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Live. Love. Photograph!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Our Adventure To Hanging Rock State Park

This summer we had several things we wanted to do but one that topped our list was a day trip. Heading out to somewhere we had never been to explore. A little mini road trip! After a little research and realizing we had a fabulous place right near our house it was decided....we were off to Hanging Rock State Park!!!

Unfortunately Andy had to work and we almost didn't go because of that but after a quick text my friend Jill, she was in for the adventure and the plan went on :)

It is only 45 minutes from our house and was packed full of fun for all ages. The pictures online were amazing! It had tons of trails, lots of wildlife and lots and lots of natural waterfalls!!!! We packed a backpack and a cooler full of drinks and snacks, swooped Jill up and we three were off for our road trip!!

It was a beautiful Sunday with a high in the mid 80's and a cloudy day. We headed out a little before lunch and the drive up was wonderful. We chatted, listened to music, and took in the scenery. It got more and more beautiful the closer we got to the mountain. We stopped for a quick pit stop to eat lunch at Bojangles (Hensley's new favorite spot) and a bathroom break.

Off to the mountain. Neither Hensley or I had ever been to a mountain of any kind so it was very exciting to be driving to the top and it was soooooooo pretty!

We started off at the Visitor Center because we had no idea where to begin (I mean the park is only 7,014 acres large!!) He told us some great beginner trails to start with and to see all the awesome waterfalls. The first trail was the Upper Cascades and at 0.3 miles long it was a perfect start with lots of trees shading our way and a beautiful water fall at the end!!















It was so awesome down there. The water was so cool!!! We had never seen a waterfall before in person it was really really beautiful. The water was crystal clear. We spent a long time here looking for pretty colored rocks in the water and getting soaking wet :) It was a very relaxing and awesome place to hang out. We could have just stayed in this one spot all day! 

Out next destination was a short drive away to the Lower Cascades. It was a little farther down the mountain then the Upper Cascades and the trail was only .4 miles BUT it was a long way down and the steps were a definite workout. The waterfall here was so different from the first it was huge and had a place to climb up and slide down the side. It was stunning. Pictures really do not do it justice at all. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall was a lot deeper too and perfect for swimming with the family :) 

On the trail down to the waterfall.

Looking up :) 









This place was really magical and so relaxing. 

We also explored so pretty cool caves. 











Checking out a frog :) 








If you are ever in the area or have the chance to visit, Hanging Rock State Park is an awesome place to be. It's an adventure you'll never forget. Next time I plan to see Window Falls and take the longer trail up to the actual hanging rock. I can't wait :) See you soon :) 



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Never Ready







Two years ago I sat at this computer and wrote a blog that was very close to my heart. At the time my grandma was battling cancer which is a very scary word today. She had ovarian cancer and we quickly learned that it was one of the toughest to come back from. I sat here writing that post thinking that my Grandma wouldn't be with us much longer. I felt that she was very sick (sicker then she was telling us) and that even though she was doing chemo treatments and taking lots of medicine, that there wasn't a lot of time left with her. On one hand I was right but on another I was very wrong.

In my last post (which you can find here) I talked about how strong my Grandma was and she proved me right yet again. That post was written almost two years ago and at that time I could have never imagined she would be here two years later. But she was :) She fought ovarian cancer and won!!! She prevailed. She was strong in her body and her mind. She was happy! Her health improved she did her treatments and had surgery to remove the existing cancer cells. Hensley was only 2 1/2 years old and I knew losing my Grandma meant him not remembering her. Those were thoughts I couldn't bare.

So many memories were made. A few more Christmas Eve's together. Several more birthdays all gathered in her kitchen. A couple Sundays in church watching her sing and praise God. She seen my little boy grow up. She got to kiss his cheeks and squeeze him tight so many more times then I ever thought she would. We never knew what was around the corner. She had so many other health problems that she had battled for years and a few new ones that had developed since the cancer had left. We had so many months of her feeling great. Full of energy and life. Slowly things changed. A disease called colitis set in, which is a terrible condition that effects your stomach and intestines and makes eating anything pretty much unbearable. It caused horrible gut wrenching pain and endless trips to the bathroom. She suffered so many months with this. Forced to stay home because of it due to either dehydration from not eating or pain in her stomach from eating. Church and other outings became impossible and really effected her physical and mental state. She began suffering with it in March 2012 and it only got worse over time.

During the holidays this past year things started to increase in intensity. She began having trouble with large of amounts of fluid on her side that the doctors were unable to figure out the cause of for a while. After draining it several times they sent it off for testing and my Grandma's worst fear came true. Cancer had returned.

Stomach cancer this time.

It was progressing rapidly, each week more and more fluid building. Again the doctors seemed to have a plan. Drain the fluid and start chemo which they were sure would keep the fluid off since it was essentially a infection from the cancer. She seemed like she was defeated. Like she couldn't believe she was facing this situation again. There were days where she seems determined as well. Days where I thought "Nothing will ever break her spirit". But those days became few and far between.

I won't lie I distanced myself during some of this time. It was too hard for me to see her on days where she couldn't remember things, or to walk into her house and her not even get up off the couch because she had been up all night, or to see her in her wheelchair weak and tired. It was hard. My Grandma was always strong, always going, and it seemed to me that even though her body was still here......she was not.

As Febuary 2014 came around my Grandma had been in and out of the hospital several times for various things mostly for dehydration. Near the end of the month her doctor thought she was finally strong enough to begin her chemo treatments and she seemed relieved that the fluid build up and the pain that it caused would no longer be a problem. During her first chemo treatment they learned very quickly that her kidneys were not going to be able to take it. Her diabetes from all these years and all medicines she had taken was taking a toll on her kidneys and they were nearing failure. She had a pretty long hospital visit that time and when she was sent home it was only 48 hours before she was back and in ICU. Her body was in a mess. She was taking one medicine to fix one problem which caused side effects and another medicine to cure the side effects from the first medicine and so on and so on. It was a never ending cycle for her and we could all tell that she was getting to the point where she was tired.

She wasn't able to do anything anymore. She didn't have anything that made her happy except her family and she felt many times that she was letting us down. She was seeing us cry and she knew the reason we were all so sad was because she couldn't get better.

She became extremely weak physically during this time and shortly after her stay in ICU she was making some small improvements and was sent to a regular room at the hospital. She was advised that instead of going home from the hospital her doctors wanted her to go into a facility that served as a nursing home and a rehab center. We were all told that she would be in the rehab part and this way she could build up her strength to go home and try again with chemo. It was hard for a lot of us even thinking of letting her enter the rehab facility because it was a nursing home as well. There were some of my family that let their pride get the best of them and did not agree with the decision for her to go there. Ultimately it was her and my Grandpa's decision and they thought it would be best. I was on the fence.  She entered the rehab program the first week of March 2014.

She was there for a little over a week and doing ok. Sleeping a lot but other then that she was doing ok. I didn't go much and I felt horrible about that but every time I thought about going to see her there I couldn't. It broke my heart too much. My mom called me one evening very upset and told me that the doctor at the rehab facility had came in and told her that he believed her cancer doctor was giving her false hope and that according to her charts and tests from the hospital her cancer was not curable. No chemo would help. No radiation. No medicine was going to be able to help her.

This was a huge blow to her and to us all.

No one had ever told us this before. No one had ever even hinted at the thought that she wouldn't be able to get treatment and get through this. The moment my Grandma heard this she gave up. Her hope was lost. Her will to fight this was gone. She started making her arrangements that very moment when the doctor left the room, to leave this world.

My Grandma was always the most organized and prepared person around. She had every single thing planned for when she was gone. She had every song she wanted sang, her outfit, even the flowers she wanted at her funeral. She entrusted my mom and grandpa to carry out her plans. How they dealt with all that while dealing with their emotions of losing her sooner rather then later, I'll never know. But they did. They ensured her it would be taken care of just the way she wanted and I think that peace that she had knowing everything and everyone would be taken care of when she was gone was a big relief to her.

It was a hard pill to swallow. I went to see her that night. She didn't even know we were there, or so it seemed. My grandpa decided to take her home shortly after that. He knew just as we did that her time was short. My mom was by her side everyday though all this. She did everything from feed her to stretch her, to change her. She spent many countless hours with her praying and crying. Trying to prepare herself for something none of us could ever be ready for.

I was with my mom a lot when my Grandma went home. Seeing the hospital bed in her dining room. Coming in and holding her cold hand and wishing so much in my soul that I had held her hand so many more times before now. Seeing her chest rise and fall and praying that it wouldn't stop. Sitting by her bed reading the list of signs to look for when death was only a few days away and knowing she had showed signs of every single one. Watching her hands grabbing and reaching for something or someone when no one was there and wondering just who it was she was seeing while her eyes were closed. I hoped it was her dad who she's missed so much or her Aunt Faye or best friend Helen, or even GOD. Looking at her face several times over those few days, knowing she was home, she always looked peaceful and relaxed.

Tuesday, March 19th 2014 I spent the morning while Hensley was in school with my mom. She was exhausted and tired. She was overwhelmed and stressed and scared. I went down to help her and sit with my Grandma. Just staring at her face and her hands. Thinking back on how many times she had sat by my beside when I was sick or upset. I prayed that morning that if my Grandma was ready to let her go. Hoping I would somehow find some peace with everything that was happening. In my mind I thought since I have known this is coming for so long I will be ok. Knowing the Grandma I knew and loved wasn't here anymore anyway, that I would be happy for her to no longer be suffering, but I also prayed I would be back in that same chair the next morning watching her chest rise and fall. I left that afternoon in my gut knowing that I should pick Hensley up from school and bring him back and sit with her a few more hours. But I didn't want him to be sad or upset. He had seen us all crying so many times over the past few months and he had seen her in the hospital so many times over the past few weeks. I never took him once she gave up. I never took him when she reached that point. The last time he saw her she was able to tell him she loved him and he gave her a kiss. I didn't want him to see her like this at her house. So I went home.

My gut was right. I should have went back. I was not even home an hour when my phone rang while I was washing dishes. I seen on the caller ID that it was my Mom. I assumed she wanted to know if I got home ok. Or to remind me to bring something the next morning. She was too calm when I said "hello". She didn't respond the way she normally did. I knew it was the phone call I never wanted to receive. I always thought I knew how I would react when hearing those words. I am the strong one. I am the one who holds it together. I don't cry that much and not much gets to me. I have had other people I have known who have passed away. I always wondered why I wasn't sadder during those times and I just assumed when I heard I would know she wasn't in pain anymore. I would be ok.

I wasn't.

I lost it.

I was something I never expected to be when I heard those words that she was gone.

I was angry!

As much as I thought I could be...... I wasn't ready.

I never expected, of all the feelings in the world, this would be the one that would take over. I don't know if I was mad that I hadn't trusted my gut and been there by her side, or if I was angry that she was gone period.

For a good 30 minutes waiting on my mom to come and pick me up in order to drive me down to my grandparents (she knew after my reaction to the news there is no way I could drive) I was in a state I have never been in. I was sad to my core and the most angry I could ever remember being. I cried so much it felt like I would never run out of tears. It was physically painful!

Walking into a room full of people you love who are hurting to their very core, all surrounding a person who absolutely means the world to them who has just passed away is probably the worst feeling in the entire world. To know everyone is feeling just like you is some what comforting but at the moment you get so lost in your own pain it's hard to see the love and support you have. I don't remember talking to anyone that day when I went to see my Grandma, except for my Grandpa and Brandon. And I remember feeling such a connection to them at that moment. We had all had our own little family for so many years. And even though life had changed and I no longer lived there, that house always was my home. They were always a little family. In the moments of realizing she was gone every emotion you could imagine ran through me. I went from being so incredibly mad to being at the very pit of sadness. I had honestly never felt so sad in my life. There had never been a bad, or hurt word sent my way that made me feel as sad as I did the moment we arrived at my Grandparents house.

I remember looking up and seeing Andy walk in the door that afternoon. I hadn't even remembered calling him or telling him the news at that moment. I suppose my brain was on auto pilot when I did.
He knew this pain. Losing his Dad a few years ago was the hardest day of his life. Being totally honest I didn't understand his pain then, not until this day did I understand it. His hugs and sweet words were just what I needed that day. I needed someone who had been through this process and who at the same time was going through it again with me.

Several people said their "good-byes" and told her things they wanted to her to know. I knew there was something I wanted to tell her. I had tried to tell her since she was at the rehab center but there were always people around and I never got the courage to tell her. I knew now that she was gone she knew what was in my heart and what I wanted to say, still I knew there would be a time in the next few days where I would have to say it out loud to her, and I wasn't sure I could even speak the words.

A lot of people left knowing the funeral home was coming soon to take her. They couldn't take it. Her leaving this house meant just as much as her leaving this world. She would never be here again. Never would any of us walk in this house and see her working in her yard or cooking in her kitchen. A lot of my family weren't ready for that.

I, on the other hand, couldn't look away. I had to watch her leave. I can't tell you why. It just seemed like something I had to see.

Over the next few days all the things that had to be done got done. The arrangements were made, things were paid, papers were signed. It was a very easy process. There was no worry or stress, she made sure of that. It was all there in black and white. Planned and paid for by her. She wouldn't have wanted a fuss made. She wouldn't have wanted anyone to be inconvenienced. She had thought it through and it actually made a lot of us feel at ease knowing we were doing exactly what she wanted. We did get to pick out the casket and vault. They were beautiful!

The next day the funeral home called. She was ready. They had done all they needed to do. She was dressed, prepared, hair done, newspaper obituary was wrote and ready to be proof read (which we wrote herself of course), the programs were printed.

We all went into a room to watch the slideshow of pictures I had arranged for the funeral. She was there in the back of the room in her beautiful casket that was covered in flowers. Everyone gathered around to see how she looked. I couldn't make myself approach her, yet. I knew today was the last day I would have time alone with her. That after today we would only see her once more and that would be at the funeral surrounded by everyone. I wanted to wait and see her once everyone was gone. We watched the pictures slowly fade in and out on the screen to some of her favorite hymns. The pictures represented every phase of her life. They showed every happy moments. She was smiling in every one. It was the perfect reflection of her life,

Everyone soon realized I had not been up to see her. I explained I needed some time alone and without wanting to leave me there in case it got too hard, they elected Brandon to stay by my side. I was so thankful for that after the fact because we shared all of our time with her together. She raised us both, knowing she would always fight for us to have better then she ever dreamed or herself, and that she did.

She looked just how remembered her. So many people don't look like themselves once all the preparations have been done but she did. Her hair was just like she always wore it. She looked so peaceful and happy. Her outfit was perfect. She was very specific on what she wanted to wear and it was perfect. All her jewelry that was dear to her was there. Her bible that became such a huge part of her life over the past 10 years was with her.

I knew in my heart what I wanted say, what I had to say. I just couldn't make my mouth say the words. They meant so much and it felt like once I said them that was it. She was really gone, even though I knew she was, it seemed like it would be so official.

I held her hand and really cried. I let it all out. I was so so grateful to have Brandon's arm around me in these moments. I told her how much I loved her and I told her how thankful I was for the sacrifices   she made to give me the best life. I told from the deepest part of my heart how much I loved her and how I would never let Hensley forget her. And then I asked her something I wish so hard I would have asked her while she was still here, I asked her to take care of my sweet baby girl until I could get  there to do myself. I know she was with me that day and I know she knew what was in my heart. I knew she was already doing it weather I had asked her to or not.

I felt such closure leaving that day. Knowing I had said all I wanted to say. I was more at peace then the days before.

The following day was it. Time to let her go and time to be around so many other people who were grieving the loss of her too. We arrived early to have as much time with her as possible. To see the flowers we had all sent. They were beautiful. She has asked for no flowers from family and friends but the church was full of them. She would have loved every single one. Flowers always made her happy and I know that day was no exception.




As the minutes passed more and more people filed into the church, each one of them she loved and shared so many memories with. She was so loved by many. There were several people who came and paid their respects and left because they said they couldn't sit through the funeral, it would be too hard. I understood that feeling. Honestly the hardest part of the entire day was when it was time for the family to leave the scantuary for the closing of the casket. It was the hardest thing to leave that room. To know after this we would never see her again. That was the hardest part of the day.



The funeral was beautiful. She has picked some beautiful songs. She had asked the preacher to teach on the chapter of Timothy and he did and it spoke to so many of us. He said he had never really preached a sermon at a funeral but she asked him to so he did. It focused on teaching the importance of being saved and knowing the Lord and asking him into your heart. It was something she knew so many people in her family had not done and that hurt her heart more then anything.


She had written a letter to my uncle many years ago about what she wanted and in that letter she included a letter to her grandchildren. I hadn't read it even though I had read the letter to my uncle. I actually flipped it over and read that last line many months before the funeral and knew I couldn't stand to read the whole thing. I knew I couldn't read it, but it was being read at the funeral I had asked for the original copy of this letter and had it in my bible since she died. It was time for it be read and it shook me to my core. This is what it said:

I Know I'll Leave Something Good Behind

OH, this world we're in today sometimes ain't a pretty place
Then I look at you and I see something beautiful
And in my heart I know there's a reason
When you put your tiny hand in mine
And I looked in your trusting eyes,
Knowing that love would pull us through;
But if my life should end tomorrow
I know you'll be the living proof

And I'll leave something good behind
You sweet child of mine
You made my life worth living
And when all my earthly days are through
I'll leave here knowing I did what I came
here to do.

And when I say "Good-by" I'll know
that i'll leave something good behind.

Well, at times it's been a fight, but I've
tried to do what's right.
Even when everything went wrong, I still
believed that we would make it
It hasn't always turned out like I planned
But I've done the best I can to
help you someday face the world alone.
And after I've been long forgotten,
You'll be my legacy of love.

All I'll leave something good behind
You sweet child of mine
You made my life worth living
And now my earthly days are through
I'll leave here knowing I did what
I came here to do.
And now I say "Good-by" but I
know I left something good behind.

I love you very much. Please be good;
take care of Daddy and each other.
I'll be waiting for you

Grandma

It meant the world to me. It was written in her hand writing and while it was being read by the preacher I could hear her reading it in her own voice. It was a crazy emotional experience and I was thankful to hear it and know I had it to read any time I needed to be reminded of her love for me.

The graveside service was perfect. It was a beautiful day and her and Grandpa had picked a quiet graveyard in the country with huge trees. It was a place my Grandma loved. A place she felt at peace to be laid to rest at. She had asked that at the funeral each of her kids and grand kids and great grand kids lay a white rose on her casket before it was lowered and for my grandpa to lay one red rose on it, we did as she wanted. It was simple and beautiful. We didn't include the lowering of the casket into the graveside service. I don't think any of us could have handled that.



It was a day she would have loved to be outside working in her flower beds and sitting in the swing on her front porch. I believe she was so at peace when she left this world. I know there were so many people she was ready to see and rejoice with. Her heart belonged to the LORD entirely and the day she saw his face was one that she had waited for for a very long time.



As sad and brokenhearted as I was to lose her I was happy for her at the same time. Her quality of life had dwindled until she wasn't herself anymore. She was so tired and so ready to praise the LORD and rejoice with him. I can only imagine how happy she looked when she reached those pearly gates :)




I love you Grandma! You taught me that school was so important and to always keep learning. To never settle for anything but the best. To try my hardest and when I was doing that to try a little harder. You are the greatest woman I have ever known. You loved with all you had. You always expected me to do my best. You taught me how to love, how to be a great mother, how to never give up, to always be strong, honest, and to love the Lord. You are my inspiration grandma. Your impact on my life was greater then you ever knew. I loved you more then I ever got to show you. You rooted for me always. I know you are free from all the sickness and pain that has haunted you for so long now. I know you are with so many people you have longed to see again now. I wasn't ready to let you go. I never will be. Without you I wouldn't be half the person I am today. I am so incredibly thankful God blessed me with the time I did have with you. I am thankful my son knows his grandma and got a chance to love you and feel the love you gave him. Every moment in my life that ever mattered, you were there. You fought a long hard battle and in my eyes you won because you left this world with no regrets and with so many people who love you surrounding you. Today you truly went home. And just like your letter said "you'll be waiting on me" rest in peace grandma I'll miss you now and forever








Here is the photos I put together for the slideshow. They did a wonderful job with it! 






Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Land of the Free Home of the Brave!!

Happy 4th of July folks!!!

This year for the 4th we were happy to have one thing different from last year.....DADDY WAS HOME!!!!

We took it easy this year. We didn't head down town or out for the whole day we just enjoyed time together, cleaned the house, played some video games and grilled out with friends for the day time festivities.

We made burgers and hotdogs, ate a ton of watermelon and of course had red white and blue cupcakes ;) We kept it simple. We spent it with people we love so much. We had an amazing day :) 







We of course planned to see some fireworks so we decided to try a new adventure and go to place we had never been. I love traditions and I love keeping things the same from year to year but it seems on the 4th of July our tradition seems to be to try something new each year, and I like that tradition, A LOT!

We headed to a park in High Point, NC to an annual event called The Uncle Sam Jam! It lived up to all I had heard about it :)



 The event was very laid back but they did have bounce houses!!!!!





There is something about having someone in your life that you know when they are with your child they will 100 percent treat them just as their own. I love her for that and many many other reasons. 





This park was absolutely beautiful and the weather for the 4th of July this year was amazing! 


Hensley was so excited for this day :) 



I so wish little Zoey would have turned around for me and smiled and I just love this picture of her and her little blonde curls. 



The boys played ball in the beautiful evening light ;) 



There was a huge lake right next to where we were sitting.....enough said!!!



They couldn't get to that water fast enough!!









Little side note: I snapped this picture of my sweet friend Emily and her two amazing kids. I have a lot of friends who are mothers at this point in my life, in fact most of my friends are mothers. And as mothers we all connect on that level but of all the mothers I know and spend time with I feel like she is one the who always understands and who can be counted on for 100 percent honesty when I ask her opinion. Every mother is different in how they raise their children and I feel like Emily and I mother our children very similarly. I feel like we both look at our children in the same way and I am so thankful for her and the friendship we have developed. I love talking to her and planning things for our kids. I love seeing her interact with her two children and how close of a bond she builds daily with them. I am thankful for her and thankful for the connection we both share with our babies :) 

Ok I back to our regularly scheduled blog! 








The sun started setting quick and we were all more then ready to grab a slice of pizza and a funnel cake and enjoy the fireworks :) 




I couldn't get over how beautiful the evening was!!






The day was perfect :) I can't wait to see where next 4th of July takes us :) 



I took this picture by the lake that day I can't wait to print it and frame it. I am in love with this :)