Cookies Galore!

For the past couple of years, I have dreamed of making beautiful Christmas roll-out cookies. I love Pioneer Woman's blog post that gives details on how to properly make the icing needed to decorate. All the visual images of what the icing should look like are really helpful because icing tends to be such a fickle substance. Bridget from Bake at 350 gave instructions about how to make both the royal and flood icing perfectly. You can find the recipe for both HERE. I used squeeze bottles instead of piping bags because I didn't buy the right materials. To be honest, the squeeze bottles worked GREAT! I'm sure my outlining could have been a little more precise had I used the tips/decorating bags, but for my purposes and first shot at making this kind of cookie, the bottles worked great!

This cookie making adventure was a family affair. I used this recipe and loved it! It was super easy, did not require chilling, and didn't have any issues with being too sticky. Noah helped me measure and mix together all the ingredients to make the cookies. He kept asking, "Mommy, are these Santa's cookies?" So cute! He even helped cut out the first batch before he finally lost interest and ended up playing in the flour. :)

After baking the cookies on Tuesday, we decided to decorate them Wednesday at about 9:00 p.m. because the icing needs a long time to dry. Although it's not really his cup of tea, Ryan agreed to help me. He was in charge of sifting the powered sugar and quickly learned not to fill the sifter completely to the top. I think he breathed in a good amount of powered sugar with the cloud that was dancing above his head! The icing took about an hour to actually prepare it, mix in colors, and put into the squeeze bottles. Hopefully that will be a faster process next year now that I know how to do it. Then, the cookie decorating began!

This really was a lot of fun! I learned a few things through the process that I want to remember for next year. First, I made a double batch of icing. I used the first batch for the royal icing and the second for the flood icing. I had plenty leftover of each kind. So, i can either just make one batch for both or add 3 more colors next year. Second, I would probably roll my cookies out a little thicker next year. These are good - don't get me wrong - but they are a little more crispy. I like soft, Christmas cookies a little better! Other than those two things, I think my first attempt at this kind of cookies went rather well. I hope this gives you the motivation to do the same! Merry Christmas!


Liam's Smile

Oh my, what a journey we experienced the past couple of months. With Liam's surgery seeming all too close yet very far away, we distracted ourselves as much as possible, remodeling the kitchen, installing a new bathroom vanity, and spending time with friends and family. Two weeks before Liam's scheduled surgery, we put our family on lock down. No one went anywhere unless absolutely necessary (i.e., going to work). We were trying to prevent any illness from sneaking its way into our home. We found lots of ways to stay busy and have fun indoors, like building tents.

We also had fun introducing lots of new foods to Liam's diet: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, acorn squash (a strange looking vegetable but very delicious!), pumpkin, green beans, pears, and applesauce. Liam had a really hard time pushing out his tongue the first couple of weeks he tried solids. Plus, because his lips couldn't close completely, food would slip out of his mouth. It was then that I knew we had to go through with this surgery.

Monday evening, two nights before surgery, Ryan and I were getting ready for bed when we heard this terrible barking cough. At first I couldn't believe it. I thought it was my ears playing tricks on me. We had isolated him for two weeks. How did he get the worst-sounding cough imaginable?! Ryan stood in the bathroom with a hot shower running so that Liam could breathe in the steam. Unfortunately, he only sounded worse, as the steam probably broke up some of the junk in his chest I just wanted to throw up my hands because we had done everything "right" to prevent that from happening. God had truly given me peace in my heart the week before that Liam was going to be fine and go through his surgery as scheduled. I couldn't make sense of the fact that he was sick. We prayed and prayed and prayed some more. Some of you reading this even prayed for him (THANK YOU!). The next morning, when I spoke to the nurse practitioner, Pat, she heard Liam coughing and became really concerned, too. She said unless he got worse to go ahead and bring him the next day as planned with the understanding that they could send us home. After all the preparations we had made and the strong desire to just put this whole thing behind us, we prayed and prayed some more that it would be safe for him to go through the procedure. We got the call that afternoon, telling us details about the latest Liam could have breast milk and pedialyte. After enjoying the day as a family, we fell asleep praying for all to go as scheduled the next day.

The next morning, Liam's feeding schedule went perfectly. He had never had pedialyte before and seemed to like it just fine! Ryan's parents came down to watch Noah and Kya (THANK YOU AGAIN!) and snapped a quick picture of our family before we left for Riley's Children's Hospital. When we first reached the Main Day Surgery area, we saw a pastor from our church waiting in the lobby. That was the first time I felt emotional that day because it hit me - we were in a situation where a pastor comes to the hospital to visit. We checked in at Main Day Surgery without any trouble and walked back to our little "cubicle," which was a small open room that could be made more private with a curtain. This waiting area was filled with small rooms just like it, lining up and down the hallways. Liam woke up right when we walked back there, so we weighed him, took his blood pressure, temperature, etc. and got him dressed in his hospital gown.

Seriously, how cute is this smile?
Liam was a little angel the whole time we waited. We spoke again to Pat, the nurse practitioner, met the anesthesiologist (Dr. Hamilton, who was absolutely wonderful to us!), Dr. Havlik, and other members of his team. After meeting with everyone, reality hit us. This surgery was going to happen. I felt such peace and happiness, so thankful for God's answer to our prayers. We took the next 30 minutes to just snuggle with Liam and enjoy his beautiful smile just a bit longer. For only 10 minutes of our entire wait did he get fussy, and we knew it was because he was hungry. Ryan wrapped an Operation Smile blanket around Liam and me, and I just sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to him over and over again. He sucked his thumb while I just got a last few snuggles in. Then, two nurses came to take him to surgery. One, whose name was Angel (coincidence?), spoke to us and said that she had a little one at home Liam's age. That put my heart at ease. Another mom was going to take care of him and make sure he wasn't afraid. Ryan and I gave him a few more kisses and away he went. For the first time that day, I broke down. I knew everything was out of my control - that we had done everything we could to make sure he had the best care - and the rest was up to God's plan. Ryan and I held each other a bit behind that curtain, collected ourselves, and walked up to the waiting area where we spent the next 2 hours of the day.

We found my mom and my grandfather waiting for us. They were a good distraction for us, and we had a couple of sandwiches we had packed earlier that day. After the first hour of waiting, a nurse came by to give us the update that Liam was doing great in surgery. He didn't fuss once when they took him back before putting him under anesthesia. What a trooper! He was resting peacefully while Dr. Havlik was hard at work. After hearing the good news, it hit me even more that this was really happening, as strange as that may sound. Ryan and I took a walk around the hospital and visited the gift shop. We went back to the waiting area, and before we knew it, Dr. Tholpady (one of the doctors who works with Dr. Havlik) greeted us and told us that everything went great! Dr. Havlik had a meeting to attend right away but would visit us later in the evening. Again, I was elated! Liam had made it out of surgery, and everything had gone as well as they hoped.

We got the call about 15 minutes later that we could go visit Liam in recovery. This was a large open room with several children coming out of surgery and 1-2 family members around them. Ryan and I were led back to Liam's hospital bed, and we had completely different reactions upon seeing out little boy. I just stared at him in amazement, as he had SURVIVED (Yes, I know that is silly given the type of procedure he had, but that was my reaction).  I had these terrible thoughts plaguing me leading up to the surgery that he'd never wake up. He made it through the surgery! It wasn't until I saw Ryan's face and his reaction that I could see all of the wires, bruises, swelling, etc. all around him. Ryan was very overwhelmed with how beat up Liam looked. Then, I could finally see it, too. He did look like he had been in a car wreck or a really bad fist fight. They explained that they put a nerve block in each side of his face, which was causing the black eyes. Ryan excused himself so that my mom could come see Liam quickly before heading home. She noticed immediately how much more Liam looked like Noah, and she was right! Between the lip being closed and his swelling, he looked more like Noah than ever before. Mom said her goodbyes, and the recovery nurse ushered us to our final room where we would spend the next 16 hours.

This picture above was taken right after we got to our room after being in recovery. We LOVED our nurses during our stay. They were both so wonderful to us and were especially sweet with Liam. Ryan was very overwhelmed by the IV and other wires attached all over his body. Those were all quickly taken off once he was doing so well. Our nurse warned us that feeding would feel quite different to Liam and to expect him to be fussy when eating - that maybe he wouldn't want to eat at all. We gave him two ounces of pedialyte by bottle, and he sucked it right down. Hallelujah! Our nurse said to go ahead and try to breastfeed him, and to be honest, I was really scared. I didn't want anything to hurt him. I knew that babies didn't really use their upper lips to "suck"; rather, it was more or less a seal when nursing. Still, I just didn't want him to be in pain. Then, another prayer was answered when he latched on without any difficulty and starting eating. We estimated that within those first two hours that he took in 14 ounces of breast milk and pedialyte. Our little guy was hungry!

The next several hours went by so slowly. Liam slept, ate, cried, repeat for the next several hours. Neither Ryan nor I were prepared for the recovery part of this experience. We spent so much time preparing that we didn't give the recovery much thought. I ordered some chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese for dinner, and Ryan grabbed some McDonalds. I spent the majority of my time holding Liam, as he seemed most comfortable being held. Plus, let's be honest, I couldn't put him down. Dr. Havlik and Dr. Tholpady came by to see us. We thanked them for helping our son and other than that, I have little memory of our conversation. Liam's behavior was so odd on the Vicodin. He just stared straight ahead, never smiled, and just seemed very much in another world. It's hard to see your baby like that when you are used to smiles all of the time. His throat was very scratchy from being intubated, too. He really sounded and looked so pitiful. I stayed awake holding Liam as still as possible until I exhaustion finally overcame me. I put him in his bed and got about an hour and a half of sleep. I fed him and held him for a couple more hours and then was able to get some more sleep.

The next morning at approximately 6:00 a.m., Dr. Havlik, Dr. Tholpady, and a med student greeted us. They said Liam did great overnight with eating and managing his pain, so we were free to go home whenever we liked. We couldn't believe the good news, and as much as we loved everyone we encountered during our time at Riley, we were very, very ready to go home!

The next four days are a blur. I didn't take any pictures. Honestly, we were really just surviving at home. Liam's pain was managed with Tylenol with Codeine, and he really needed that level of pain medication until Day 5. We tried to take him off it sooner, but he just wasn't a very happy guy. One of the most difficult parts of his early recovery was that we could not allow him to roll over in bed. It would be too risky for harming the intricate work Dr. Havlik had done to make his smile so beautiful. So, we slept with the monitor as loud as possible, and anytime he moved to turn over, Ryan was running into the nursery to turn him back on his back. That worked fairly well until we took him off the heavy pain medication. On just regular Tylenol, he was much more alert and did NOT want to sleep on his back anymore. One of us pretty much held him anytime he was awake, as he couldn't play with any of his toys and risk hurting his mouth. My mom and her husband kept Noah overnight the second night we were home, which was a huge help (Thanks again!!). However, after he came back home, Noah was the best big brother you can imagine. Every time Liam would cry when we cleaned his stitches or put bacitracin on the incision, Noah would sing to Liam, who would then immediately calm down. Love my Noah!

The Monday after Liam's surgery, we had to go back to Riley, back to Main Day Surgery, to get his finishing, outer stitches out. He was put back under anesthesia, though this time he was just "masked down" because the procedure was so quick. The night before, Liam truly did not sleep AT ALL. It was a combination of not being allowed to roll over on his tummy and being SO used to being held all of the time, I think. My mom stayed the night that night, and Ryan and I ended up leaving the house around 4:00 a.m. just so Liam would sleep in the car before the procedure. We drove around downtown Indy for literally 1 1/2 hours. It was awful! We were exhausted and so ready for all of this to be behind us. Thankfully, Liam slept the entire time in the car. Our friend Lisa who works at Riley met us in our "cubicle," and immediately our hearts were put at ease. It was almost worse the second time around being there even though this procedure was nothing compared to the one he had just had the week before. We again met the anaesthesiologist, Dr. Tholpady, Pat Terrell, and Dr. Flores the plastic surgeon doing the procedure since Dr. Havlik was taking time off for Thanksgiving. The stitches were removed quickly and after a longer wait than we would have liked, we got to see Liam in recovery. He again quickly took pedialyte without difficulty and nursed easily. They let us go home about an hour after he finished in recovery. Dr. Flores, Pat, and Dr. Tholpaddy all said he could roll over on his tummy again for sleeping but that he still had to wear the elbow restraints at all times. No pacifiers allowed still until 4 weeks post surgery. Here is a picture of Liam after the stitches were removed.

I regret, somewhat, not taking many pictures those first 5 days. His poor face was so swollen, making his nose look flat next to his cheeks. His upper lip stuck out like a duck bill. It was really heartbreaking to see him like that, though we knew it was temporary. Those days really were a blur! After the stitches were removed, he still had the nose stint in place in order to prevent his nostril from collapsing. Dr. Havlik didn't have to do any formal rhinoplasty, as his nose was quite symmetrical after moving the lip together. That was a huge blessing! We were scheduled to return to Riley December 12th to get the stint removed in the outpatient center. Funny, though, that two nights before our appointment Liam actually sneezed/coughed the stint right out of his nose while celebrating Christmas at my dad and Danette's house. It was awesome knowing it was in the right amount of time and that no one would have to hold Liam down while they snipped the stitch holding the stint in place. We still went to the appointment in order for Liam's progress to be seen.

We got to see Pat, who is an absolutely wonderful nurse! I believe she has worked with Dr. Havlik for 30 years or something like that. They make a great team!

Although this picture is not completely in focus, I adore it. Liam was just staring at Dr. Havlik while sitting so relaxed in his arms. It was a precious moment.

Here is a picture of Liam with the entire team (Dr. Tholpady in blue). We are so fortunate to have health insurance, a world renowned hospital so close by, and a very talented team of people to help Liam's smile be as beautiful as possible. However, if we are being 100% honest, I very much miss and sometimes even grieve the loss of his "old" smile. It really was beautiful. I have never been so thankful to have so many pictures of my kids to remember it. We thanked Dr. Havlik for all that he did for Liam and told him how pleased we were with the results. I remarked at what beautiful work he did. Dr. Havlik smiled and thanked us. He was so kind, and I can only imagine the pride he must feel about the work he does. He changes people's lives, and I am beyond grateful for what he's done for my son.

Thank you, God, for bringing this team of people into our lives. Thank you, God, for protecting our son. We pray for continued patience as he continues to heal even more. For those of you still reading this very lengthy post, will you please pray for a few things, as well?

1. God helps heal Liam's lip in a way that would not require any future procedures.
2. Liam experiences little pain once we can start massaging the scar tissue. 
3. Liam's smile be something he loves someday, something that he feels proud to have. 
4. Liam's teeth come in normally, as children with cleft lips can often have dental issues. 
5. His peers are kind to him as he grows older.
6. If they are unkind about this cosmetic issue, that Liam have the courage, strength, and wit to forgive them, love them, and feel good about the way he looks anyway.

And they all said, Amen!


My Sweet Boy...

My Dear Sweet Liam,

Well, we have finally reached the day I have been thinking about since the day you were born. Tomorrow afternoon we will be at one of the best children's hospitals in the country, working with one of the very best doctors to give you a smile that you will love someday. You see, to us you are perfect, beautiful in every way. If your daddy and I had it our way, we would never change anything about the way you look. You smile more than anyone we have ever known, so it seems a little silly to change one of the things we love most about you! It doesn't feel right to say that we are "fixing" or "repairing" your lip because to us, it's not broken. Your smile works perfectly, and you are truly one of the happiest little guys in the world. However, we know we can't be selfish right now. We need to think about what's best for you and how you will feel as you grow older. We imagine that you will want to have a smile like all of your friends. This is the reason why we are having your surgery tomorrow. I am thankful that you will be too young to remember and that you can grow up feeling proud of the way you look.

For the past six months, we have taken as many pictures as we can and have proudly hung pictures of you and your beautiful smile all over our house. I will cherish those pictures and these moments we've shared as long as I live. The moment I held you in my arms when you were born, I was in love. It is a mother's instinct to do everything she can to protect her child from harm, so I know tomorrow will bring its own set of challenges for me. Please know that I am praying with all of my heart and that so many others are doing the same.

I've wondered so many times why God decided to give you this special smile. Years before I had you and your brother, I always was drawn to the pictures of children from other countries who have cleft lips/palates. I think it was God's way of preparing my heart for your arrival. I know someday we will understand why, and I am excited to see where this journey leads us together as a family, as well as individually. Your daddy and I have already bought three other children smiles in your honor, and it is our hope that we can do this for at least 100 children. We are so lucky to live in a country with access to such great doctors and hospitals and that we can afford this surgery for you, so we felt led to give others the same opportunity you will have - the chance to feel proud of their smile. Will we reach our goal of 100 smiles together as a family? Will we go on mission trips to help other families across the world? Will you or Noah help children in your same situation someday? God has a reason for this, and I am so excited to find out His purpose. Your birth was a catalyst for something, possibly many things, and I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

I love you with all of my heart, and I only wish I could take the place of any fear and pain you might experience. Earlier this week, as I was preparing my mind and my heart for tomorrow, I found myself getting very sad at the thought of the nurse taking you from me to go to surgery. Then, I heard a still small voice say, "Amy, he will not be alone. I will be with him, caring for him, while he is away from you." And you know what followed? Peace. I know God will be with you the whole time because as difficult as it is for me to imagine, He actually loves you even more than I do, and I love you in a way that is impossible to describe with words. So tomorrow, when they take you, rest peacefully knowing that God is holding you and have the sweetest dreams. When you open your eyes, I will be right there, smiling at you and ready to help you in everyway possible. Be strong and know that your daddy and I love you with our whole hearts, my beautiful, beautiful son.



Oh November...

I knew it would hit me today. I've been anticipating November since soon after Liam was born, knowing that reality would really set in once the Halloween festivities ended. Up until this point, I've stayed busy focusing on the present rather than thinking about the future or reflecting on the past. Maybe that's why I stopped blogging for awhile.

We are only a couple weeks away from Liam's surgery now, and our family is officially on lockdown. The only time our family will be out and about are the days I have to work. We just don't want to risk Liam getting sick and having his surgery postponed and rescheduled. As much as I don't want to go through this, I am ready for it to be over.

As it is with most of us these days, I have never had more to do at work, and I'm trying my hardest to compartmentalize in order to keep balance in my life. Work stays at work and home stays at home. Today is the first day I'm finding it harder to do that - I think because my workload is so overwhelming and because of this impending surgery. I found myself thinking about Liam at work and thinking about work at home.

In some ways, I do feel silly getting worked up about this. I mean, in my head when keep things simple, I say things to myself like, "It's only his lip...just cosmetic. He's just having a little plastic surgery. It's not like it's heart surgery." Then, in the next second, I think to myself, "...but he's my baby. I've never had a baby whose needed surgery. He's going to be on a ventilator. I hope he isn't in too much pain." I can feel satan attacking me, too, trying to put fear and doubt in my heart like, "What if he doesn't wake up? What if when the nurse takes him from me it's the last time I see him?" It's horrible to think thoughts like that, and the only way I've been able to find peace is by praying and trusting that God loves Liam even more than I do, and he has both of our best interests at heart.

My friend Kerri sent me this verse yesterday, and I love it: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24).

People have been asking us a lot lately what we need and how they can help us as the big day gets closer. Honestly, we would appreciate all of your prayers when it's time for his surgery. I know everyone's prayer list is so long as it is. There are so many people in need, so many sick family members, children hurting, etc. I know it's hard to remember all of the people who need your prayers, but if you don't mind praying for our son, I would be forever grateful. We believe that "the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16), so if you find it in your hearts and can remember during your own very busy lives, here are the things I am praying for as his surgery gets closer and closer.

1. Liam stays healthy between now and his surgery date.
2. Liam will make it through surgery without any complications.
3. That we feel God's presence and peace as we wait for the big day and during the surgery itself.
4. For God to guide Dr. Havlik's hands as he reconstructs Liam's lip with perfection and precision.
5. For this to be the only surgery Liam will need to give him a smile that he will love someday.

It's funny to me how Liam is well-known for always smiling, all of the time, at everyone he sees. In fact, I was having a rough day day last week, and when Liam shot me one of his famous grins, I said, "Liam, you are always good for a smile!" Ryan agreed that was the perfect way to describe our baby boy. What are the chances that a baby born with what others would consider an imperfect lip has a smile that will truly melt your heart and bring you more joy than you could ever imagine? To us, he is perfect. To us, he is beautiful. To us, we never want him to change. If it was up to us, we would never have this surgery because we love him just the way he is, but we know someday he will be so glad that we had this procedure done. Today Noah said, "Mommy, can't we just keep it (Liam's lip) like this? I like it like this." Me, too, buddy. Me, too.

A Dry Spell

I don't know if that's the right way to describe my lack of blogging, but I just couldn't bring myself to write about anything, partly because we have two children under 3 and were remodeling the kitchen. The other part was due to just not feeling like writing about much of anything. Poor Liam and Noah - they won't have any details from August 22nd to now.

Well boys, I can sum up the past couple of months in a 2 words: blissfully busy! We have never been so busy in our lives as we have this past month, but at the same time, I have never felt happier. I find myself hurrying from one activity to the next - driving too fast most of the time. I slow down only for those perfect moments with Ryan, Noah, and Liam - the ones where you stand back and ask yourself, "Could I really be this lucky?" Here is a photo montage of the past two months:

Plow Days in South Whitley to help raise money for a friend's daughter. Please add sweet Rylie, who is fighting Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, to your prayer list.

Noah riding his first pony. It was awesome to see so many people come together for this great event to help Rylie!

One of my best friends, Jess, and my God Daughter, Kendall, came for a visit! We went to Apple Works one day and had a wonderful time.

I couldn't decide which to post...

...so I thought I would just add them both. Posing for beautiful pictures kept us busy.

Noah went hiking twice in Brown County with Ryan. I'm not sure if Noah has ever had more fun!

Oh wait, except when he's riding his bike. He spent HOURS riding bikes the past two months.

And while Noah rode his bike, Liam and I just watched, laughed, and snuggled.

We made it to the Franklin Fall Festival again this year and had a great time! This is the three of us at the courthouse.

Here's Noah riding his first-ever carnival ride. He tried an obstacle course/house thing but got a little scared and had to turn around.

We took lots of goofy pictures!

...because that's an easy way to entertain my husband the kids.

We took our first family trip to Evansville with Ryan for work and got to visit my cousin, Angie, and her kids, Bradyn, Jude, Grace, and Lila (not pictured). When Ryan asked Noah if he wanted to go to Evansville, Noah said, "Oh Daddy, thank you so much for inviting me to Evansville!" You would've thought we were taking him to Disney World.

Gluttony: The only word to describe the amount of food we consumed from Biaggi's, my favorite Italian restaurant.

Noah taking his typical "I'm-not-going-to-smile-for-you" picture. I promise, he was having a good time!

Liam tried rice cereal for the first time. The much anticipated event was met by pure dislike by my baby boy. Let's hope he likes fruits and veggies better because I have made a bunch, and we're just waiting for Sunday to start giving them to him.
That was a quick run down of the major events and some of my favorite pictures from the past two months. The only thing I left out was our big kitchen remodel, and I'm saving that for the big reveal. We get our countertops November 19th, so I'll post pictures then.

I love my life, as busy and hurried as it may seem most of the time, I am enjoying the moments when we can slow down and just laugh together. We live for those moments and cherish them with all that we have.
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