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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Camp OTX!

 Camp OTX has been in our lives for a few years now and it shows no sign of stopping. Gretchen attended her first year for a one-week session, last year for a two-week session and this year, Alex joined her for two full weeks! This little guy had two entire weeks of undivided parent attention, and he was not sad about it! 

By the end of the camp session, we were all excited to have our big kids back, and we think they were excited to come home, but they took advantage of everything the camp has to offer. Offhand, I cannot think of anything that Camp OTX doesn't offer.

There are waterslides!

Nerf, water and real target shooting ranges.

Theme parties, like State Fair day where they offer all kinds of fun outdoor competitions.

New friends! War paint!

Cooking classes!

Patient, kind and mature camp counselors.


And while they are separated for the majority of camp due to age and gender, there was a little time each day for siblings to check in with each other. This one makes my momma heart happy.

Then it's time to pick up big brother and sister, and Graham has days worth of questions that he wants to know about. How big is the camp? Do I get to see where they sleep? What did they eat all this time? Do they know that we're coming? Can I come too next year???
After parking and picking up the footlockers and the bags of dirty laundry, we search for our kids. 

Graham and Gretchen find each other first. Showers are in order for some. Tears for everyone.

Until next year Camp OTX!

Monday, June 19, 2023

5 Years Out

This week I had the MRI that marks 5 years since the start of my brain cancer treatment. Thankfully, all is stable, no signs of change, flair, growth, enhancement or any other adjective that indicates anything has changed. It's good news. And I'm thankful.

Now that I only have to go once every 6 months, it's really easy to forget how horrible it is being tied to a medical facility for treatment, or bloodwork, or appointments on a much more frequent schedule. I walk in to the hospital for my MRI and I am immediately reminded of a time when I was there at least once per week. 

Lucky for me, my MRI days are now pretty routine. In the spirit of sharing, here is how a "normal" MRI day goes. Not that anything about having MRI days is normal.

I get the kids off to school. Get in my car and head to my local MD Anderson. The new facility that is much closer to my house, which has been a complete game-changer for my scan days. The building is easy to access, free to park and is really a sparkling new, modern place to be. There is this artwork hanging on the ceiling of the foyer. It's really cool, but it just reminds me of all of the twists and turns a person's life takes after a cancer diagnosis. You don't know which way you're going, it's all sort of random and scattered and chaotic. I wonder if that is what the artist had in mind. 

You are given a mask (still), a COVID screening and a bracelet. Then you go to the waiting hallway. The waiting hallway is lined with these contemporary paintings on the walls. All of them look like the letter "T" which just makes me think of tumor. 

A text message tells me to report to a specific door. Get weighed. Any new tattoos? Magnetic eyelashes? Pacemaker? Pregnancy? No - then change into this lovely blue number and proceed to the IV stage. 

IV complete, good return, time to move to the important room. A big, heavy door with many warning signs on and around it opens to a frigid room with a huge tube-shaped machine. I get to choose the music they play. I can't hear it, but it's nice of them to ask. Lay flat, earplugs in, head-securing foam in place, warm blanket on, mask off, here's the panic button if you need to stop. 

Somewhere between 30 - 40 minutes later it's over. IV out. Change back into my clothes. Go to Costco. 
It seems to be sort of a rite of passage after an appointment to drive the additional couple of miles over to pick up the basics at Costco. I see other members of the printed-out-plastic-bracelet club, many of whom I just sat with in the waiting hallway. Instead of waiting for a blood draw or radiation session or scan, now we're just perusing the aisles of a big box store contemplating how many raspberries we need. Surreal and routine; I would have never known of this order of events before, but now it is part of MRI day. 
Step 1: Get MRI 
Step 2: Buy 250 fishsticks 

But hey, I'll take it. I'll keep scanning and shopping as long as possible. And while there is always a reason to celebrate, 5 years felt like the right time to pause and enjoy a night out with some of the many players that have been with us through this unwelcome part of life. These lovely ladies joined me for a beautiful dinner outside while we caught up on the current, reminisced about the past and talked about plans for the future. What a gift, to have so many wonderful people in our circle to call on for help. Sometimes it's help with hard things, but more often (thankfully) it's help with celebrating the now. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Adventures at Disney - In Space

We combined a family trip with the place that everyone has told us we simply MUST go to in order to complete our kid's childhood. The Gill Family goes to Disney, and we start it in style by traveling to outer space. 

Disney does what they are best at, creating magic for children. And if you ask Graham, he would tell you definitively that we actually traveled to space. It's not difficult to see why he is so convinced, this is the view from our hotel window on the ship. Notice the stars, the moon, and they were all moving as we traveled toward them. 

The kids all slept in bed pods.

And we had all kinds of activities to complete, like the time we needed to fill in for the captain and drive the ship.

We also had light saber training, secret missions to accomplish, interactions with all of the major Star Wars characters and in between all of this, we built custom light sabers and assembled our own droids. 

We ate interesting space food, drank purple Chardonnay and dressed in character. It was a wild time. The time we went to space. 

We had all kinds of adventures in space, each cousin chose a light or dark side mission and we saw firsthand one of the most unique Disney experiences there is. May the force be with you. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Littlest Gill is SIX

 Already six years old. Only six years old. I lean one way or the other depending on the day. This year he entered kindergarten, head held high, and loved the freedom and excitement of elementary school. We are very excited for these years that our kids are split between 2 schools and not 3.

In his six short years, he has experienced a hurricane (Harvey), a parent with cancer, a global pandemic, and the most devastating of all, a 4 day power outage due to a major freeze in one of the hottest states in the country. 

He likes consistency. He likes knowing what's next. He likes pasta for dinner. 

He can swim like a fish, he speaks some Spanish but understands a whole lot, and he can hold his own on a chess board or in any video game you put in front of him. He dislikes compromise. He wants to be a big kid, but he still loves stories at night and snuggles on the couch. He has the bluest eyes you'll ever see, and he'll use them to his full advantage. He lost two bottom teeth, he can ride a 2-wheel bike like a champ, and he is starting to read. He has nothing but friends at school, at home, and everywhere we go. 

He's one of the funniest people we know. 

Happy SIXTH birthday to our littlest big guy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Pittsburgh With A Yinzer and A Jersey Girl

The Pittsburgh airport does it right! They have a bar/restaurant available outside of security - so we started the weekend strong with a morning snack and a catch up as we waiting for Meghan's workday to end and Kristen and my flights to arrive. I'm surprised that more airports haven't done this, considering you haven't been able to meet someone at their gate for the last 22 years.

We drove to Meghan's incredible family farm in the highest of high fall color season. We had a lovely, home cooked lunch and got a small glimpse into the world of dairy farming.  It could have been a more perfect fall day. 

After lunch, we went back to Meghan's house and spent the evening catching up with friends at their kids. 

On Friday we moved into our Air BnB on the North Shore and got ready for our fancy night out. In swanky Mount Washington. To get there we took the Duquesne Incline, this crazy looking train-meets-ski lift transport which was opened way back in 1877. The view on the way up - and again at the top - are well worth the $5.00 round trip fare. Just be sure you bring cash. At the top we had dinner at LaMont, another place with a killer view of the 'Burgh.

Pittsburgh! Beautiful!

The next day we took on Pittsburgh by foot and logged over five miles around the city. We started with coffee at Commonplace in the Mexican War Streets district, and wandered through stadium parking lots and parks and riverfront. 

The strangest and most colorful place, RandyLand, is both born from dreams and the thing of nightmares.  
RandyLand is an abandoned lot turned art installation. There are potted gardens and painted bricks. The majority of the lot is painted and repurposed trash that tells a story and causes more than one double-take.

It's certainly nicer than an abandoned building lot!

We finished touristing in the most touristy way possible, on the Gateway Clipper boat tour! With a bar and a view and a place to have uninterrupted conversation, this was a clear win to finish off our trip. Thank you Meg for touring your friends around your hometown, we'll be back!