No treatment. No cure.

December 11th, 2014: My doctor dropped the bomb on me that would change everything.

I had been experiencing trigger thumb for 8 months following a bad case of carpal tunnel during pregnancy. The carpal tunnel resolved but the trigger thumb was still causing me daily pain and the week of my doctor’s appointment I had also developed pain in the knuckles of my hands.

When I explained my symptoms, also mentioning that my chronic knee pain had been getting worse over the last few months and the tendonitis in my shoulders didn’t seem to be going away, he dropped the “R bomb” on me: rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, all I remember was that I sent my husband a text message from the exam room and he said, “Let’s pray it’s not RA.”

So of course the first thing I did when I got in the car was google RA and what I found was absolutely devastating. I read the words autoimmune, bone erosion, chronic pain, joint deformity, rheumatoid arthritis destroys the cartilage and bone within the joint.

No treatment. No cure.

That word “destroys” still makes me cringe. I saw pictures of mangled fingers and hands. I learned that usually RA occurs in women age 40-60 and every article and website talked about adults who struggle to playing with their grandchildren. But I was only31. And what about raising my own child? Will I be able to play on floor with him? If I already feel this miserable, what will I feel like in 10 years? Even 5 years? Or 6 months? My fingers already hurt when I tried to teach my son to wave “bye bye” and I couldn’t pick him up without wincing from the pain in my shoulders, so how bad would it get? How am I going to live like this if it only gets worse? I sat in my car and cried.

At the time I didn’t even know what “autoimmune” meant but I would quickly realize I was considered “high risk” because of my family/medical history. My dad and older brother have Crohn’s Disease, my mom has allergies and used to get migraines, my older brother had persistent acne as a teenager, and my younger brother has a history of IBS-like symptoms. For years I suffered with IBS symptoms only to discover about 2 years ago that I have a gluten intolerance. Around the same time I also learned that I am allergic to nearly all trees, grasses, animals, and dust. These issues had always seemed to me like they were unrelated but unfortunately that’s not the case. Realizing all of these were related to autoimmune and knowing the risk of other more significant issues increases with this kind of history, my heart broke knowing that a diagnosis of RA wasn’t that unrealistic.

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THE DIAGNOSIS:

Diagnosing RA is done with a simple blood test. Unfortunately that blood test is not very reliable and even if you have a negative blood test you can still get diagnosed with RA based on your symptoms. So I looked at the list of symptoms…

  • Fatigue.
  • Joint pain.
  • Joint tenderness.
  • Joint swelling.
  • Joint redness.
  • Joint warmth.
  • Stiffness of joints, particularly worse in the morning.
  • Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
  • Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)

Unfortunately I have them all. Every single one.

I also looked at other similar autoimmune diseases to see if there were any other unexplained symptoms that I was experiencing that could be explained by another illness and everything I read kept pointing me back to rheumatoid arthritis. Immediately, I started looking into treatment options.

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THE TREATMENT: 

While there is no treatment or cure for RA, there are a number of medications used to manage the disease. Thank God! Relief is on the way! These medications include immuno-suppressants to decrease the immune system’s over-active response, prescription pain medicines to manage pain, and a number of other medications to slow cell reproduction. Each one has some not-so-pleasant and often dangerous side effects and will frequently lose its effect with the progression of the disease over time. Here are the most common medications prescribed for RA:

  1. Chloroquine Phosphate – immunosuppressant, used for the prevention and treatment of Malaria, side effects include permanent damage to the eyes and heart.
  2. Leflunomide – immunosuppressant with common side effects of liver damage and lung disease.
  3. Methotrexate – used in cancer treatment as it decreases the body’s ability to produce new cells. This is a good thing when we’re talking about cancer cells but bad news for blood cells which fight infection. Add to that your immunosuppressants above and it can lead to “serious life-threatening side effects to the liver, lungs, and kidneys.” To top it all off, it Inhibits the body’s ability to process folic acid leading to possible birth defects.
  4. Sulfasalazine – also lowers folic acid levels leading to possible birth defects.

All of a sudden my options seemed a little less hopeful.

But that’s when I learned about functional medicine.

“Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease… By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, it addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.” And so began my journey, foregoing conventional medicine for a new type of treatment: FOOD.

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THE PROCESS:

The range of autoimmune diseases is vast and includes nearly every bodily organ and system imaginable but as unlikely as it sounds, each patient can be treated or at least have significant relief of symptoms with the same diet. The “Autoimmune Protocol” (Autoimmune Paleo, AIP) is becoming one of many recent elimination diets which helps to rid the gut of infections such as yeast overgrowth (which can also contribute to RA especially after pregnancy), provides necessary nutrients for healing, and also eliminates any possible food allergies and sensitivities that can worsen an already unhealthy system. The biological explanation is far too advanced for me to try to explain but when you get right down to it, most of us are eating toxins in our food and we’re exposed to an overwhelming number of toxins in our environment. We are quite literally poisoning ourselves. I am one of those whose bodies does not tolerate these toxins very well which resulted in my severe allergies, IBS/gluten intolerance, and RA symptoms.

The “treatment” for all autoimmune diseases is the same, but it’s not an easy one.

What would it take to put my RA symptoms into remission?

A total diet overhaul.

My husband has always said he is amazed by my determination and self-control when it comes to food. I’ve been gluten free for over 2 years and dairy free for the last 9 months since we discovered Brantley’s sensitivity to dairy, but I was in no way prepared for this kind of change. The AIP diet is restrictive to say the least but at the end of the day it promised to give me some relief of my symptoms and if I was lucky I had the potential of being completely pain free.

The list of foods encourages a variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables, while removing common food sensitivities, foods that often lead to inflammation, and a number of other substances that our bodies don’t process well including sugar, caffeine, and toxins found in non-organic foods. The diet is strict for the first 30 days and then whenever you become pain free (whether that’s at the 30-day mark or weeks/months later) you can choose to begin reintroducing foods back into your diet to see how you respond to them.

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THE RESULT:

I have only just begun my autoimmune journey and as of today I have successfully completed 29 days of healing. I have not yet attacked the dreaded process of clearing out toxins from my environment – drinking only filtered water, buying a high quality air filter, using unscented cleaning products and organic this and that – the list goes on and on. But I will say that my diet in addition to a number of supplements I’ve added has made a HUGE improvement in my overall daily pain level.

And while many friends and family have wondered and maybe even second guessed my decisions to fire my doctor and take a stab at this beast of a diagnosis without a physician overseeing my care, I stayed the course and believed in the possibility of treatment through food. I believe in the notion that we are living in a world that is toxic to our bodies. We subject ourselves to substances that have been proven in one lab test after another to be poisonous and cancer-causing but these very products are still sold on the shelves of our grocery stores. I believe in the idea behind functional medicine: get to the root of the problem, don’t just treat the symptoms.

I am absolutely thrilled to report that today is Day 1 of no pain.

And to all those who question and wonder, worry and doubt… it really does work.

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Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate…

I recently had a new comment posted on Brantley’s 4 month blog post. I was surprised to see this comment because (1) it wasn’t from my mom, aunt, or cousin, and despite 400-600 hits in a day I still believe they’re my only regular readers, and (2) it wasn’t some spam comment telling me to click on their link for “male enhancement”. It was a comment that someone actually spent a few minutes to write after having read my post or possibly a few of my posts. Here’s the comment: Well isn’t be just the most precious baby there ever was… I’m so glad the sun rises and sets on your “little man”. Oh wait! Don’t take too much time reading this because it will take time away that you could be dwelling on your “little man”. I sure hope you raise your “little man” to know that he is the center of the universe and everyone should cater to his every need. Every time you walk through that door, don’t forget to pay attention to your “little man”. Oh, and no need to spend time being naughty anymore since you have your “little man”. Have a merry Christmas with your “little man” while I vomit from your lack of blog content & writing abilities.

This person is a total stranger to me. I haven’t ever met her. I don’t know how she found my blog or why she started reading it in the first place. But dang, she’s got a lot of hate.

But maybe I shouldn’t make such a strong assumption about her current mental status with only this one comment to go off of. Maybe I should give her a break, cut her some slack. I’m sure she’s not just an evil person in general. I’m sure she has friends who she doesn’t speak so unkindly toward, and maybe a boyfriend or husband who gets to see the good in her. So maybe there’s another explanation for this verbal diarrhea of dislike.

My first assumption is that maybe she was just having a rough day and needed to unleash the frustrations and struggles of her own life. While I was having lunch with my brothers and sister-in-law, enjoying Christmas Eve by the fireplace and laughing at old family jokes, she was busy reading the blog posts of strangers. I imagine I was perhaps having the better day of the two of us and it’s possible that having nothing else to do on Christmas Eve but read the blogs of people you’ve never met, it might put anyone in a bad mood. Let’s be honest, hurling insults at a random stranger via the web is much easier than throwing a jug of milk at your husband or slamming your car into the side of your house. Besides, she actually has to deal with the consequences of those actions and here she gets to unleash her fury and never has to see or deal with the backlash. (Heck, who knows… this might be her thing. Maybe this is part of her daily routine walking around insulting random strangers at the coffee shop or while walking through Macy’s. You never know.)

My second assumption, and the more likely possibility, is that she doesn’t have kids. When you carry a child in your own body for 9 months and then finally get to meet him on the day of his birth (or if you have adopted a child and meet them for the first time), your world DOES revolve around that child. Nothing else matters. Yes, I still have a marriage and a full time job. I’m still in graduate school. I still have to attend classes and take exams. I still have responsibilities and obligations, friends and family who I spend time with. But does all of that fall by the wayside when my son is crying and needs his Mommy? You better believe it.

Oh, and every parent believes their baby is the most precious baby there ever was. That’s a given. I guess if you have twins you just have to put them in a playpen and let them fight it out for the title.

While I may not raise him to believe that he is the center of the universe or cater to his every need, I will constantly affirm his gifts and talents and raise him to believe that he can grow up and be successful in anything that he chooses. I will raise him to be an amazing husband and father as his father is for us. I will raise him to know that he is loved dearly by his parents, grandparents, and extended family members, and I will raise him in a way that he can pass on these family values to his own children. Every time you walk through that door, don’t forget to pay attention to your “little man”. 

I will. Every time. I can only hope that someday in your future you have the opportunity to feel the same way about your own child. And hey, at least she wished me a “Merry Christmas.” 🙂

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

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From our happy little family to yours.

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Love, the Robersons

Go faster.

Lately, my life has been telling me to go faster, do more, and get it all done yesterday. But today I stopped. No laundry. No schoolwork. No straightening up. No painting for my etsy shop or prepping for my return to work. Today I just enjoyed being with my baby.

I woke up early to do a test run of my pre-work responsibilities. Apparently another human being is dependent on me, and that means I can’t roll out of bed 10 minutes before I’m supposed to leave for work and eat a waffle on the drive. I was hoping to be able to sneak him out of bed and into the carseat while remaining mostly asleep so that next week I’ll be able to get him to the sitters and they can give him his first bottle of the day. This morning my plan worked fairly well and although I didn’t need to take him anywhere, I figured we would drive down to the beach and whatayaknow? We got there just in time to watch the sunrise.

IMG_0202IMG_0207I strolled him out to the boardwalk and my little boy and I watched the sun rise together. He was probably hungry and fussy and still sleepy but he didn’t show it. He just stayed there in my arms, content as ever, watching that big light raise up over the ocean.

We sat on a bench nearby while I gave him a bottle, watching busy runners getting in their morning workout, old ladies taking their morning walks, and passersby who smiled at the precious little one in my arms. Brantley and me? We just relaxed.

This evening, he got hungry early so I ended up putting him in bed early. He obviously wasn’t ready to go to sleep so I just held him in my arms and rocked him in his nursery rocker. I spent probably 45 minutes in that same spot, watching his eyes scrunch while his smile lit up his face, making noises back and forth to each other,y tears streaming down my face.

In the midst of chaos I am learning to hold my precious child because soon he will not fit in my arms the way he does right now. Soon he will be all grown up and I’ll wonder whatever happened to that little baby I used to know.

So I will imprint this day in my memory.

A Humble Request to All Parents

I am writing this to you from my new perspective as a first time parent. You have all been where I am today and I’m sure you’ve all struggled with the same things that my husband and I have during these last few months. I write this letter to you from a place of respect for what you already know as veteran parents (while we are obviously still have a lot to learn) but also from a place of love in asking some of you to ease up on us newbies.

This letter was not written to anyone specifically, so if you are reading this today and feel that I am targeting you, please know that I have wanted to write this blog post for many months. Now that we are finally getting into the routine of what “normal” looks like with a newborn and feeling some confidence about it, I also started to feel like I could adequately explain my feelings without the emotional roller coaster of new baby stress impacting my words and thoughts.

We are surrounded by amazing parents, from our own parents and grandparents, to aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. We are blessed to have great role models all around from whom we can learn and model our own parenting after. We know that you all love and care about us and frequently want to help by offering advice. So many people have told us tricks that worked for them, things that didn’t work so well, and the best ways they’ve found to feed, nurse, clothe, and diaper their baby. While we know that this advice is given out of love, I must be honest and tell you that the amount of unsolicited advice given by experienced parents to new parents can be TOTALLY overwhelming.

During our first week with our little one, Brantley, we had our fair share of struggles, long nights, tearful days, and frustrations. It was just straight up hard. Every parent knows the stresses of that first week and while we were doing our best, we also sometimes expressed our frustrations and emotions to others through phone calls, text conversations, and social media posts. Sometimes we were asking for help and we were soooo grateful to get your suggestions and opinions. But sometimes we just needed to vent our frustrations and if anything, all we really needed to hear at that point was “you’re doing a great job” and “trust your instincts.” What we heard instead was what felt like a barrage of what we should do differently, what we were doing wrong, why the choices we had made and the programs we were trying to follow wouldn’t work, and it made us feel like whatever we were trying was going to fail. For example, we’ve chosen to follow the recommendations and scheduling suggestions from the Babywise book and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the words “babies don’t know what schedule means,” or “oh honey, they have a book!” in the most sarcastic tone. It’s so frustrating as a new parent to feel like you know what might work best for your child only to have those thoughts and ideas second-guessed by someone else.

The first few weeks of parenthood were definitely hard, but with every frustration and tearful night also came many gracious moments of success. I cannot describe how amazing it felt when we would figure out a trick that got our crying baby to finally rest peacefully in our arms, when he would actually sleep as long as we were hoping he would, and when all the scheduling tips from “the book” actually worked. It felt so good because we had figured it out on our own!

So I’m asking that you, seasoned parents, please be supportive and encouraging to new parents. You do have more experience raising children than we do and I know you mean only the best when giving advice and suggestions. You know what worked for you and your kids and you’re hoping to help us avoid the turmoil of trying one thing after another but I’m begging you, please let US figure out what works best for OUR kids. If we ask for advice give it freely, but if we don’t just give us support and encouragement so we have the confidence to figure it out on our own. (I say this knowing full and well that I have given my fair share of unsolicited advice to others about topics I feel like I know a thing or two about, but this experience has really given me a new perspective.) With every failure comes the knowledge of what didn’t work for our baby and brings us closer to finding the one thing that does work, and each success makes us feel like we really can do this whole parenting thing.

Let’s be honest, us new parents don’t know anything about raising a kid. But it sure does feel good to be figuring it out.

Counting

I love my job working with kids because the things they say sure do help to break up the monotony of a typical workday.

Today, one of my kids was showing me how he’s learning to count. He started with “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…” then got up to “11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19!”

I asked him what happened to 14, 15, and 16. He replied, “They’re not in my class.”

The education system these days…

The Purge

I have a confession to make. I am a hoarder.

I wish I could say, “it’s not like those TV shows, like I have stuff piled up everywhere and you can barely walk through the house” but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that there have been occasions and sometimes whole months during which certain rooms of my house were so filled with things that you couldn’t walk through them at all. Did you see my 12 weeks post? It’s bad. I am somewhat embarrassed to tell you that I have gifts that I originally bought for people years ago and never shipped them, so they’re sitting in a box at the bottom of a closet. Until recently I owned a collection of over 50 VHS tapes just because I still really liked those movies and “What if I want to watch them one day? They still work fine!” I keep books that I’ve already read and didn’t even like, because the bookshelf in our master bedroom is organized by color and I didn’t have enough blue ones. And who needs a basket full of hotel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles? Me, apparently.

Yes, it’s ridiculous. And if I’m also being honest I have to admit that it would probably be much worse except for the fact that  I am married to a very clean, orderly, and minimalist type of man who takes the reins and holds me accountable to at least keeping the living room in a somewhat acceptable state. That’s not to say that the living room is free of my hoard. You’ll still see my bags from last weekend dropped on the floor by the couch, a pile of clothes in the foyer waiting to go to the thrift store or dry cleaners, and an endless stack of mail that I still haven’t gone through.

I am tired of the constant messiness I’ve created in our home. I’m tired of the clutter. The stacks of items that need to go upstairs, mail that needs to be opened, bills that need to be paid. I’m tired of constantly feeling this weight of stuff. In reality, I do realize that I have illogical emotional bonds with stuff but it’s still so hard to say goodbye. I have a hard time watching Blake go through a closet to find items to donate even though the candles he pulled out have been sitting there for five years and those frames in the corner never had and probably never will hold any photos. Writing it out now makes me feel so ridiculous because it’s just stuff. Most of it has absolutely no sentimental connection to any meaningful event in my life. It means nothing. But for some reason, it’s still a struggle for me to get rid of it.

What I’m also realizing is how much of an impact it may be having on my husband. This man, who works two jobs, cooks, cleans, does the laundry, takes care of the yard work, AND shops for the groceries, lives in a home which is just not conducive to relaxing and escaping the pressures and stresses of his very exhausting and stressful career as a firefighter. As much as he does for me and as constantly as he is thinking of how he can make my life better, I have failed to do everything I can to make our home a sanctuary for him where he can come home from work, spend time with his family, and find much needed rest.

So I’ve decided to begin a purging project. Every day, every week, for as long as necessary, I will go through our house systematically – one drawer, one box, one shelf, at a time – and purge until I can purge no more. It’s just stuff. Things. Objects. And it will no longer rule our home.

Why? Because:

1. I want my husband to have a home where he can find peace and rest.

2. I am tired of the time spent and stress of maintaining, straightening up, organizing, and re-organizing the clutter.

3. I want my home to be centered around my family, love, and memories. Not things.

4. As I eliminate the clutter, my hope and prayer is that God would also change my heart, change my emotional bond to these meaningless objects, and decrease my internal need to have more meaningless objects.

Throwing away perfectly good notecards will be hard. Donating shoes I haven’t worn in three years will be hard. As silly as it may sound to you, this whole process is going to be really hard for me. But I’m going to do it anyway.

For myself. For my husband. For my family.

 

Updates to come…

50 First Dates

I am really forgetful. I don’t say that like most people do as in “Oh, I forgot to get bananas when I was at the grocery store” or “I forgot her phone number”. I’m forgetful on a whole other level.

I forget what I needed from upstairs by the time I get to the top of the stairs.

I forget someone’s name immediately after they tell me their name.

I can be in the shower telling myself to do something the second I get out and 30 seconds later I completely forget whatever it is I needed to do.

Unfortunately, I also forget to tell people Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary even when I’ve been thinking about it all morning or all day.

I’m sure my husband could go on and on about all the things I’ve forgotten during our history together but to be honest, I don’t remember any more.

Blake says, “My whole life is like 50 First Dates.”

Living at the Oceanfront

Living at the oceanfront has its advantages. For starters, we can walk to the beach, enjoy the free live music, and “get away” any time we want. We also have the fortunate opportunity to explore the variety of restaurants that the tourist-based area has to offer. What this actually means is that We. Never. Leave.

We had plans this evening to go to dinner with friends and meet them halfway (they live in Norfolk) and a few minutes prior to us leaving the house, she texted me and asked if we could meet in Hilltop instead. My immediate response was “Heck yes. The closer we stay to our homeland the better” as I hear Blake sigh across the room. We were talking about how we never want to leave our neighborhood now much less have to drive 5+ minutes to go to dinner and he says…

“Is it bad that I actually get anxiety when someone wants to go to Town Center?”

He was meant to live at the oceanfront.

I’m back!!!

It has been almost a full year since I last wrote and I think I had reached a point where my life was just so full and so wonderful that I didn’t even care about spending an extra five minutes to write on my blog. I have spent the last year transitioning from girlfriend, to fiance, to wife, and now to expecting mother. There are no words to describe the year I’ve had… the year WE’ve had as a family of two and now three. And I realize there are still a number of people in this world who still want to hear what I have to say and see pictures of what’s going on in the lives of our little family so I’m bringing it back.

Here is the quick review of the highlights of our year…

In January, Blake and I took a trip to Vegas with his dad and ran into Marianne… what are the chances?!?!?! We spent the evening teaching Marianne and Cory how to play craps while they tried to teach us roulette. And we won over $500! So crazy we see each other maybe once a year or every other year and we end up in the same place on the same weekend.

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We celebrated my 30th birthday in the Outer Banks with a surprise 80’s dance party! Blake planned the whole weekend, sent invites, made meals, and decorated the house for my birthday bash. When everyone else was sleepy and retired to the hot tub, our dance party continued all night long even with just the two of us. We always seem to have so much fun together!

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Our family took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Israel and saw just about everything we could possibly see. We rode across the Sea of Galilee, climbed the mountain to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, floated in the Dead Sea, walked through ruins of cities that existed during the time of Jesus, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and walked along the Wailing Wall of the temple in Jerusalem.

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Blake proposed! We were at the beach house for a relaxing weekend with a group of firefighters and their wives and on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Blake poured us both a glass of my favorite wine and walked me down to the beach. His lieutenant’s wife also happens to be a professional photographer so she snapped photos of the whole thing.
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The newly engaged couple took a trip to Disney World in May, BEFORE adding kids to the mix. We figured we could do Disney one time the way we wanted without spending hours in line to get characters autographs and photos.IMG_8329
In true Meghan and Blake fashion, we celebrated Christmas in July again this summer complete with wrapped presents under a tree decorated with our personalized ornaments and Christmas lights. We also watched a never-ending number of Christmas movies and ate junk food for hours on end. Always a favorite!IMG_8548
Another year, another reunion, and this time I brought back everyone’s favorite non-family member as my soon-to-be husband! I can’t tell you how many people told me last year that I should marry Blake… so they were all so happy to see us again and this time with a ring and a wedding date. Blake took his first ride on a grapevine, too!IMG_8647
Shannon and Ashley planned a couple’s shower for us before the big day and everyone loved the Stock the Bar theme. Our favorite moments were playing their pre-wedding version of “Crimes Against Humanity”… everyone’s answers were so fabulous and so hilarious.IMG_8855
On October 18, 2013 I married my best friend, my whole world, and the most amazing man I’ve ever known. He is a hero to the world and the foundation of our home. I have never been so head over heels in love.portraits-1427
After a whirlwind wedding and after-party, we slept for only 2 hours and hopped on a first class flight to Dominican Republic! Our honeymoon suite overlooking the beach was just perfect. We walked out to the beach every day, took catamaran rides, went snorkeling, rode dune buggies through the wilderness, and slept in every day. It was the perfect vacation, perfect honeymoon, and perfect break away from the craziness of the last few months of wedding planning!IMG_9696
Thanksgiving weekend was spent in North Carolina with Blake’s family… and I was worried about taking him to West Virginia??? We spent the whole day skeet shooting! I had a chance to get to know his family better and we all shared a huge meal with hundreds of family members and friends, then braved the outlets for some Black Friday shopping.IMG_0109
In December, we co-hosted the 3rd Annual Terrrace Avenue Christmas Party with our neighbors and friends. The bottle exchange was high class this year so as soon as the guys each opened their bottle, they immediately went missing as they hid them away!IMG_0392
Oh and did I mention…. We’re PREGNANT!!!!! We didn’t waste any time and had a very “productive” honeymoon. HeheIMG_0263
Stay tuned for belly bump updates as I will probably redeem my title as the Queen of TMI. 🙂
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