These Days Hurt

National Sisters Day.
Well, this one hurts.
Darn Hallmark Holidays.
It would be much easier if everyday could be national donut day, chocolate day or running day without having to hit the heart strings with these silly reminder days. 
I gave my Honey a few days warning that today could be emotional and challenging. 
Years past, Traci and I would acknowledge each other on days like today expressing our love,
and even hate, for each other.
All I have today is a flat gravestone staring back at me with no voice, phone call, Face Time
or handwritten card to read. 

Thinking back to all the conversations we shared I wish I recorded everything spoken regardless if it was said in respect or anger. I wish I could still hear that voice telling me I'm wrong, asking me what the kids were up to and reassuring me things were all good. 
What I do have are the cards I saved, the journals and emails sent, along with the last text messages that, Lord willing, never get deleted. I have all my memories stashed away and those that keep coming up from years ago or deep into childhood. I have inspiration from her fight; a life given example to faith and obedience. 
Being forced to remember verses celebrating in person sucks. 
No pretty way of saying that any other way. 

Today I think back to high school in our matching denim overalls with white shirts. I remember the day spent at Aunt Marilyn's house bending over the kitchen sink after sitting on her rust colored floral stool being wrapped in tight perm rods. Oh, the misery we endured for what Mom thought was adorable. Add to that the sink that followed us for days after and matching two bows pinned on each side and you had two goofy looking girls. 
Summer nights on the boat starring through the front V-berth window hatch, looking at the stars, cuddled up in sleeping bags brings youth to my memories. Other nights spent playing kick the can in the cut-de-sac with neighbor kids. 
She was always proud of me. From cheerleading to completing beauty school, she always had a card or gift package to celebrate my accomplishment. 
My sister was the best Auntie anyone could ask for. Oh how I loved shopping for the kids together, playing together or watching her beam with pride as the kids sought her attention. Anytime we went shopping, she'd always say, "You need to get yourself something because you always buy for others. Don't forget about yourself!"
Traci always gave me a hard time with play dough as I loath the smell, the mess and product in general. Whenever the kids went to her place for sleepovers it was the first thing to come out then a picture to show me how much fun the kids were having. Brat. I finally caved after years of this torment from her. 
I remember our tortured moments before her first surgery and those after being wheeled into her recovery room. Praying with Mom in her room, chest marked up, nearly smothering her as I essentially laid in her lap, asking God to calm our fears and be with Traci minutes before she was rolled into the surgery. Days later helping Traci with all the bathroom rituals and getting settled on the couch at the Mission house are precious moments caring for my sister. 
My sister was an incredible preschool teacher and one of her biggest concerns were for her students in understanding what was happening to their teacher. 
"Teacher Traci has happy cells and angry cells in her body. But, right now the angry cells are very sick so I need to take special medicine to make them happy again." She even had visuals to help the kids best understand and grasp the situation that was about to unfold. 
At the memorial service in Portland, one of Traci's first students who was at that little class discussion  introduced herself to me and thanked us as a family for the impact Traci had in her life. 
My sister was a life changer. 
She looked out for me. She wanted the best for me. She invested in me. She was incredibly proud of me. She made me laugh and she made me mad. We were just as stubborn as the other. 
We were sisters. Always will be. The memories are countless. 

So, on this day of remembering our sisters, my sweet sister, I will do just that. I will remember, celebrate, give thanks and toast a big sister who forever changed my life and those around her. I will embrace the sisters I still have around me who constantly lift me up, pray for me, encourage me and make me a better person.  I will learn to become a better sister myself as the challenge is never over. I will ask for forgiveness; I will want to laugh, cry and wrap my arms around the gifts God has placed in my life. Whether it's by blood or friendship; my life has many sisters and I'm blessed because of it. I will celebrate the blessing of family and see that our little ladies embrace each other in this unique relationship called sisterhood.  

Thank you sisters for loving me. My life is better with all of you in it. 

Big Time Lake Dayz

Last week our family along with the Ellis family, took East to Oroville for some relaxation and play. The car ride over was uneventful with a few roadside stops for bladder release and snack grabbing. Once we made it to Big Time Lane the fun was instantly had with floaties being blown up, swimsuits on and kids itching to get on the boat. Baylee was quick to drop a terd in the lake which made a great first impression. This was our first time vacationing together, but with the natural ease of our families you would have thought it was a yearly event. Such grace was given for many occasions. 
Lord knows we all needed the down time and we got it. Having a normal size kitchen to feed our tribes was a huge blessing and especially the option of having a quiet space for the younger ladies who at times need to find silence. Not to mention the three showers to rinse the stink off all the littles being a bonus that came with the house. 
Thank you to Tim who did almost all the breakfast and dinner making for us and most often the clean up too. I am so blessed. 

Hakuna Matata. Yeah right. Easier said than done. 
So, I'm out doing my thing training for my big race when at mile six, on a slightly down hill part of the main road which is much like a highway, I step down to only realize there is a RATTLE SNAKE a foot from my shoe half coiled, cozy on the white shoulder line of the road. Yes. I hate snakes. Even the God created gentle Gardner Snakes. They serve no purpose especially when surprising you while on your long morning run. After I jumped some three feet in the air and yelled back at the snake, I sprinted the next mile ahead thinking the beast was after me. 
It was three more miles ahead another beast came out of the grass to once again get me to jump in the air and grab my chest making the rest of my run home jittery, eyes open and trying to run the center line at all times far away from the shoulder of the road. 
I don't want to know what my heart rate was at that morning. Unhealthy high. I don't do surprises.

I'm not sure how these kids don't have whiplash, back pain or twisted bodies from all the time spent on the tubes being pulled around Lake Oyosoos. At one point it had started raining hail size rain drops and they still were asking for more! Just sitting in the boat it hurt from the rain, but these kids wanted all the fun they could get. The three girls, Addison, Eve & Pearl, were always tubing buddies giggling, laughing and making some of the best facial expressions when being thrown from one side of the wake to the other with most times bumping into the boys tossing them overboard. The more speed the better!

{ Crash & burn. }

{ Addi busy behind the camera at sunset. Stunning talent. }

 Myriam LOVED the boat rides and LOVED the tubing rides even more. The first ride I could hear her giggling as the sounds of laughter could be heard traveling across the lake. If allowed, Myriam became the flagger when a tuber went down. Such a thrill seeker! 

 Back on the shoreline, Baylee posed for a potential advertisement as the house we stayed at is for sale. How could one resist with those chunky rolls and piggy tails smiling back at you?!?! 
It might not have been an actual paddle board, but it worked for many enjoyment rides and cruises. The first time I took Myriam out on the board we sat and paddled together then she changed positions to paddle like a surfer girl, laid down to soak up the sun, ran her fingers in the water and back to helping Mom paddle back to shore. Baylee quite enjoyed the rides too! 
I never did fall in standing up on the board thanks to leg and core strength, but the lake tried many times to toss me in with the ski boats creating such wake.
James and Charlie watched from the board as Lance did his thing on the wake board after attempting giving Tim lessons on how to managed the sport. It was a failed attempt, but good effort was given. 

{ Melt my heart. }

{ Shhh...Daddy's sleeping. }

{ Practicing her surfing skills, water fights and beach life all made for good times. }

{ Front porch games. They also spent close to four hours the next day on the back porch playing a variety of board and card games. These kids got along so well. }

 { S'moresma's }

Myriam kept busy playing in the sand box. With the other kids tubing, she had much of the beach to herself and with that space she created something quite special. Myriam calls it as she sees it; says it how she thinks it. Lately, she's been talking lots about "Auntie Traci's dead spot." And that you see is what she made on the beach. These "mud pies" were the dead spots, the straws breathing tubes and decorations and rocks people who came to celebrate. Yep, she celebrated on the beach with a bat tapping beat and humming walking around the shore. A beach side celebration for Auntie's dead spot. Love how this one processes and remembers. 

{ Addison and her creativeness. }

Thank you Jesus for getting us back home safely...even if Baylee did cry for an hour to "help" her and get her "out" of her carseat in disgust for the stationary ride home. Not even the red vines distracted her long enough to stop her crying.
Thank you also to our friends allowing us to borrow their row boat for the week!
Summer vacation success. 

Letting Freedom Ring

We really had no concrete plans for our 4th this year besides knowing Daddy would be at the International Convention singing with his barbershop buddies and rooming with his Dad. 
Charlie spent a few days at Sucia Island with Papa and Nana, as well as his cousins, while all the ladies played at home. The princesses met Chuckles at the dock slip after Papa did a fine job of docking with not much assistance. Once everything was secure, we walked around the harbor to the Web Locker for lunch consuming juicy burgers and greasy curly fries. 
It was so worth the abundant calorie consumption and deliciousness. 
Once back to the boat gate, we gathered the troops and headed north for a short ride to Ferndale visiting Star Park. This park is awesome. Baylee had fallen asleep so the one seat in the shade was all mine while the others exhausted themselves on the Ninja courses, swings and slides. Miss Bee woke up in time for a quick sibling swing which they all loved. 
Nana needed a few things for breakfast the next morning so we used Fred Meyers as our excuse to stop at Menchies for some cool down treats. They never fail me. Creamy peanut butter, fresh strawberries and caramel goodness. Yum. Charlie's bowl looked like a rainbow exploded with overflowing cereal, gummies and fruit. Gross.
By this time, some kids were done for the day with heat, crowds and play. Addison and Charlie stayed with my parents sleeping on the boat after watching the fireworks sprawl across Bellingham Bay. The kids had fun exploring the harbor and just being goofy; a nice change from the opposite of sibling fighting. I, on the other hand, managed to have the night to myself with the sounds of booms, bangs and crazed dogs in the background. 
An evening to binge watch on Parenthood and eat popcorn without having to share. 
Happy Fourth of July.

 { Happy 4th of July }

 { My parents are rock-star grandparents. }

 { Nothing says USA better than an all American Web Locker Classic. }

{ Many blessings having the freedom to raise our tribe with Jesus as my Go-To Guide. }

{ They really do get along sometimes. }

{ A happy place for many of us. }

Tissues on the Dragon Boat

{ Dr. Look & Traci May 2015 }

My sister was always stubborn and held true to her dutch blood. 
If you wanted to see her fight for something you just had to tell her, 
"No. Don't do that. You can't do that." 
Well, Dr. Look shouldn't have expected anything other than resistance when he told Traci she shouldn't paddle anymore with the fear of her breaking bones due to the cancer that continued to deteriorate her bone strength. Traci refused to accept that reality so she did something about it and created an event which showcased the benefits paddling had to a patients entire being. From physical to emotional, she wanted to prove her point and stay seated in the boat. 
With that, "Paddle with the Pinks" became an every year event where local health care providers who treat patients with BrCa (breast cancer) could experience for themselves the full-body workout and camaraderie of the teammates who meet three times a week for practice. Traci was the first captain of this incredibly special event and outreach program.
This year the team named the Provider Paddle in Traci's name:
2017 Traci Van Dyken Health Care Provider Paddle and Sponsor Recognition

Sue had sent us an invitation and we all had to think about it knowing what that meant by replying yes. 
After Traci passed, Dad had no reason to ever go back to Portland. I was torn as was Mom. The kids still plan to do all school shopping in Portland because it's what we've done every year they've been in school. I knew there would be a first trip back to Portland, but never, NEVER did I think we'd all get in a boat and paddle. 
In my heart I knew what Traci would want us to do. 
We said yes.
The drive down was weird. I say that and hard often because it's just that; weird not having my sister here and hard to accept that reality. 
Never have I not called once I exited I-5 onto 205. Never have I not gotten a call usually by the airport asking how far out or me calling to say, "be there in fifteen."
There were no phone calls this time to answer or to make. 
We stayed near the airport which I thought would be easier as it's not too close to Traci's old place and out of the norm from the usual trips we took south. The kids swam in the pool with Daddy and all had dinner waterside. So strange to not have our Hero there with us. 
Saturday morning I found myself falling apart as we headed towards the river. I miss her so much. 
It was no different that morning. 
Sue and the rest of the team greeted us as we gathered in the usual stretching area. I was amazed how much I felt Traci around these other women. They shared something unique together. They fought together. They overcame together. I felt their strength as I watched many tear up sharing hugs, stories and how it still is so very hard without our, their, Traci. I didn't post the ugly cry photo, but know it's made an imprint on the Internet somewhere unfortunately. We had many tears that morning. 
This was another huge step in our journey of finding our new normal; our path to healing. 
When all was done and the paddles put away, I couldn't help but think about what it takes for each of these ladies to paddle every time on the river. Gives me ginormous inspiration to not find reasons to give up. I honestly don't know how my sister was physically capable of doing this enormously strenuous type of work through all her treatments, surgeries and overall fatigue. 
Gives me all the more reason to still call her My Hero.

Traci, thank you for giving us reason to smile on the river. Thank you for putting together such an event where years later, you would have never expected to see your parents and sister sitting in the boats crying, remembering and laughing all in your memory and honor. 
Your legacy will live on and you continue to inspire and change lives. 

Sue Best (bottom left) was with us when Traci passed. She was the MC for the event and shared some sweet words about Traci before we entered the boats. Needless to say, there was ugly cry happening in public for all to see. Mary, or is this one Meg, (top right in the purple) has a twin who is known as the "Brownie gal" winning Addison's heart over during treatment with a delicious chocolate brownie dessert topped with fresh berries. It was healing to wrap our arms around these amazing women, see their tears and be inspired by what they have overcome. 

 The kids came down to the dock as we loaded up and paddled off into the river. Charlie looked to be deep in thought...a wave of emotion hit me seeing the kids there knowing Auntie would so love to spoil them on our quick trip down south. Tim and the kids found ice cream while we cruised through the water. When our training was done on the river, the two boats lined up side by side and had a little friendly competition...our boat with Sue as the ring leader beat by a few heads. I must say it was pretty exhilarating to put all your energy and muscle into the paddle, digging deeper into the water to surge forward for the win. I see why these ladies love this sport so much!

Watching Dad and Mom conquer this huge emotional beast made my heart sore with pride knowing what it took them to decide to drive south and then get in a boat. What changed from tears to laughter was knowing how Traci would be bending over laughing hysterically at us misfits in the boat hitting the paddle in front of us, splashing the person behind us and Dad taking in the sights from the water front perspective. It felt so good to laugh in her memory.

When Traci founded the Provider Paddle Event she created a prescription bottle filled with jelly beans with all the instructions, much like real medication, as a take home favor for the providers that attended. The tradition was continued as Charlie and Addison helped fill the bottles and 
Myriam helping Sue hand them out. 

A hard morning, but we did it.  
Paddles Up. 

A Picture Glimpse to the Tail End of Spring

You know it's spring when the eyes are itching, house is sneezing and the allergy medication is all out. Many of us have been fighting extreme allergies this season, but we hate to complain as the outside comes to life with greenery, color and that dreaded hay bailing in farm country. 
The kids are now all out of school and LOVING IT! 
Our summer list of to do's are still being edited which is always a fun way to prepare for the one day trips and longer ones too.  Earlier in May, Addison went to the Mercy Me concert with her girlfriend Annie. We watched Baylee's 1/2 brother on a Saturday and have already had trips to Edaline Dairy for cones. (That soft serve craving still exists since the cruise...) Baylee had her first dentist appointment and Myriam has been preparing for her first ever tap dance recital. 
It's been busy, but satisfying watching memories being made. 
Here is a picture glimpse to the tail end of Spring...

Ski to Sea May 28th, 2017
The girls and I, plus Annie, decided to hang out in the sun Sunday afternoon while cooling off with gelato, listening to Uncle Jason play his drums and watching the first place team paddle into shore. Fairhaven is Addison's happy place as she loves to walk around and explore. These girls did awesome walking LOTS, even back up the hill to our hot car. 

June 4th, 2017
A couple months back my dear friend Linda confidently ran 17 miles alongside Jackie who was training for another marathon. We, as amazed girlfriends, decided for Linda that she was going to run in her first marathon since she was fully capable of keeping up with pace. That gave her five weeks to properly train for the North Olympic Discovery Marathon; a goal to run since she turned 40. Of course, one cannot run alone so many others signed up and had a gorgeous sunny run alongside the Port Angeles waterfront. Helped that we fueled up well the night before with everything bacon at the Coyote BBQ Pup including the warm peanut butter brownie with real bacon crumbles on top. If you are in the area I highly recommend eating here. 
This was such a worshipful run for me as my running playlist beamed songs of hope and praise every step along the way. I'm sure people thought I was crazy as my hands sometimes went up in the air, my outside singing voice was heard and cheers for other runners most likely belted since 
I couldn't hear anything but my worship. 
Thanks to our official cheerers, Mandi and Melissa, we had encouragement along the way and a few of us ran the last five miles with Linda to keep her spirits up and feet moving. 
Love these ladies!

June 7th, 2017
Charlie had an amazing first year not having Mom barking orders and forcing him to do school work. I can't be more pleased, and shocked really, with how well Chuckles did with both adapting to a new school schedule and keeping up the grades.  He sang beautifully with his class at the last chapel even if him and James had the giggles. On the last day of school he collected all his missing sweatshirts then together we grabbed a Subway lunch celebrating his launch into fourth grade. 

June 8th, 2017
 Oh Nellie, this gal is moving out of Preschool and into full days of Kindergarten. Myriam got to celebrate her last day of school with ice cream sundaes, photo booths and allowing Mommy into her classroom to watch and play. Thank you Teacher Ashley for being a caring, attentive and patient teacher!

 What can I say...Monkey see and why yes, Monkey will do.
These two darlings are starting to grow a playful relationship filled with much curiosity, laughter and of course, naughty no no's. From music hour to getting the wiggles out, Myriam (known as "Mimi") and Baylee have been having lots of fun inside and out. 

June 12th, 2017
I seriously can't believe Teacher Jeff stuck it out this long with us!?? When we started Mp3 Addison was going into Kindergarten. She was not talking to very many people, if talking at all, which presented itself the opportunity to teach in a safe environment at home. Those first few years we were completely off campus with our school work having weekly phone calls to check in with Jeff.  Teacher Jeff was so incredibly patient with Addison when he would ask about what she was learning and get nothing but breathing back in the headset. Eventually, she began to use few words to now seeing Teacher Jeff on campus and in his classroom having purposeful conversations. Addison had three years on campus where she had her weekly contacts in person and even having Jeff as a teacher for a couple classes.
Jeff has become somewhat like a family member as he followed our adoption with Myriam, was apart of Traci's cancer journey allowing us to teach from Portland and recently, staying in touch through our foster journey. Homeschooling was never my first choice; was never my desire. But, for every kid you teach, train and parent differently. Tim and I always agreed that it would be year by year in this teaching agreement. Charlie joined Mp3 and for that time was exactly what he needed. Homeschooling gave us precious time packing up in minutes to visit Auntie in Portland. If the kids would have been anywhere else for school it would not have been as easy as it has been over the last seven years. The flexibility was a gift to our family.
Addison and I brought Jeff a gift this Monday afternoon. It felt like we were breaking up. We had group hugs and shared memories of the earlier days. Doesn't take much to get me crying and yes, the tears were present Monday, but to Teacher Jeff and all the staff at Mp3, we said/say thank you. The grace you showed our family and patience with me getting the monthly reviews in "on time" truly were blessings to us. It will be weird not seeing you all next year, but for us, the homeschooling season had it's purpose and now is done.

There goes Spring and here comes Summer. The bike tires are pumped up and ready for causing the streets, the swimsuits already worn to splash in the creek. We are ready for some downtime and playtime!

It's a Wrap. School is Done.

I can't believe Addison is moving into 7th grade next year. By the picture alone you are able to tell how much this sweet, compassionate, thoughtful and servant-minded daughter of ours has grown. She often will rummage through my closet and we almost wear the same size shoe (she grew two shoe sizes this past year). She essentially taught herself this past year with determination to conquer the hard stuff. (Math is neither of our favorites.) This was Addison's last year of homeschooling through Mp3 and we are both sad and excited for the next adventure. Teacher Jeff has been our Student Learning Plan Coordinator since Kindergarten. Our weekly contact started with phone calls of him talking and Addi listening, slowly graduating to her giving a non-verbal yes or no and then taking on full conversations in person and over the phone. Addi overcame many fears this year giving a stellar TED talk about fostering and adopting in front of her class and creating some fantastic friendships. 
She will be joining her little brother at Ebenezer next fall.

There are not enough words of gratitude for what this past year has been for our son. Chuckles thrived in his new school environment. Last summer we had Charlie get some tutoring with my fear of him not testing into third grade levels. He finished this year with amazing grades, being a math teacher to his peers and is ready to conquer 4th grade with confidence. We are so proud of Charlie for the hard work, diligence and ability to adapt to new surroundings. When I asked him yesterday what his biggest accomplishments were for the past year it was the friendships he built and the hard work he did in school. 
Looking back, we clearly see why homeschooling was the right fit for us in the seasons we kept the kids home. The ability to send Charlie to almost every treatment with his Auntie was a gift of precious time and memories that we would otherwise not have had given we put the kids in traditional schools. The support our family, primarily Charlie, received from his classmates was out of this world awesome. One of his favorite memories was having Auntie Traci come for lunch and reading all the notes of encouragement from his friends. I can't say enough good things about our choice in sending Charlie to Ebenezer. Huge blessing to our son and family!

Miss hot, sassy pants comes with endless attitude and energy. I never know if it will be a thumbs up or thumbs down kind of day when the bus drops her off, but regardless of the attitude, I want to tell you how much this girl has worked at making better choices over the past year. Myriam makes friends easily and did just that this past year. She had her eyes sold out for one of the little boys with whom both got in trouble often because of their chit chat during school. I would often times hear about her friend doing something mean to her and they would break up or decide not to get married because one of them did something wrong. Myriam is quite smart and has surprised us with how much she really can obtain if given the attention to focus, not to mention how improved her handwriting has become over the past year.  
Teacher Ashley is a saint, as are all the others in her classroom, guiding our little one around and assisting in her choices. 
Next year Myriam will be going to Fisher for Kindergarten. She thinks the new school is being built just for her. I'm nervous, excited and so blessed knowing that already her learning plan is being reviewed. I have such respect for our teachers and can't thank them enough for helping shape our Myriam into what God designed her to be. 

So with that, school is done. 
Summer has begun. 
Mommy and Daddy are so proud of all the hard work and learning you kiddos did this past year!

A Milestone to Celebrate

We were young and full of dreams.
We had set ideas and motivation to meet our goals. 
We were in love and crazy about each other. 
We still love to travel together exploring new countries, small towns and meeting people along the way. We still have the ability to sit in a quiet car and be okay with it or lay in bed and have pillow talk until we fall asleep. 
We push each other to be the best. We hold each other accountable and call out faults when needed. We love the same cheesy shows, don't mind a simple street taco dinner and have the talented capability of plowing through a pint of ice cream...each. 
My Love has been my rock not just over the past few months, but from the beginning. I would be lost without him by my side working diligently to provide for our tribe and wanting the best for his bride.
It's no secret we've had our ups and downs, but they have made us the couple we are today. We have more intention of continuing to make us the best us for each other and our family then we did at our "I do's."

Dated for 3 years
Married for 15 years
4 kids total
God is good.

Last week we were able to fly south to Costa Rica where we celebrated our anniversary. If we've learned anything over the years it's this:
Don't stop investing in each other. Keep learning and growing your marriage to be deeper while falling more madly in love with each other.
The kids will survive.
As Charlie plainly told my brother last week after asking where we were,
"Mom and Dad went on a date."
I will go on a date every day of the week just so I can show our son and daughters the importance of investing in your marriage... But not all dates will involve an airplane and passport!

Happy Anniversary.

{ Our date to Costa Rica. }