A GREYt friend

I said goodbye today to a sweet, loyal companion.

Amidst the chaos of moving, packing, buying, selling, we have realized that our adopted Greyhound, Fuzz Face “Proud Man”, could not possibly make the move as well. There are many reasons for this — more out of concern for his well-being than anything having to do with us and our new home. He’s 11 years old and starting to become more and more lethargic.

No one else wanted to make the decision. It was up to me.

It was my idea to adopt a greyhound just weeks after we purchased this home. I grew up with a good friend whose family had an adopted Greyhound and I loved him and remembered him for years and years. We added Proud to our little zoo and he fit in right away.

Adopting a greyhound is an intense process. There are pages and pages of paperwork and referrals and pretty much a background check! They asked us questions about our lifestyle, current pets, future plans, house layout and favorite colors (OK, no, not really). They brought out three greyhounds that seemed to match us best on paper for a little in-person meet up. Proud was one of those three and it was immediately clear that he was the one. Even our little Yorkie Izzie liked him — she led him around the yard and showed him her favorite places to piddle. When the agency reps pulled out of our driveway, I cried and told Scott that our dog was in that car.

And soon he was ours.

Proud (Originally Fuzz Face Proud of the Fuzz Face racing family) was unique in how long he raced for — much longer than the average greyhound — and how good he was — finishing almost at the very top level and winning about one-quarter of all races he entered. What we will never know is his how badly he was treated. He likely was kept in a small crate with no food or water while not on the racetrack. And judging from his skittish personality, he was probably either abused or neglected or both.

 

On one of our first nights with him, I watched Scott try to teach Proud to sit on command for nearly an hour while I perused a new Greyhound manual book. Suddenly, Chapter Five told me that the hip structure on greyhounds prevented them from sitting.

“STOP!” I screamed at Scott, who by now was doing funky aerobics with the dog in his attempt to train him. We still laugh about that.

 

If you’ve never seen a greyhound run, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen magic in motion, at least as far as animals are concerned. We found a large old, fenced-in tennis court nearby on a walk one day and brought Izzie and Proud in to run freely. It was the closest to feeling like a proud Momma I ever felt before my kids were born. Proud just ran back and forth for the longest time. All legs up in the air, a graceful posture and quick turnaround, his jowls pushed back into a funny grin. He was joyful.

 

Proud’s previous neglect took years to undo. First there was the need to put on some weight. His ribs were all visible when we first adopted him. That was the easy fix. There’s no such thing as a thin animal in our house.

The emotional scars took much more time. It’s only been in the last year or so that he has spent time with us at the same time downstairs or on the same floor. Previously, he would go upstairs when we came downstairs or vice versa. He would eat his dinner when we went to bed. But recently, he’s been so close. He lays on a blanket on the living room floor at the foot of the couch while we watch TV or read books with the kids. He tolerates their random, sometimes-rough hugs and their running around in circles.

 

He jumps if you drop something on the floor or slam a door. And he’d rather pace for 20 minutes than deal with a cat on his blanket.

 

And he’s a lover. Pet his head and rub his long neck and you are a forever friend.

He greets you at the door and stretches those long legs in front of him, sticking his butt up in the air.

 

He has the worst breath and he’s at the perfect height to steal a good steak off of your plate, but he’s been a really, really good friend.

 

Proud got scared at the door one day while I was taking him out and pulled the leash out of my hand. He ran in all his graceful, majestic glory and in spite of the shock and fright of losing him, I couldn’t help but watch him run. He’s so beautiful when he is in motion. I always feel at peace when I watch him run.

 

So, he’s going back with one of the co-owners of the adoption agency. (Please check them out here). He may be there only temporarily or it may be his forever now home. She has a couple of other greyhounds and a large, fenced-in yard.

He can run. Often and with friends.

In that beautiful form, smiling in the breeze.

 

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Snippets- Vacation Edition

We had ourselves an adventure — just me, Zack and Addie (Da-da had to work).

 

We crossed five states for four different visits in about 10 days and 20-plus hours of driving. There were chickey kisses and ocean waves and everything in between.

Some highlights:

 

The most relaxing, heart-warming time sitting in Chochie’s yard watching kids frolic in dirt, hide treasures in secret corners and splash to their hearts’ content in a bright blue bird bath.

 

Snuggles nightly with two tired ones. Holding them close and re-learning their breathing and sighs. Watching little hands and fingers as we all fell asleep.

 

Addie greeting me every day with, “Good morning, Momma! How did you sleep? Addie wake up!” You can’t help but start your day on a positive note with that.

 

At nighttime, I would remind the kids of what we did that day — who we saw, where we were, etc. One night after a 4th of July picnic at my Dad’s and plenty of big cousins to play with, I asked Zack what was his favorite part. Typically, he just repeats “favorite part” with a smile. That day, he grinned a huge grin and said, “Play with kids!” How sweet.

Another night, Addie interrupted me with, “I so happy, Momma.”

 

I learned all of the words to one of the songs from a DVD we brought with us for the car time.

“I’m not ready to be a princess, I don’t have what it takes…” The kids and I can rock it out. “I look bad in crowns…!”

 

Cousins Ryan and Kevin in Massachusetts always dote on Z&A. It’s so amazing to see their love for their little cousins. They introduced the kids to some of their old toys, and a baby frog and the beloved guinea pigs, which are a HUGE hit. (We actually have to tell Zack the piggies are sleeping quite often or else they get no break from their noisy visitor). Addie snatched snap peas from Becky’s garden and took charge on a walk around the neighborhood. Cousin Mark was welcomed home from work with two squealing “hewwo”s from little people. We all laughed at Addie’s love for pickles and Zack’s sweet tooth, but mostly we just laughed.

 

Seeing my Dad and Uncle “Brick” together was so great. They are two peas in a pod. I love them both so much for their humor and kindness and compassion, wrapped up in tough-guy exteriors. Crazy fun watching them drink beers and blow bubbles with the kids on our last day.

 

My friend Nicole and her man Jeff have created a beautiful life together and just seeing her, with him, in their cozy and cute home was a delight. They’re still collecting the Cheerios we left for them in every crevice imaginable. Truth or Truth with wine until 3am was simultaneously the best and worst idea we had, haha!

 

At the beach, the kiddos surprised me. Zack went straight for the water and couldn’t be removed without major coaxing and Addie was quite content to play in the sand and sprinkle water (fetched by Momma every three minutes) from her watering can onto my toes.

 

 

There were a lot of quiet moments that made every traffic jam and long walk worth it:

The ringing laughter in living rooms and on patios and in the car;

Both kids saying,  I love you, Momma.”

Having a chance to disconnect from the rest of the world and just observe. I learned much about the babies in these 10 days.

The love and hospitality of our many hosts, who dealt with difficult bedtimes and early-mornings and sometimes my need to just stop. I appreciate your open doors and open hearts.

 

 

This was an amazing adventure.

I just love adventures.

 

 

 

 

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Lil snippets

***

Addie’s counting goes something like this:

“1…2…4…5…” It always ends with a clap.

 

***

The other morning I went in to the kids’ rooms (separated by glass French doors) and found Zack sitting next to Addie in her crib, rubbing her head and giving her kisses and saying, “It’s OK, baby, It’s OK.”

Now THAT is a great start to your day.

 

***

 

I’ve returned to writing. Very minimally.

As a freelancer for the Life section (human interest/features) of the newspaper where I used to work.

My first three stories are under my belt.

It’s good to be back.

 

 

***

 

A couple of weeks ago, I took a last-minute trip two hours away with a friend. And came back with a soul sister. The reasons were not what I wanted — I mean, I’d much prefer a fun story about Chip ‘n’ Dales or a few shots of tequila. But 11 a.m. margaritas and deciding who the man in the relationship was is almost just as good, maybe better.

Where’s the parking garage?

I brought a notebook!

 

***

 

Whenever Addie is stuck (which is often because she is a little monkey), she proclaims, “I SUCK!!!”

I can’t tell you how hard we laugh at this one.

“Oh no, Addie, you’re very amazing. Oh, you’re so smart and lovely.” Tears streaming down our face.

“I SUCK!”

 

***

 

I love our “other daughter” Aubrey more than words can say. She visits with us once or twice a week and she is like part of our family. (Also the most well-behaved child, haha!) I love her witty sentences and exclamations and the way she dances with Zack and converses with Addie.

 

***

 

Zack made a friend named Lily at his school when he first started in August. Lily first met me while I waited for ZMan in the hallway. She looked me up and down and asked who I was and I was so taken back by this tough lil lady that I had to laugh.

“I’m Zack’s Mommy.”

Zack’s not ready, she said. I’ll tell him you’re here.

I looked for the camera and the Candid Camera crew. That’s funny, I thought.

And she did bring him back, leading him by the hand and helping him put on his shoes. I’ve seen them hug and she always says goodbye to him when I pick him up at lunchtime.

Then a few weeks ago, I was waiting for him and she was in the hallway.

“You know, Zacky’s my best friend,” she told me with a smile.

“Really? That’s so nice. How come? What makes him a good friend?”

She thought for a second. “Well, he pushes me sometimes, but I push him back. I love him.” And she marched off, leaving me crying in the hallway in a moment that was much grander than a four-year-old’s from-the-mouths-of-babes moment.

Lily is off to a Big Girl School while Zack stays where he’s at for another year. And I’ll miss her. She is, for however long or however little, Zack’s first self-proclaimed best friend in a world that I thought would be too mean and too hard.

And she still asks about him. Her Mommy wants to set up a surprise playdate for the kiddos. I can’t wait.

 

***

I’m taking the kids on a grand adventure starting tomorrow. We’ll be visiting four stops of friends and family in NJ and MA. There will be beach time and lots of photo-taking and hugs and chickey kisses hopefully a glass of wine. I’m excited for our our first little vacation this year. I’m sad Scott can’t make it (because of work) but am so grateful for the life I’ve been given and the opportunity and love and how all the doors that have closed and opened have led me to this overpacked car.

 

***

I remember and I forget

This weekend is so lovely.

It’s my first Memorial Day weekend that I haven’t had to work in my adult life. I’ve got two great little kiddos who are begging me for the outside time we all love. The worst of the yard work is complete so afternoons and days aren’t completely lost on back-breaking work.

And that sun, that air.

I’ve felt it before.

 

 

20 years ago, my Memorial Day futures were tarnished.

I went to school on the last day before a long weekend at the end of fourth grade and my sick mom was especially weak. She couldn’t get out of bed that morning and spent such a long time with her goodbyes and handholding I thought for sure I was going to miss my bus. I was 10 and she was 46. I pulled myself away to join my friends in the school bus stop out front.

I wonder if she pulled herself out of bed to look out the window. I never looked up to see.

I don’t know if she cried or if she wore a brave face.

I don’t know when she called her sister.

I don’t know if she knew in that moment the truth about Memorial Day.

We try to remember, we sometimes forget.

 

I never saw my Mommy again.

 

I came home that afternoon and saw cars in the driveway that meant she was in the hospital.

I stopped at the second-from-the-top step with a sigh. I was so sad I’d spend another weekend visiting her while she lay in a hospital bed. I was so sad for my Dad and the way he looked at her picture on the dresser the mornings she wasn’t home to cook me breakfast.

I was mad, too. That moment was my first memory of rage. I stomped my foot on the sidewalk. I HATE THAT YOU’RE ALWAYS SICK, I wanted to scream.

 

I saw my first rainbow that weekend.

It was her goodbye perhaps.

 

By the end of the long weekend, I came home from a friend’s house to find my Dad sitting on my bed in our apartment, crying while holding stuffed animals. I had never seen him cry. We were supposed to see Mommy in just an hour.

I don’t remember how he told me she was gone.

I just remember feeling like I had to be a Mommy to him.

We held hands and took a walk down the road.

 

By the end of that long weekend, I stood in front of her open casket in a stuffy funeral home, torn between playing tag with some cousins and this nagging feeling that this was something so big. I couldn’t grasp it with my 10-year-old heart just yet.

On a warm, sunny, slightly windy day, they lowered the box into the ground.

 

I left school five days before with a sick mom at home.

And that first day back, on a bus for a field trip.

Charlie in my class chose that day to remember my mom was born on Leap Year. She’s only like 11!, he said!

I sunk down in my seat and hated Memorial Day weekend. And field trips. And boys named Charlie.

 

I’ve spent two-thirds of my life without her.

I relate better to being motherless than being mothered.

I’ve spent nearly four years being a mother myself.

And this quandary I find myself in is as complicated and confusing as it gets.

 

I look at old pictures of her and me and now my eyes just as easily land on the resemblance of my daughter to me as anything else.

There is hurt and peace and anger and love and they come and go in waves and go ’round and ’round in cycles I can never predict.

There are Memorial Days that cause my heart to ache and others that go by quickly and busily with little thought. But May 26th still makes me stop in my tracks. Can’t catch my breath. Can’t believe it all over again and again and again.

 

There are purple and yellow flowers scattered across our better-loved yard now. I hope she likes them.

I hope she watches her grandchildren. I hope she comforts them when I cannot.

 

I am 30. She would have been 66. A grandma of two. a mother-in-law to Scott.

Would she be on FaceBook? Still send out those long handwritten letters in the violet ink? Maybe a call once a week.

 

I look to the sky. For her rainbows and that sunny end-of-May warmth.

I run my hands in the earth of my gardens and sing to sleepy toddlers and feel her arms around me again.

 

I remember but I also forget.

And I miss her just as much 20 years later.

 

Nancy Carole Dowhan

Feb. 29, 1948 — May 26, 1994

 

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Team Zack

Zack’s progress has always happened in waves.

For every surprise accomplishment came a three-month lull.

For every time we worked on walking and jumping and stepping, out came his first words.

When Down Syndrome enters your life and the life of your child, it is a never-ending road of questions, uncertainty, fighting and pushing.

There is no cure, there is no this-is-where-he-will-be-in-five-years.

You must find your resources (Early Intervention therapists, other parents, National Down Syndrome Society, special needs classrooms, and most importantly, yourself…); you must find your support.

And then you just dive in, give it your best, never look back and never look too far forward or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

When Zack was born, we didn’t know if he would ever speak or ever walk on his own. We had no clue if he would have major health issues or zero concerns at all (he falls at the low end of the middle — we battle respiratory illnesses for months at a time, he had two small holes in his heart that do not yet require surgery and a Man Parts issue forced a minor surgery two years ago).

At the end of the day, our prayers for Zack are exactly the same as those for Addie — that they be self-sufficient, polite, responsible, independent, intelligent kiddos and adults. That they enter mainstream school, are loved by their peers and teachers, complete high school and college, find a job that brings them joy and a man or woman who makes them complete and throw a dozen grand babies our way. We hope for graduation parties and Empty Nest Syndrome and a first dance together at their weddings.

And while we hope for the same goals, we realize the journey may be quite difficult for one (or both!).

Zack turns four in August and then we have one year before he should enter Kindergarden, maybe in our local public school system.

But maybe not. Maybe it will be in two years. Maybe three. Maybe it just can’t happen.

We realize both sides of the possibilities, but still we fight with every freakin’ ounce of energy and every bit of resources to make what’s  best for him, not us, happen.

So yesterday we met with his teacher and speech therapist from his special-needs classroom that he’s been attending two mornings a week since January.

Scott and I actually went into the meeting planning on gently removing Zack from the program as we felt he was with kids who demanded much more of the teachers’ attention than him and perhaps we just weren’t seeing the difference or the impact from there as we initially thought we would. It was a good problem to have, we thought. We were appreciative and we gave it a whirl, but hey, our boy is doing great in his “typical” Preschool three days a week!

But then we all got talking. Openly, honestly.

And we have a plan.

There is something about having a plan.

Even if it means more work or more time or more challenges at first. It’s a plan. It’s a step forward. It’s one step closer to that first day of Kindergarden at public school two miles up the road. The day I have been praying for and fearing for quite some time. Where I will lose my —- and bawl at the astonishing journey. But we’re not there yet, so hang tight Ole Emotional Momma.

So, in August, Zack will be trying the afternoon class at this location four days a week, while still maintaining his mornings at the other school. The afternoon class has more “advanced” kids and is a bit more challenging. And it’s primary focus? Kindergarden preparation.

It’s a no-brainer.

Four days may be too much, both schools might be too much. But, it’s my style to go all the way in and retreat a bit if necessary.

A woman I’ve only just recently met through Mary Kay wrote me a letter for Mothers Day. She follows our family through social media and her asking about Zack and Addie is always the first thing to happen when we are in the same room. That means a lot and I’ve always appreciated that.

But then, this letter.

I had actually received it two days before but in all the business of the week, it stayed tucked away in a bag until Wednesday.

This amazing woman of faith and strength shared that she had two special-needs children herself.

She gets it, I understood.

You see, just like the unwanted Motherless Daughters Club you are initiated into without request, so too is there a Special Needs Children Club that is scary yet so rewarding. The bond between we mothers is indescribable.

Anyway.

“I understand the day-to-day struggles and the day-to-day victories,” she wrote. “What some parents see as a small accomplishment, we see as a victory dance worthy.”

I smiled, I cried, I laughed out loud during her letter.

“God knew exactly the kind of Mom that Zack would need,” she shared. “The kind of Mom that would love him, protect him, nurture him, and yes, even fight for him. The kind of Mom that would get that glow in her eyes when she talks about him, post his artwork on FaceBook and sell Mary Kay so she could be home with him and his sister.”

The day I read that was a Battle Day. Battle with the kids’ strong wills. Battle with myself. Battle with DS.

And I opened that letter and it reminded me.

Not only am I not alone, but I am not allowed a pity party.

Zack’s parents, his family, our friends, even strangers are all working together. None of us know where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing in six months or six years or when he’s 26. I scare myself thinking about all the uncertainties.

But, like we said at the parent-teacher conference, we are all Team Zack.

Whatever it takes, we do. Whatever is recommended, we try.

Leave no stone unturned.

The thing is, even if he doesn’t go to college or marry a sweet partner, he will be happy, of that I’m sure.

And even if we never get a dance at his wedding, it’s alright, because he comes up to me several times a day, bows at his waist with a giant smile, holds out his arm and asks me to dance. I can never refuse.

And let me tell you, he’s got some great moves.

 

We partied like it was… 2012?

We had ourselves a lil birthday shindig the other day.

In honor of a lovely two-year-old and her and her family’s journey.

There was (eventually) sunshine, friends and family fluttering about the living room and yard. Lots of catching up, some new friends and a happy momma with a very full and happy heart.

Thank you to those who traveled hours to be a part of our celebration; thanks to those who gave our lucky little girl some new clothes and toys and books; and a thank you to those who sacrificed things they should have been doing or wanted to be doing to be a part of our girl’s day.

 

I still can’t believe she is two.

Two going on 16.

 

Addie, you are loved!

 

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Isn’t she lovely

Addison Caroline turns TWO today.

It’s a blur; it’s a fast-flying dream.

In my first weeks of pregnancy with her, I told Scott, “It’s a girl and she has a HUGE personality. She will be a handful.”

He rolled his eyes.

But I was right. About all three things.

 

 

Zack made me a Momma. Addie made me a stronger woman.

After Zack’s DS diagnosis and rounds of therapists and tests and minor health issues, the decision to have a second child was infinitely more difficult than contemplating our first. What if s/he had DS? What if s/he didn’t? Which would be more difficult for us? What if Zack needed so much of our time? What if s/he suffered indirectly from Big Brother’s disability or teasing from kids at school or losing time to therapies and special schools?

And then one day, it just hit for us. We realized this was not about the What Ifs and the What If Nots. This was about baby coos; this was about being a family of four. It was about the idea that we two only children (sort of) always wanted a decent-sized family.

We got pregnant almost immediately with Addie. And she let us know she was the boss.

 

I spent four-and-a-half months with such severe morning sickness, I sometimes couldn’t make the 20-minute drive to work without having to pull over in tears. It was a pregnancy filled with much more discomfort than my one with Zack — my sciatica ached early on, my glucose was borderline and I nearly passed out a dozen times, she kicked and punched relentlessly and sat on my tailbone or up in my ribs the majority of the time.

 

But I also felt a strange peace during those months.

I would force myself to steal away to a quiet corner or amidst a Spring breeze alone for a few moments to just be. Be calmer, be wiser, be a fighter for myself, be a survivor, be a DS advocate, be a better worker, better leader.

 

Because of Zack’s DS, Addie was considered a high-risk pregnancy and so I saw a specialist for the first half of my time with her in utero. Just days after the New Year began, we trekked to an office 40 minutes away for a 4-D ultrasound looking for signs of DS and other severe complications.

The sweet technician waved the wand around a bit and smiled. “It’s a girl,” she said.

She must have thought we were crazy because we didn’t bat an eyelash. (OK, I miiiiiight have said an “I told you so” to Scott)

You see, the gender of the baby meant very little to us at that time.

I just want healthy, please be healthy, I prayed.

The technician could not say anything about DS markers and said the doctor would be in shortly. We waited some more. When you wait five months of a pregnancy to make sure your baby is healthy, a few moments shouldn’t feel so long, but it was agony. I was half in tears for those ten minutes.

We became a case study for the doctor’s entourage of young doctors-to-be, five white-coat-clad men and women who were brought up to speed on our situation and what we were looking for and… and finally, the words.

“I see no markers for Down Syndrome. It seems you have a very healthy baby girl.”

 

But still.

For a few days, that news was amazing. Felt like flying.

But then it wears off a bit. You see, Zack had ultrasounds during his pregnancy and nothing was ever caught in them. Who says they couldn’t miss something with Addie?

 

But I tried less worrying and more living. And weeks and months flew by until I saw her face in an operating room on May 18, 2012.

 

All that dark hair, I gasped.

And those eyes. Oh my God. She looked half-exotic. This darker skin, dark hair, big blue eyes.

 

And that scream.

She screamed for an hour. Impressed the nurses and Daddy. Mommy missed her already.

 

She is as much a contradiction to Zack as one can be, but at times the two of them seem deeply connected at the soul.

Zack is quiet, calm, solitary, loyal and so loving.

Addie is busy, louder, so active. She is not shy and she has no fear.

Zack prefers reading and playing pretend with animals and dolls. Addie is surrounded by six stuffed animals at bedtime but otherwise prefers building or coloring.

 

Her jet black hair has transformed into these long, soft locks of light brown, almost dark blonde wisps that frame her face. We’ve never cut her hair but get asked to this day if that’s a planned hairstyle. She’s always looked a lot like me, but lately is transforming into her own little person.

And she is beautiful. I may be biased. But from the first weeks at home with her, there are some mornings I get her out of her crib and just GASP. She’s just lovely.

(Until she tells you NO, dumps cat food, colors on the wall or… oh no, wait, she’s always lovely,right?)

 

LOVES: Bubble Guppies. Duckies. Cows (she looks for them on every car ride). Chi-chens. Pizza (just like her momma). PURPLE!

CURRENT SAYINGS: “Hi, it’s me, Addie” “____, where ARE you?”  “I change diaper.”  “I see ____”   “I call ____ (usually Pop-Pop or Nana)” “Where go? I no know…”

 

The way she looks at her brother.

It floors me every time.

She looks at him with adoration and a great gorgeous love. Her eyes follow him and his activity. She accepts every dance invite (they hold hands and twirl in a circle) and when they’re working on different toys, she will sometimes stand up to see what he is doing or will call him over to look at her game. She accepts his hugs and squeezes, even the ones that land her on the floor accidentally.

 

She is helping Zack.

It’s not why we had her (someone asked us that once) but honestly, she guides him. She speaks new words and he mimics her within a day or so. She tries to take off her shirt or put shoes on and he soon does the same.

When she wakes up in the morning, she either asks for her friend Aubrey or her big brother. When we drop Zack off at school and it’s not her day to go, she cries, sobbing “Zaaaaaaa” in the backseat for ten minutes.

 

There are a thousand things I love about my daughter. But I love most the way she has moved me. The way she has changed my heart to make it big enough to love twice as much.

 

Addie,

I hope you will always be strong and always be a fighter.

I hope you will always love your brother and make him a fighter, too.

I hope you use the potty regularly soon.

I hope you always eat as well as you do now. (Never trust everything your dad gives you — some of it WILL be hot!)

I hope you appreciate my efforts to put you in pink and do your hair.

I hope you always bring vivacity and excitement to the rooms you enter.

I hope you know I would fight anyone, I would destroy anything in your path with my bare hands, I would be your loudest cheerleader in whatever you choose to do or pursue. Forever.

I hope you know you will never be as loved as you are by we three.

 

She turns TWO today. And I am a sentimental, happy, excited little fool.

She is the spark.

And she is so, so lovely. 943772_694458912044_1860684619_n _DSC0053-2 401730_632180473534_933391962_n 550385_634956774804_2061434742_n Aubrey (16 of 32) EASTER (40 of 56)