Tuesday, August 20, 2013

another summer update

Must. touch. water.

Yes, Janneke was in her happy place this past Saturday when we visited a waterpark near my brother's place in Milford, MI.

Good times. Sweet memories.

It's been a bit scattered, trying to update the blog this summer.  It's been a good summer, but it is always busier than I anticipate.

And it makes me question (again) why I blog.  

It is cathartic, sorting through my emotions.  Welcoming through birth the unexpected - such as our two youngest in 2006 and 2009- shook the confidence and identity of whatever I thought I could do and whomever I thought I was.  For some reason still now, there seems to be more tension inside my heart when I am with people who knew me before the birth of Rachel.  It's as though there are two of me - the person I was prior to 2006 and the person I am now... and those two me's don't know each other very well.

When I talk with parents who share similar experiences, I suggest that it is like a season of post-tramatic stress.  The length of that season (and its reoccurrence) depends on the circumstance and person.  Sometimes, the posts on the blog let me step back and tell myself, "See, we are still living and finding joy. You're going to be okay."

Maybe I am afraid that if I don't share a bit of our story, people will forget.  From the moment Rachel was born in May of 2006, I was aware of how important -how essential- community was and still is for our family.  I remember a mom telling me that if I want support for the long journey ahead, I have to let go of some privacy and try to bring others into our life.  

I don't write the blog to draw unnecessary attention to our family or seek to invoke pity. There is no hierarchy in sorrow, and however we choose to live with our joys and sorrows depends on multiple reasons. Originally, we started the blog to keep our family and friends updated on the medical issues surrounding Janneke.... and then the story kept going.  

I guess that's ultimately what drives me: the hope and belief that our story keeps going.  We are all a part of God's story, and trusting Him through the twists and turns isn't easy.  At the heart of our stories (and in your comments and feedback) is the essence of belonging - to each other and to Him.  And we need to know that we belong - even with our abnormalities and idiosyncrasies.  

This past weekend, we celebrated belonging.  Because my brother Dave and his wife Jodi have the space in their backyard, many of my family (except Rhodes, Laura, and Callum out in Victoria, B.C.) set up camp for the weekend of fun.

My brother is quite creative in finding ways to make his place be memorable for the kids, and his enthusiasm rubs off on the rest of us.

Tarps were spread along the hill for a great water slide.  Add a little dish soap, and you've got a great ride.

The evenings ended with a Chinese lantern send-off.  After catching fireflies, the kids laid down on their backs to watch the light soar up and away... okay, so one lantern landed in the neighbour's tree, but Dave's got great neighbours.

The interaction between Sean and Janneke was a treat to see.  Once kids reach school-age, many are less inclined to spend time with Rachel and Janneke.  It is tricky for them to know what to do with the girls, so I understand.  That's why I take delight in the innocence of the early years, before the disabilities are recognized.

And speaking of delight, who wouldn't want to sit on a swing to discuss shipwrecks of the Great Lakes?

Yes, the water park was great fun.  Rachel wasn't so crazy about the water spraying everywhere, but she tolerated it - and put her fingers out every so often to feel the drops.  We are thankful her wheelchair is made with neoprene, so it dried in a matter of minutes with the sun!

The park was a highlight for the "big kids" too as they chased each other through the pad and raced down the slides.  They even convinced Grandpa and Grandma to go down the slides.

More memories made, and we are thankful for the family and friends that help us make it work.  More memories are in the making, and we work hard to choose joy on the tougher days.

Peace to your homes tonight,

And a special hello and photo to Sarah from Emily.  We hope you found a spot on the wall for your handiwork!  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

camping in Algonquin...worked.

For some of you, this photo is familiar - a typical angle of Algonquin Provincial Park.  We spent three nights in the park, specifically Lake of Two Rivers campground.  One of my favourite artists is Tom Thomson of the Group of Seven, and seeing these pines on rocks reminds me of his paintings and our friend Floyd's metalwork.  Rocks and trees like these portray a kind of beauty that is strong and resilient.  Inspiring and encouraging.

As we packed for the trip, the preparations were almost overwhelming.  Sterile water and formula, feeding tube supplies, sleeping bags, food.... 

And then there's the creative way we travel - a van that dwarfs our camper, even when it is "popped-up."  Rachel can't handle long trips, so she needs a stretch. That adds to our travel time, challenging all of us to be patient.

Is it worth it?


Even though we need to pack and prepare for ordinary and extraordinary scenarios - must have enough marshmallows and must bring spare g-tubes - we anticipate and savour the trees, the fresh air, and the space away.  Sure, there was an awkward moment when a fellow camper shared his displeasure at the feeding tube supplies being cleaned in the public laundry tub, but that was minor compared to the major smiles on the kids.

We took in campfires with the whole family, marshmallows, s'mores, and pie-iron brownies, and we all heard the wolves serenading us between 9-10 at night.  The type of bedtime lullaby that brings shivers down the spine but a feeling of awe for the song of the wild.

We camped with Tim and Jess Brand (my sister) and their kids: Caleb, Nella, and Aleah.  Our kids entertained each other, and Jess and I shared stories of our years camping as kids in the same campground years ago.


Camping is a unique holiday - You share a sink in the communal washroom with complete strangers while brushing your teeth before bed, and when it rains all night, you hear stories being exchanged the next morning of wet sleeping bags and puddles in the tent.

Conversations drift through the trees when you share a forest together.  Not only does it bring strangers together for a good story, it's also a time for humour.  Like when you might be bold to the family across the way that is yelling at each other while scooping water out of their tent with hatchets (?) - and offer them your brother-in-law's poop scooper masked as a shovel.  You don't tell them it is a poop scooper because they shouldn't be yelling at each other.  (Yes, the scooper was relatively clean.)

We did have rain one night, and Emily woke up in a puddle.  Yet the morning that followed brought sunshine, and by nightfall, everything was dry again.  The kids loved picking blueberries that the bears left behind, and even those of us who don't really like blueberries devoured these wild ones.

We found a few accessible trails and took in the sights.  We took time to learn about the plants, and we even caught a glimpse of a mother moose with her two calves.

We enjoyed time at the beach, and Janneke loved hanging out in the dinghy when the water was too cold.

Camping creates creative thinking: using the cooler for a table to play games under the tarp in the rain.

Rachel and Janneke seemed to enjoy the outdoors, but their first two nights were a challenge for us.  By the third night, we had figured out what worked, so we hope that means we are better prepared for the next trip.  The challenges include finding ways to care for the kids without stressing our backs, keeping them warm on the cold nights and dry on the wet nights, and we are also challenged in trying to sleep through their sounds.  Both girls don't sleep well, and when they are awake at night, they make noises that distract tired parents from sleeping deeply.

But sleepless nights seem to fade from the memory when you can throw rocks with your kids into Lake Opeongo.

Or visit the logging museum and see your kids grasp the idea of stewardship as it relates to forestry, logging, and land preservation.

I loved taking Em and Soph out for a canoe ride on Lake of Two Rivers.  We used the same canoe I grew up paddling, and it was awesome to share the lake, island, and view with my girls that I remember so fondly.  Lake of Two Rivers holds many good memories of camping with my family when we were kids, so it was a treat to share it with my girls.

We ended our time with a visit to Tea Lake Dam, and left with a promise to return.

Our trip couldn't have been possible without the help of our respite worker Christina Teeuwsen and the Brand family.  Christina took care of Rachel and Janneke, and Jess and Tim helped us with meals, a canoe - and made us good coffee.  

It was a short but sweet holiday.  The appetite for more camping has been whetted, and we remain optimistic that more camping trips are ahead.  It is intimidating to accept the fact that we cannot camp alone; camping for our family means other people have to camp with us.  Oh, the pressure to be fun to camp with!  Each trip is a learning experience, and we try to improve our plans based on mistakes made.  We know we will need to change the sleeping situation for Rachel and Janneke, but we love how the joy of the trip supersedes the frustrations of the moment.

Peace to your homes.
Soli Deo Gloria