Thursday, November 10, 2016

Summer 2016 in Utah. Also, Megan is a Saint.

Our big trip this summer was an epic excursion to Park City, UT.  Initially, I wasn't super excited about getting 4 small children from Houston to Utah (okay, I was totally dreading it), especially because I knew Rob wasn't going to be able to be there to help.

However my angel sister-in-law, Megan, agreed to send her baby with my brother and be my extra pair of hands for the trip.  I think she ended up getting more than she bargained for...

Plane tickets directly to UT were too expensive (especially when you factor in the cost of a minivan rental for a week!), so we ended up flying to Las Vegas (where we got a pretty good deal on a minivan rental) and then drove up to Park City.
First stop: Lunch at In 'N Out in Las Vegas
Somehow I don't have a picture of all 6 of us in the airport (I probably was too stressed out for a photo-op), but we made the first flight with the help of 3 iPads, a miraculously empty seat adjacent next to me, and lots of knick-knacks and crafts to keep little hands busy.
At 2.5, Caroline could still SQUEEZE into an infant carseat!
In Vegas I went to get the rental car, Megan waited for the luggage, and we all started the 7 hr trip north.  It was long, but with the help of 3 iPads, some candy, and lots of knick-knacks and crafts to keep little hands busy, we made it to Park City.  And Baby Stan was literally the perfect baby--eating when we stopped to get gas, then falling back asleep until the next rest stop.
Happy Girls
Now we could get busy enjoying the BEAUTIFUL scenery, PERFECT weather, and the soft green grass that is all a part of Summer in Utah.
On a nature walk
We went on daily walks and went on (short) hikes in the beautiful mountains.  We visited with some wonderful family friends who now live in Park City.  We spent days at the park, played at the pool, visited the Nicklecade, went to Granny's, and basically had a fabulous time.
Building leaf-boats
Sleeping, swaddled baby.  Not even sweating!
Blockus on the grass--not worrying about sitting in a pile of fire ants!
We named this guy Stanley, the Bear.

For the trip home, Megan and I decided to break the drive up a bit.  We drove from Park City to Draper to see some of our Ellis family and spend the night.  The next morning we drove to Springville to see more family, and then a few hours more to St. George to spend the night in an hotel.
We forgot Caroline's bathing suit top...
The next morning we had some time to kill before making the last leg to Las Vegas, so we stopped at St. George's fun splash pad in their town center.  It was the perfect way to spend the morning.
The kids got to play in the sunshine, get wet,  and run around.  We were even treated to a surprise performance by one of St. George's Glee Clubs!  They taught the kids how to do the Macarena, the Electric Slide, the YMCA, and a few other classic dances.  This little morning in St. George ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip!

Custard for lunch
The airplane ride home was so smooth I hardly even remember it.  I know that Megan was glad to get home to her ONE child, and I am SO thankful she helped us make the trip, and helped it to be so FUN!
At the airport coming home to Daddy!

Craniosynostosis, Round #2

Almost as soon as Stanley exited the womb, Rob and I knew he had metopic craniosynostosis.

Metopic Craniosynostosis is a rare, congenital defect that causes the front (metopic) suture of the skull to fuse prematurely.  If it's not corrected, it can cause increased pressure on the brain, developmental delays, sight problems, etc.
We were able to diagnose this rare condition so quickly because Savannah was also born with metopic craniosynostosis.  As far as anyone knows, there's no genetic or hereditary cause for craniosynostosis, and the chance of two siblings having it is less than 4%.  Basically, we just won the funny-head-shape lottery!
Stanley, top view
 When the metopic suture fuses early you get a ridge running down the center of the head to the top of the nose, and a triangular-shaped forehead.  This also results in a pinching of the temples and eyes that are too close together.
Front view
5 years ago, when Savannah was diagnosed, the most common corrective procedure was a Cranial Vault Remodel, where the surgeons take apart the front half of the skull, then break and reshape it.   It's a 7+ hour, complex surgery, usually requiring a blood transfusion and at least a week stay in the hospital.  

Now, however, they've developed an endoscopic surgery that can release the suture and any increased pressure.  The surgery takes about 3 hours, and babies can usually go home from the hospital after one day.  Post surgery, babies have to wear a helmet for 6-8 months that will shape the skull as the bone regrows.

We opted to try the less invasive surgery this time and when Stanley was 3 months old he had his surgery.  The process went really smoothly, and he handled the whole thing like a champion.  We're about 2 months into his helmet therapy and are really pleased with how it's progressing.  

Hopefully this is our LAST craniosynostosis experience, and while it hasn't been easy, we count our blessings that it is correctable, that we have great medical care here in Houston, and that God has been watching over our sweet baby through this process.  
Waiting for surgery in his lucky BYU onesie
Right after surgery
About 24 hours later, smiling at home
Bandages come off 48 hrs post surgery, still pretty swollen

Welcome Baby Stan!

Stanley Robert Ellis arrived on Tuesday, May 17 at about 2am.  Right on his due date!
In labor
I had never made it to 40 weeks in a pregnancy before, so at 38 weeks when I started having contractions every evening, I was pretty convinced this baby was coming early.  However, as it got closer to my due date, the contractions stopped and I started doubting if he was EVER going to arrive!
The Stanley Fan Club
Monday afternoon I brought the kids to swim team practice and my good friend, Nikki, offered to give my poor swollen feet a foot rub, making sure to press on all of the pressure points known to induce labor.
Ellis, family of 6!!
We went home, had dinner, and as I was getting the kids ready for bed I started having regular, painful contractions.  Rob came home, we finished bedtime, called my sister-in-law to come stay the night with the kids, and headed to the hospital.
Little man
Contractions started around 7pm, we were admitted to the hospital by 10pm when I was about 5cm dilated, at about 12:45am I got the most wonderful epidural in the world, and at 2am little Stanley was born.
Angel baby
We are so thrilled to have him!

Press Forward!

Last year Rob and I volunteered to be "Ma and Pa" at our church's Youth Conference Trek, where we would lead a "family" of 12-18 year old kids for a long weekend on a pioneer handcart reenactment.  We would be helping the kids push the handcart, camping, cooking outside, and walking about 20 miles over a 3-day period.
Pa and Ma, ready to go!
For the last few years Rob has been in charge of these yearly Youth Conferences, and I was really excited to get to finally be a part of one.  It seemed like they were always great spiritually uplifting experiences.  And a lot of fun!  So, basically, I was totally on board with the idea.

Then, a few months later, we got a little surprise in the form of a positive pregnancy test!  When we did the math we realized I'd be 7 months pregnant by the time Trek rolled around.  My attitude began to shift from enthusiasm to anxiety.  Would I be able physically to hold up?  Would it be safe? Wouldn't it be smarter to just ask some other couple take our spot this time around?
The BEST "Big Brother," Zak
Rob and I both prayed about it, and he felt strongly that we should continue as planned.  I didn't feel a strong answer, but my anxiety mostly abated so we decided to go for it.
"Just keep walking! Just keep walking!"
A few months later, after a lot of hard work and preparation (MUCH more than I had expected!!), we were ready for the trip.

We donned our pioneer-style clothing (which looks EXTRA cute when you've got a big ol' belly...), packed up the minivan, said goodbye to the kids, and headed out to the Houston frontier.
"Pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked, and WALKED"
Over the course of the 3-day trek, we walked/pulled/pushed the handcart for about 20 miles (through some major mud and water), slept for about 20 minutes, and built some really sweet relationships with really fantastic youth.
An early morning
I learned a few things:

  • I can do hard things.  It was physically much harder than I anticipated.  I was in pretty good shape (for a 7-month pregnant lady), but being on my feet constantly was tough.  But I made it! 
  • God hears and answers prayers.  There were a few times when I was walking that I felt physically maxed out.  My back started cramping and I didn't think I'd be able to keep going.  I said a silent prayer for help, saying, "Okay, Heavenly Father, I'm doing this for You and for these kids.  If you want me to be able to finish this, You have to help me. Please."  Within minutes the cramps would subside and I kept going. 
  • This whole experience was a good metaphor for life.  Sometimes life isn't about having fun or doing what is easy.  It's about doing what you've been asked to do and moving forward to the best of your ability.  Often, when things are hard, we just want to sit on the side of the trail in the mud and let things go.  However, that doesn't help the situation b/c then we're just stuck in the middle of nowhere, sitting in the mud!  We have to keep moving, keep trying, and most importantly, keep involving God in the process.  He WILL help us.  Sometimes we don't notice it right away, but if we keep trying to do our best, before we know it we'll have walked another mile, some friend will show up to help us push our carts, or we'll notice somebody in greater need than ourselves.  
Pa with the kiddos
Overall, while I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing a trek in your third trimester, I'm DEFINITELY glad we did it.  I was so impressed with the youth in our family, and it was a great learning and growing experience for me.  

Another tender mercy: nobody in our family got ANY blisters!!! 

The women's pull

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ten Years Later!

Today is our tenth year anniversary!  So thankful that she decided to marry me.  And I thought I loved her after the first five years....

Since words are not my strong suit, here's another video of our last few years.  Love you Christa.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Aspen Grove: Heaven on Earth

This summer we made a long overdue trek to the homeland visit to Utah for our Ellis family reunion in Aspen Grove.
Off to Utah!!
Utah in the summer is magic; warm, blue skies, no humidity, soft green grass, beautiful mountains, and always lots of family and friends to visit.
Tired children resting whenever and wherever possible
We made a few stops before heading up to Aspen Grove.  First order of business was Jacqueline/Jacob picking us up at the airport (thank you!) and going to visit Grandma Emma's new pad at her retirement home.

We got the grand tour, had a delicious lunch in her fancy restaurant, and disturbed all of the peaceful residents with our crazy-train of kids.  It was nice to see where she is living now and hear about her new life in Utah.  We love her so much!
Aunt Lani met us for lunch and we got cozy on Grandma's couch
For our next stop, Jacqueline and Jacob let us use their car for the rest of the week (THANK YOU!!!) and we headed south to Provo to revisit our days at BYU almost 10 years ago (!!!).  
Our first apartment after we were married
Rob shared a Peanut Butter Moo'd with the kids--his traditional post-testing center celebratory treat 
We also visited some old professors, ate lunch at JDawgs with Mary and Spencer, and stocked up on BYU paraphernalia at the heavenly BYU bookstore.  

Then we had dinner with some of our best, best friends from law school who happen to be live in Utah now.  I can't believe we didn't get a picture!!!

The next major event of our trip was a celebration of Nolan and Elle's decision to be baptized!  It's so fun to see these kids growing up, making good choices, and turning into such wonderful people.  We are so blessed to be a part of such a WONDERFUL FAMILY!   
Kit & Elle, Joy & Nolan
This girl has never taken a bad picture.  
The blessing and curse of big families--everyone is just a teeny blob in the group photo!
Finally, after spending a few nights at Chez Linkous with a lot of our Ellis cousins (a dream come true to our girls), we all headed up the canyon to Aspen Grove.

Aspen Grove is a family "camp" owned and run by BYU.  It is basically heaven on earth and the perfect spot for big family reunions.  The setting is spectacular; nestled in the mountains above Sundance.  The lodging was ideal; all of us in separate family suites connected to a big main common room.  The food was adequate; 3 square meals/day prepped, cooked, cleaned up with zero effort from us.

Where Aspen Grove really shines is all of the age appropriate activities they offer for campers from 0-100.  All of the kids spent most of each day in their age-specific groups (with their cousins), run by fun-loving counselors, doing activities and games that kept them busy and happy for the entire week.  Meanwhile, the parents are free to participate in any (or all) of the games/tournaments Aspen Grove sets up for the adult campers.  Rob and I won the shuffleboard tournament (we're kind of a big deal), I almost won women's badminton, we played tennis most days, had our traditional Ellis Ultimate Frisbee game, dominated sand volleyball, and basically were outside enjoying life all day long.

In the evenings they arrange big themed activities the whole family can enjoy.  Water games, Western Night, Aspen Follies, etc, etc.

By the end of the week, everyone was still having a blast in the fresh mountain air, and just not quite ready for it all to end.  Perfect.

And now, a million pictures:
Sweet Sam, Matt, and Mia
Emily, Mary, Natalie, Spencer
Kit, Darren, Hope
So cute
Eden, with dimples galore
Wuv, twoo wuv
Family games are serious business!
Darrell and Marguerite 
Blondes everywhere!
Our view every day
Lily ringing the train bell in the Western Village
Tess, total doll
Conlon having as much fun as Jane ;)
Conductor Coco
...are the best!
Look at that view!

Mama KK is in heaven
Digging in the volleyball courts
Around the camp fire
Sometimes you just need a little screen time
So, so, so blessed. 
The week at Aspen Grove was such a hit that we've decided to do it again in 2017 for our Ellis reunion.  I can't wait.