up, eh?

PS-  I AM a Christian.  And I DO occasionally swear.  I am a son (daughter) of a son, of a son, of a sailor, after all....

I think that's it....

MUST get dolled up.  I'm off for a coffee date with Taylor Swift- wish me luck- she's so close to casting me as a back up singer.

xoxo- Ash

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Liver Biopsy Stuff

Because you need to know.

What its REALLY like to have a nine inch, hollowed out needle pierced through your back and into your liver... #heaven. 

I'm still high on drugs from the procedure obviously.

Actually- let me tell you, I had it in my head to be death.  Like I was going to die.  Wrote my kids notes, said my "love yous," looked at old photos, the works.  I was going to die during my liver biopsy.

Over 24 hours since the procedure and I'm still kickin.  YESSSSSSSSS.

So Ryan dropped me off super early for the procedure and I had to do all this junk beforehand to prove my blood could clot. 

The procedure was supposed to be ultrasound guided, and at 8:30 AM.  So when it was 9:30, and I was still in the holding room, trying to understand how they were going to do this whole thing while I was in a CT machine.... um, one could say I was nervous.

The doctor had looked at my previous images and thought it'd be better in a CT scanner.  Ugh.  I was not prepared for a CT guided liver biopsy.  It was supposed to be at 8:30, I was supposed to be in a nice twilight sleep, in a dark room with an ultrasound.  Plans were changing. And I am not a plan changer.

I started to panic and my heart rate went up which happens every.single.time.  But it made my vitals go nuts which delayed the actual event even longer.  I was telling the nurse, "This is all because I'm consciously aware that I'm going to die.  If you knock me out, my vitals will go back to normal- bet you anything."

She asked, "Are you THAT afraid of having this done?"

And I wanted to say, "Are you THAT serious?"  I mean giant needle.  Ribs.  Liver.  No.

But she talked me down a little bit and was able to get me to at least stop crying long enough to sign my life away 3000 times.

And then she swung my door open and said, "SHOWTIME!"  And I was confused again- are we going to get some ice cream?  Or am I going to get my liver pierced?

They wheeled me into the CT room which had transformed into an operating room- basically, just lots of people and blue sterile stuff, which I was good with.

And now I'll tell you the most uncomfortable part of this entire thing:  getting into the right position.  Holy. 

I ended up with wedges and pillows all over the place and my right butt cheek high in the air, with my left shoulder blade on the table.  I had an IV, o2 stat thingy and a blood cuff monitor- they had me lift my arms up over my head.  I mean, seriously?

Once I was in position, the kindest, best doctor (aside from Dr. Bigelow) popped his face into my peripheral.  "Hey young lady!  I have a daughter your age and I can't imagine her being here. She'd be terrified.  So that means I've gotta be extra good with you." 

Immediately I breathed.  And cried (of course).  Because compassion and empathy doesn't come cheap or easily these days.  Trust me- I know this.

Okay now I'm going to narrate my twilight sleep (as I remember it):
Me:  You have to give me something soon.  Like can you put me to sleep?  I'm going to lose it any second.
Doctor:  No, I want to talk to you.  We're going to keep you up.  So where are you from Ashley?
Me:  Here.  I mean St. Augustine.
Doctor:  No way!  Nobody is from St. Augustine.  That's for tourists only.
Me:  OW.  Ow.  I feel that.  Yeah I feel that.  Okay give me something please.  
Doctor:  You're doing so good. And I really want to know about how you came from St. Augustine but lived in Michigan.  I was reading your records.
Me:  (((literally no idea..... just minutes of blabber- twilight sleep had kicked in))) and I ate bacon yesterday and I used to drink tequila but not enough to hurt my liver.  I love plaid and I'm excited for fall, and I do oils.  Yeah, DO oils.  I DO OILS!!  For my job.  But I'm a mom too and I have four kids and we ate bacon the other day.

(And then a giant pinch and sound to accompany it)

Me: FU*&!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  What was that?
Doctor:  That was me getting the biopsy. You okay?
Me:  MMhmm. I have four kids and drink tequila only when I go out which is like once a year.   HOLY (expletives) this hurts.  It's in my back.  Whatever you're doing is in my back.  IN MY BACK.

Doctor:  You're bleeding, that's what you're feeling- the pressure from the blood.
Me: OH DEAR GOD.  OH DEAR GOD.  Can you give me something?  I need something. 
Doctor:  So how are those kids?
Me:  There are four of them.... and God... this is really bad.  But I have four kids.
Doctor:  The doctor over there tells me he needs more so this next pinch is because of him not me.

(Another giant pinch/clamping sound)

Me:  OH MY GODDDDDDDDD.  I feel this.  I feel it.  I feel it all. 

Doctor:  You should only be feeling pressure, right?
Me:  Yeah pressure.  Lots of pressure.  But I don't like it.  Can you give me something?
Doctor: I'm sealing it up with some clotting gel.
Me:  Am I bleeding bad?
Doctor:  I'm making extra sure you're not.  That's what this gel is for.
Me:  Is it toxic?  I'm trying to detox.  Can you give me something?

Doctor:  Your body will absorb it.
Me: Okay.  Because I have four kids.  They should've passed that pot law.  Because they keep giving me medicine that could be fixed with just one hit, ya know?

Doctor:  OKAY Ashley, you are DONE. 

-and I honestly can't remember anything else....

UNTIL- my nurse came in and said, "ASHLEY, its time to move!"

(I am so lazy... especially when you load me up with narcotics).

I told her I would.  She came back and I hadn't moved and she said, "I'm going to have to help dress you now, is that okay?"

I promised her I'd move again. 

I didn't move an inch.

But Ryan was back by then and he promised to get me going.

And then I sat staring into oblivion until I woke up this morning.

Seriously- the trippiest day of my life.

Questions  I want to strive to answer with this post:
-Was it really THAT bad?-  no
-Did it hurt? - yes, there were times.  But nothing worse than  shots.
-How was twilight sleep?-  very good.

Thank you guys for all the thoughts and prayers :)

We should know something about the mass by tomorrow.

I'll keep you updated. 

Love to you all!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The post that probably shouldn't be posted (side note- I think I have like 5 of these same titled posts)


Happens every time.  I swear.

But yesterday I was on the verge of losing it.  Losing it, like walking out the front door, driving "somewhere" (probably like, Starbucks??) and then just cry in my car for an hour.  Obviously at some point in my breakdown I'd text Ryan and tell him "I'm just at starbucks... want me to pick up TP on the way home?"

My life. 

Here's what I wrote in my journal yesterday (in the midst of said breakdown, because I couldn't leave my house- logistical reasons like kids and stuff)

"There's no purpose in working harder.  There's no point in trying to be better.  Get better or do better. I am always the one who will be 3 steps behind. It's nothing new. I'm the one who effs everything up. I destroy possibilities."

(HELLO) #selfloathing

I'm not sure where the stuff came from about how I eff everything up... that just spilled out onto the pages; truth, I feel for sure, but not the catalyst to anything that happened yesterday.

Yesterday I was trying to work while Ryan was at the movies with the older kids.  The two youngers were napping (they napped for like 30 minutes...omg) and I just got super frustrated.  Like, shut the computer, stalked off to my room, scribbled in my journal and then watched youtube videos of Adam Duritz interviews.  The thought that popped into my head, exploded and then bled on everything was this:  "What's the point in doing this work today, Ashley?  You're going back to the hospital on Wednesday..."  The bleeding continued, "What's the point of trying to be a better mom?  You're always going to be sick or in the hospital.  Why are you dieting and trying to be active?  You'll always be overweight and gross, because you'll always be sick and in the hospital."

Basically everything led back to me being sick.  The excuse that trumps all excuses.  "I'm sick."  And I've been given that excuse for so long, I don't know what to do with myself.

I'm lost;  I don't cook dinners anymore, because "I'm sick" and Ryan took that on.  I don't do things at the kids' schools because "I'm sick" and I can't be relied on.  I don't go to the gym anymore because "I'm sick" and what's the purpose in going to the gym one day, and then being hospitalized for a week?  I mean, the list goes ON AND ON.

Excuses suck.  They're like useless skin tags.  Annoying, unnecessary, sometimes confined to just a single area, but often picked open, and bleeding, destroying anything in its path. 

I don't have any good resolutions about getting rid of excuses.  At the moment, I'm tired, it's raining and grey outside, my bed sounds like heaven.  Should I abandon ship here (at Paneras) and head home?  I mean, Wednesday I'll be in the hospital so what good is it for me to work like a dog on stuff that probably wont be touched again for weeks?

And every few minutes I have to backtrack; stop the bleeding- I am here.  I am well today.  I am listening to one direction and kicking butt on some work stuff.  Stay.  Stay.  Be still.

Breathe :)

I start to feel confident.  I have words written, a cup of coffee, a scarf and glasses, because its fall and I'm smart.  And then the kid next to me points at my glittery toms and says "MOM!  I WANT THOSE DOROTHY SHOES!"  dammit.

Again, stay.  Stay.  Be still.

I honestly feel like this is a deep rooted problem that MOST of us have, if put in the correct situation.  So I'm not super embarrassed to spill my beans. 

Reflecting back on yesterdays scribblings... (seriously I'll have to post a picture- I felt like a musician writing important lyrics), I realize that I have LONG been an excuse giver.  Unfortunately, its just now that I'm seeing the red.

To a point, we're all excuse givers.  But let me just tell you a few stories.... so you know that I'm a chronic excuse giver;

This one time (at band my bestest came on spring break with my family and I.  We thought we were hot sh!t of course.  I think we had cornrows, and those butterfly clips.  I mean, supah fly.  We also had this CD, full of burned songs we had illegally downloaded.. and these songs weren't Jesus songs.  They were like, um, the complete opposite.  We listened to that CD over and over.  There was a song, it was the first on the illegal CD, and I literally refuse to write the name on this blog.... a few of you know what song that was... Anyways, my dad found it, listened to it, cracked it (the CD) into a million pieces and dropped the dreaded line, "I'm disappointed in you."  To make a really long, embarrassing story short, at the age of fifteen I had to squirm in a chair, making excuse after excuse as to why that CD was in my possession, why I would ever listen to something like that, etc.  (picture sex ed with your parents, diagrams and rap music that YOU don't even understand).  It was awful.  And I mastered the excuse.  And I think I won;  I blamed it on this kid at school- "I didn't even know what was ON the CD dad!  This kid just gave it to me and I don't know what any of that means!  We were listening to it as a joke!"   yaddayaddayadda

So, see?  In a way we're ALL excuse makers (I want ONE of you to tell me you didn't make an excuse in high school when you got in trouble with your parents...) 

It just so happens I make a LOT of excuses.  Like lately, my entire existence has been a giant excuse.

And that needs to stop.

I suppose if I need to get a grasp on reality every few minutes with the mantra (you are here.  you are not in the hospital.  you are working.  you look like you're 20-not 40- you can totally pull off glittery toms and pink hair) I can survive this season of my life.

But I'm not going to lie; its hard.  Very hard.


Like I said, this post probably shoudl've never seen light.  Because its embarrassing, and now you all know that I am a chronic excuse maker.  And that's no good.

But today, at this moment.  I'm owning it.  I'm owning everything.  I'm owning this work that needs to be done.  I'm acknowledging the hospital stay that awaits me.  I'm going to grocery shop today, and make my family dinner because I can.  When I'm done "working" I'm going to pick Henry up from school, and carry him out. 

Because today, I can.

Excuse makers unite:  Enough is enough. 

Let's do this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

points to hit on 11/??/14

  • at least I know the month and the year, right? ^^^
  • what happened yesterday:  I woke up with no vision in my right eye and an awful headache.  As soon as my neurologist opened (8:30) I was there.  Like, waiting at his door (so stalkerkish).  The nurse sat me down in a back room and I cried and cried because I thought for sure my eye was coming out and my head was just.... are there words for debilitating migraines?  If there are, swing some my way because I have no idea how to describe them.  Anyways he gave me a medication to try-can't remember the name- I tried it.  It zonked me out.  I woke up sometime after my kids were home (obviously Ryan was running the house yesterday) and was super disoriented.  I was thinking it was morning and the kids were at school, blah blah blah..  Long story short, it was like 3 PM and the kids were home, and I was incredibly confused.  I walked out to see what was going on and realized the vision in my RIGHT eye (it's always been my left) was weird- hazy- a little "buzzy" if that makes sense?   And within MINUTES, it went out.  Everyone always asks "whats went out mean?"  Went out to me is where I have to put my hand over whatever eye it is because I can't see.  There's light- not complete darkness- but no shapes- no space orientation whatsoever- just yellowish colors.  Also no peripheral vision.  It's very freaky.  Since this has happened before, I didn't immediately jump up and yell "ER!"  We called my neurologist (whom I had seen that morning) and he said if my headache was too severe to treat at home and my pulses were higher than 90, I needed to go into the ER.  Both were true.  Around 4:30 Ryan dropped me off at the ER (with  I felt like the worst mother.  "Bye kids!  Going to my second home!  Have fun with daddy tonight!  Oh and Ryan?  Pick me up around 7!"  I mean this has just gotten BEYOND ridiculous.  I fixed an ice bag/pouch over my right eye and was feeling around with one hand trying to make it to the window of the ER.  Someone had mercy on me and gave me a wheelchair.  No clue how much time passed, but soon enough I suppose I was in a room.  I was on my side, pressing the ice pack into my eye.  A nurse came in first to ask some questions... and then HE came in.  I know his name because I've filed a complaint, but I won't use it on here.  He'll just be referred to as the a-hole.  Because.... I hit rock bottom last night people.  Rock.  Bottom.  So there I am, no vision in my right eye, already crying because I was upset about where I was.  I wanted to be home with my family.  My head was pounding/exploding.... and then the ahole walked in.  I couldn't see very well (obviously) but he was short.  And had his arms folded across his chest.  He leaned against the wall and without any kind of introduction (or even an, "are you Ashley)?  started peppering questions at me.  In my right state of non-exploding mind, with two good eyes I might have handled the whole thing differently.  But last night, all bets were off.  I could keep up with his smart ass and he continued asking "Why are you here though?  You want me to give you pain medicine?"  I thought I had answered that question 3000 times.  "DOCTOR.  I LOST MY VISION THIS MORNING AND SAW MY NEUROLOGIST.  I JUST TALKED WITH HIM.  HE SAID IF MY PULSES WERE OVER 90 AND MY HEAD WAS TOO MUCH TO TAKE AT HOME TO COME IN.  DO YOU WANT ME TO LEAVE?"  And the ahole without blinking shrugged his shoulders and said "No, you're welcome to be here.  We're open 24/7 for people like you.   You can come whenever you want."  
-que MAJOR waterworks.  To the point of where he left the room...  Oh wait- I called him an ass hole first.  And then he left the room.  It went something like this:
Him:  "So you want strong pain medicine?"
Me:  "NO.  I have pain medicine at HOME.  I can walk out right now and go pop some pills.  That's the problem.  The problem is I can't see and my heart rate is high.  I feel like I'm having a freaking stroke.  Can you check my eye and tell me I'm not having an ocular stroke?"
Him:  "So let me understand this.  This isn't the first time this has happened?"
Me:  "No."
Him:  "And you saw your neurologist today and he said you're fine?"
Me:  "He said I was fine this morning to go home and take a medication.  When I called him back he said if I felt I needed to go into the ER, then that's what I should do."
Him: "But you said you've lost your vision like this before.  And you're being worked up for MS."
Me:  "Yes."
Him:  "So, what exactly do you want me to do?  You know its not a stroke.  You know you have MS.  This isn't an emergency."
Him: "Okay"

And just like that he left the room.  Not an "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you.  I'm sorry that MS comment might have been a bit offensive.  I'm sorry, I see you're scared, let me just look into your eye to make sure there's nothing going on back there.  Nothing.

I got on the phone with my dad ( because dads fix everything) and he said he was on his way.

Then the patient coordinator (???Not sure of her title) came in and asked what the problem was.  She took it very seriously.  I filled out a form to the best of my ability, although I couldn't see much so in the end she gave me the email I'd need to send a formal complaint. She also gave me the option to switch doctors- which I said HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLYES.  So she sent a nurse in to start all of that.

And then the ER blew up.  And I got lost in the shuffle- and that's okay- I realize there are people there with heart attacks, REAL strokes, etc and Ashley McKenney is not first on the list.  So when ahole walked back in the room an hour later, I wasn't super surprised I had slipped through the cracks.  BUT- my dad was there.  And I felt like this "doctor" could do or say anything... I had Goliath behind me :)

So as ahole ran down the list of things with my dad, I started to say something- I can't remember what it was- something like "I told you..." And then my dad cut me off. 

"Sweetie?  I'm going to talk for you now.  (instant flashback to like 2nd grade)....  but as I laid on the bed bawling, in pain, I surrendered.  And my dad rubbed my head and said, "Listen.  I see you're wearing a wedding ring.  You have a wife, I'm assuming?  Maybe kids?  Would you want your loved ones treated like this?  Are you giving her the kind of care you'd give your wife?  This girl, my daughter, (and here I am crying even harder now), has been through hell in the past 8 months.  She's learned to catheterize herself.  She's had painful tests, numerous hospital stays.  She's passed over 15 kidney stones just this summer.  She is exhausted.  We're all exhausted.  And all I want from you is to treat her like you'd treat your wife or daughter.  So give me that, doctor."

Ahole took a minute and sighed, then said, "I'd start her on steroids for her vision loss.  And monitor her overnight."

Okay- we were getting somewhere. 

They started an IV and I just couldn't stop the tears.  My dad asked if I wanted a colder wash cloth to put on my eye- I said yes.  As soon as I took the wash cloth down from my eye I noticed blood.  "Dad??  Is my eye bleeding?"

He came over and looked in, and said, "Yeah.  I'll grab the doctor."

Nothing panics my dad.  Nothing.  It was incredibly odd to see him out the door in a flash and back in with the doctor, flipping on lights to look into my eye.

Sure enough it was bleeding.  Ahole said it was coming from the bottom lid because I had scratched at it too much.  Again, my dad said "I'd like her to see an ophthalmologist.  Or get some kind of imaging so we know something isn't happening with her retina."

Ahole decided to put his two cents in, "You know, this is classic MS.  CLASSIC MS"

I continued to cry (if you've ever wondered how many tears you have... its a lot)

My dad told him that nothing has been ruled in or out yet and if need be, he'd drive me up to Jacksonville to get the proper imaging.  And then "miraculously" there was an ophthalmologist on call!  Imagine that.

I was admitted, and was seen by the kindest, most gentle ophthalmologist on the planet.  He understood the pain of shining lights into the "bad eye" and he took so much time with me, patient to get everything he needed.  Indeed, my retina was swollen and inflamed which he said PROBABLY produced the bleeding.  BUT there was nothing anatomically wrong with my eye- meaning the eye itself was healthy, Retina attached, no disease, etc.  Just swollen and inflamed which can be signs of MS OR a very sever ocular migraine.  Can I tell you how confusing this medical stuff is?!?! 

Anyways, I was given sweet, sweet pain relief all night but an angel of a nurse.  My mom and and sister came and sat with me until I fell asleep.

This morning, Ryan was there and we ate breakfast together.  We saw the same gentle, sweet, ophthalmologist again and this time he had great news for us:  The retina was fine- super healthy and he was pretty confident with ruling the entire thing as super bad migraine episode.    He gave us the all clear to go.

But as we all know too very well now, being released from the hospital requires 30 signatures.  Ryan left to pick the kids up from school and get dinner stuff.  And I had yet to see "THEE doctor"- the floor- doc who has control over who leaves and stays.  Around 2 or something she came in and said I could leave (HALLELUJAH!) and she'd get my discharge papers going.  And then my phone rang- the hospital phone.  It was Dr. Soto (the floor doctor).  She had just reviewed my blood work and noticed my liver panel was incredibly off. 

I told her "Yeah, I've got a really large legion on my right lobe.  I'm actually getting it biopsied this Friday at Baptist."  She wanted to draw more blood to make sure certain enzymes were at least stable and not on the rise.  Someone came and poked me again... gathered my blood, and I texted Ryan saying "don't get your hopes too high.  Blood work came back bad."

Around four she called back and said as long as I was going in for this liver issue on Friday, as in two days, she'd be okay with letting me go.  I promised I'd keep the appointment (should've kept it like a month ago...whoops).  I'm also banned from a giant list of medications- and you'd be SHOCKED at what can be sold over the counter, that can potentially cause this kind of liver damage.  It's terrifying and so sad.  I've literally been led like a blind sheep.  Listen people:  Acetaminophen?  It's not just a fluff warning they put on packaging.  It's real.  And it's caused damage to my liver.  I know this because I used to take tylenol like candy.  Any ache or pain or hangnail, 2 tylenol!  Can't sleep?  2 tylenol PM's!  I mean, I lived like this for YEARS.

 And I'm paying the price now with four little sets of eyes watching me. It's sickening.

 So yes... this Friday I go BACK in the hospital.  I'm terrified.  My liver hurts.  It HURTS.  That can't be good, right?!?!  Like you know under your ribs?  The entire area is tender and throbs.  So even if this is nothing to be concerned about, it's causing pain, which is going to have to be addressed eventually.  I mean.... I feel like I am stuck on the most disgusting merry-go-round.  And I CANNOT GET OFF. 

  • that was a huge bullet mark ^^^
  • In a couple of weeks, after the liver mess, no matter what the doctors come back and say about it, Ryan and I have made it a mission to take the kids SOMEWHERE- for a few days.  They deserve it.  Ryan deserves it.  Sometimes I feel like this sick rag doll that gets pulled around. limbs constantly falling off, having to be sewn back together.  Just a complete mess.  A job.  And not a fun one.  I am a job- that's the best description.  haha!  And everyone- including myself- needs a break.  So, we're going somewhere.  I don't know where.   But it will be a place to laugh, smile, run, drink sprite and chocolate milk, eat dessert late at night in hotel rooms, rent kid movies and lots of king sized bed cuddling with our babies.  
  • Stella just walked in our room, turned the bathroom light on, peed on the floor, shut the light off and said "I'm so sorry mom." And then retreated to her room.   Like that really just happened.
  • I am now logging off to clean up our bathroom.

Thank you friends and family for prayers and thoughts.  Thank you YL girls for my beautiful flowers that made me ugly cry. 

xoxo, Ash

Monday, November 3, 2014

The McKenney's 2014 Holiday ETSY Guide :)

My status from last night (because I'm too dang tired to re-type it)

"Don't mind me while I shout from my soapbox for a hot sec: okay so christmas is coming, yeah? I so, so, so urge you to try and shop local, or on etsy, or through friends who sell products. Let me use myself as an example. When you become an oil client of mine, that's a grocery bill paid. When you put an oil order in, that's a baseball bat for Henry. When you support locals and working mamas with etsy businesses, oil businesses, jamberry, etc. your money is going directly to a family. Think about that before forking over 300 bucks at Walmart . I'm planing on getting all of my kids stocking stuff from etsy- wooden cameras, play food, dolls, teethers (Rosie), animal masks for Stella, jewelry for Maeve, wooden pirate stuff for henry; the list goes on and on. If you're interested in specific shops I'm buying from I'd be more than happy to share! . Let's support each other this season and keep our money local. . -off soapbox-"

Trust me, I get it;  I know kids want electronics and plastic crap, but (shhh) I let my parents and grandma get that stuff.  :)  

I prefer to give my kids handmade, one of a kind items.  Some are huge hits, some aren't.  But something that I think we can all take away from holiday shopping is this; let's stop throwing money at big companies for that piece of plastic crap that will break in two days, and start investing in our friends, family and neighbors.  

Etsy and Instagram are HUGE havens for homemade gifts.  I bought quite a bit last year off of Etsy, and I plan to do even more this year.

I had a lot of people asking "What are your favorite Etsy shops?"  And as I started to list them on facebook, it occurred to me, there are just TOO many.  Ask my husband.... we have packages delivered here every day.  I have discovered an incredible amount of talented people who pour their heart and soul into their work.  

It gives me goosebumps to think of hands being used, instead of machines.  One of my favorite artists, Jack Johnson sings a song about this whole thing.  A lyric goes, 

"Future complications
In the strings between the cans
But no prints can come from fingers
If machines become our hands
And then our feet become the wheels
And then the wheels become the cars
And then the rigs begin to drill
Until the drilling goes too far"
(The Horizon has Been Defeated)

Anyways, I thought I'd put together a little shopping catalog/guide for anyone who wants to participate in buying locally, paying a little extra for fingerprints.  

Here's my shopping list:
KID SHOPS (toys, teethers, rattles)


BIG PEOPLE STUFF (for sisters, moms, dads, etc)

These are the stores I've ordered from within the past year or so and I can tell you, they're all so wonderful.

Step outside the Walmart aisle and see how you can support a family AND get something great for yourself. 

Treasure those fingerprints.

xoxo Ash