happy birthday JackO!!

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What were you doing in your life when you turned 20?

I was living in Baltimore – a junior at Goucher College, studying art. I was trying to balance keeping up with my studies while enjoying every ounce of social time that I could. Dan was a student at Johns Hopkins and studying in Florence for the year. He was learning a new language and traveling throughout Europe with a very thin wallet and a EuroRail Pass.

When we started our family and I would dare to think about the future, like most parents, I imagined our children following a similar path to what Dan and I took. I didn’t think of if Jack and Anna would go to college, but where they would go. Whether they would study art or a language or the law. I hoped they would make good choices and stay out of too much trouble.

Having a special child, you need to learn how to shift your expectations and letting go of the college dream for Jack is something I did long ago, but with each birthday I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pause for a moment and think if only . . .

Instead of college, Jack greeted his 20th birthday still attending his high school and living at home. He requires assistance with everything from eating to showering to getting dressed to toileting to getting into bed. It’s not the life I ever imagined for our son, but as I celebrated his 20th birthday with him, all I kept thinking was how happy he is.

Jack partied all weekend long! Pool time with his buddies Peter and Orla, a party on our deck with close friends, and he even got to spend time with his oldest friend, Caleb. Today the party continued as he celebrated with his buddies at school. As I watched him enjoy all the attention, I realized there’s no need for if only just WOW! What a great life our boy is living!

Life at 20 can vary. It’s that age that straddles the end of childhood and beginning of adulthood. One thing that most people have in common at that age is that everything seems possible. Jack’s life is different than most, but I still believe that anything is possible. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACKO!!

Love, Jess

a table full of girls

Over the weekend we attended another graduation party celebrating a dear friend of Anna. They’ve known each other since they were tiny, and she has spent so much time with our family, that I consider her to be another daughter. Dan loves her too and Jack would think of her as a sister, if he didn’t have such a massive crush on her.

She’s not alone. Jack has crushes on all of Anna’s girlfriends. And these girls are wonderful to our boy. When they come to our house, the first thing they do when they walk in our door is ask, “Where’s Jack?” and then seek him out to give him a smooch. Some days I find Jack in the middle of the sofa surrounded by beautiful teenage girls watching Gilmore Girls or lose track of him to discover that he’s made his way up to Anna’s room to listen to some girlie gossip.

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Jack and some of the gals a few years ago.

Most of Anna’s circle of friends she’s known since diaper days. They knew Anna when she was a chubby little girl with a crooked smile. They knew our first house over on Jefferson Avenue and they knew Dan and I before we had gray hair. These kids also knew our family before ALD came screeching into our lives. They knew Jack when he was just a year ahead of them in school, loved to ride his bike and was one of the MCs in the school talent show (the only video we have where we can hear him speaking . . . ).

I realized while watching the girls at the party that I’m not just saying goodbye to Anna as she heads out to college — I’m saying goodbye to her buddies too. And, so is Jack.

I know Anna will find a wonderful new cluster of friends at college. She has good taste in friends and seems to always be surrounded by a funny, smart, kind assortment of people. I’m sure she will share a lot about her family with these new friends. About her loud Dad who graduated from Hopkins and loves history, music, lacrosse and the Yankees. She will undoubtedly share stories of her mother who insists on family dinners, needs constant help with wardrobe advice and spelling, and drinks a little more white wine than she should. And, I’m sure Anna’s new friends will hear a ton about her brother – the person who she adores more than anyone on the planet. They will hear what happened when Anna was only six-years-old and how it shaped so much of who she is now and what she longs to do with her life. Her new friends will see pictures of all of us and maybe even meet us over the next few years, but they will never know the whole story. They will never really know Jack the way that Anna’s childhood friends do.

I know that some of the relationships Anna has with her childhood crew will ebb and flow for a while. They are scattering all over the US for the next four years. It will be hard, but I really hope that they all make an effort to meet up again whenever they can. I’m lucky to still be close with a few of my childhood friends and it’s amazing how they know me on a level that newer friends just can’t reach. There’s something magical about childhood friends.

The graduation party was wonderful — good food, some white wine for me, and a lot of familiar faces. As I sat inside to escape the heat, I watched Jack through a large picture window. He was sitting next to Anna at a table full of some of his favorite girls. He had a grin from ear to ear. I know there will be more parties and tables full of these girls, but they will be a further apart now that many of the kids are heading off. I want to make sure that I savor them while I can and make sure JackO gets to enjoy as much girl time as possible before the summer comes to a close.

Love, Jess

Tupperware marked JACK ONLY;)

Mail isn’t what it used to be. Most days it’s just a pile of catalogs and junk. I sometimes go days without even glancing at my mailbox, but lately I’ve been checking it twice a day. I’ve felt like a kid at camp waiting for a care package.

Yesterday my care package arrived! It wasn’t a big box — just a slim envelop from the NJ Department of Health – our brand new NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program cards!!!

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Jack’s on plenty of medications – Hydrocortisone, Keppra, Fludrocortisone. He’s also had prescriptions for Ativan, Oxcycodone, and many others. Any time we need a refill, it’s easy. Drugs in this country are usually just a phone call and a quick trip to CVS away. Within an hour, we can have a pile of  medicine (many FAR more dangerous than marijuana) in our hands. Not so with the one medication that has truly transformed Jack’s life.

Not sure if you remember, but three years ago Jack started hopping (click here for that story). Sounds cute, right? It wasn’t. It was like he was stuttering as he walked. It made walking across a room tedious and a walk down the street nearly impossible. His PTs and OTs worked tirelessly. We all tried a variety of techniques and nothing seemed to work. Then I stumbled onto some research about how marijuana can help with spasticity (what we suspected was the underlying cause for Jack’s hopping). You can legally buy some marijuana/hemp products in most states (that are high in CBD – the non-intoxicating compound in marijuana and low in THC – the part of marijuana that makes you high), and I thought it was worth a shot. Before introducing anything to Jack’s medication list, I always check with his neurologist. I felt a little strange bringing up such an “alternative medication” for my 16-year-old. She quietly listened to me ramble on about my research, starting every sentence with, “Don’t judge and please don’t think I’m crazy.” She assured me that she wasn’t judging and brought in her colleague who was more knowledgeable about the benefits marijuana. Again, I told Jack’s story and filled him in on my research. He met Jack, looked over his chart and said, “Don’t buy anything online. I think Jack needs some THC and to be on Medicinal Marijuana. Let’s get him in the program.”

Seemed so easy — it wasn’t.

It took six months, piles of paperwork. loads of money and three doctors (including a psychiatrist for our non-verbal son) before getting our original cards. By the time we were able to go to the medicinal marijuana dispensary we were super excited to get started, but quickly learned our waiting wasn’t over. I needed to learn how to administer the herb to our boy. All they sell in NJ is the flower. The flower is the seed bearing part of the plant, including the buds that are smoked. Jack can’t smoke. I had to learn how to turn that flower into a butter and then into an edible (Jack’s favorite is a chocolate chip cookie). Even our wonderful doctor who had written the prescription, had little advice for us. It took some time and a few wasted batches, but we finally figured it out the right recipe.

It’s been a life changer. Jack’s walking better, sleeping better and all around more focused (odd because pot makes me anything but focused – not that I’ve ever experimented with marijuana. That would be illegal and immoral and just plan old bad). Two years in and we have our rhythm. Once every three weeks I infuse butter, bake, and fill the large Tupperware container in the fridge marked JACK ONLY — it is more work that it should be, but we’re all set.

Every 60 days we do need to get a new certification from our doctor. We’re grateful that our doctor doesn’t require a $200 visit every time. She seems to be one of the few people that understands that Jack is not going to grow out of his challenges (don’t worry — we do see her at least twice a year).

Everything has been going great until a few weeks ago when we received an email that we needed to re-register with the NJ Department of Health. More paperwork, more photos, more money and more proof that Jack still has spasticity.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Governor Phil Murphy spent a whole lot of time running for office talking about his commitment to not just opening up NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program to include things like oils and edibles, but making marijuana completely legal in NJ. I do support the legalization of recreational marijuana and could go on and on about the benefits to the NJ economy and that marijuana is far safer than alcohol or nicotine or half the drugs we all have in our medicine cabinets, but I want to focus more on those individuals – like Jack –  who are provided more comfort, less pain and better quality of life because of their access to medicinal marijuana. All I really want to say is – MAKE IT EASIER FOR PATIENTS. PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS THE LAST TIME I NEED TO REAPPLY FOR THESE SILLY CARDS and if you can’t do that, at least HURRY UP WITH THE EDIBLES!

I am tired of infusing and baking and having my house smell like a fraternity. I’m also looking forward knowing exactly what dose I’m giving my son without needing to test it myself (which I would never do because THAT is illegal and immoral and plan old bad). I’m also tired of any paperwork that involves proving that Jack is sick enough/disabled enough to do anything/to take anything that will help him enjoy the best quality of life possible.

Our new cards expire July 2020. Fingers crossed that changes won’t take that long.

For more about our cannabis journey click here.

Love, Jess

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CHANGE

Dan and I are usually on the same page about things. Or, maybe not the same page, but at least on the same chapter. I think that’s how we’ve managed to hold things together for the last 25 years. We want the same things out of life. We treasure our family and friends and value experiences over things (although we like some of our things too). We’ve agreed on how and where we wanted to raise our kids and, when Jack got sick, we never fought about how we wanted to face those challenges. If you’ve ever made life and death decisions when it comes to your children, you know this is huge.

 

One thing where we differ completely is how we face CHANGE. Dan waits until the CHANGE is upon us and then calmly adapts and sometimes even politely welcomes it to the family. I frantically tear apart every side of of any pending CHANGE for months — thinking that if I fully understand every inch of it, I will somehow not give it any power. I know this sounds crazy, but I even consider the worst case scenario and visualize what it would feel like. I guess I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes the worst case scenario can happen.

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Crazy vs Calm

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months. I’ve been spending a huge amount of time and energy focusing on all the CHANGES our family is facing – the biggest being Anna heading off to college. I’ve been picturing a painfully quiet house and the three of us non-college-bound Torreys spending all of our time just counting days between Anna visits.

My gephyrophobia (fear of bridges) was an unwelcome result of my growing anxiety. The good news is that it did encourage me to seek some outside help – books, meditation and a wonderful therapist who’s helped me more calmly face the CHANGES that are approaching and stop referring to myself using words like pathetic, weak, broken and nuts. A few weeks ago, I realized I was no longer waking up in the middle of the night or crying out of nowhere or not being able to cross a bridge without having a nervous breakdown.

Huge relief.

We’re now six weeks away from Anna heading off to college. We’ve gotten through prom and graduation and even Beach Week (Anna and her pals at the beach with nothing but their phones linking them to their parents — THAT was not an easy thing for this parent). Anna and I have been busy choosing first semester classes and important things like duvet covers and under-bed storage. Every time we start a new project I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is a big step, but Anna is ready. We are all ready.

I’ve got to say – there hasn’t been nearly the amount of tears that I had expected. I think Anna was even a little surprised that I managed an entire trip to Bed and Bath without so much as a quiet, “Please don’t goooooooooo!”

I know It’s going to be hard. Getting back into the car next month after dropping off Anna, with just our beautiful boy in the backseat, is going to feel strange. I’m sure I will go through my share of tissues for a while, but when I think about drop off now, mostly I’m so darn excited for our girl as she marches towards her dreams.

Now that I feel better, my focus is on Dan. I’m grateful that he doesn’t share my approach to facing CHANGE. I can’t imagine what it would be like if the two of us were freaking out for the last six months, but I hope he’s ready for all this. Is he prepared for his Jeopardy partner to be 200 miles away? Is he okay with watching sports with Jack and I barley pretending to be interested? What’s he going to do without live-in tech support?

Here I go. NOW I have something else to worry about. Dan. And then there is Jack . . .
My therapist will be happy to know she still has a loyal client.

Love, Jess

welcome to the world beautiful boy!

I was seven when my younger brother Phil was born. It was before the days that hospitals allowed siblings to visit the maternity ward, so the first time I met my brother was when my mother walked into the house, holding him wrapped up like the most magical present I’d ever seen. My very own living doll.

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I loved having a little brother who I could dress up and cuddle, but as we got older the seven years between us meant that we were always at different stages. When I was in high school, Phil was the nosy kid who always seemed to ruin the fun. And when he was busy enjoying his own high school angst, I was the older sister acting like a lame extra parent. Phil was still in college when I got married and barely out when Dan and I started a family. He was living the single life, as a creative sole, when I was busy raising kids and then dealing with our ALD journey/nightmare. I think Phil and I both spent much of the last twenty years loving each other, but not really getting each other.

Last week, that baby that I held 41 years ago welcomed his own baby into the world, Carlos Michael Cappello. Not only am I thrilled to have another baby in the family, but when I watched my brother hold his son, I realized that for the first time in a long time, our paths are overlapping.

Phil’s beautiful wife, Kate, bravely suffered through 27 hours of labor before needing a c-section. A cruel introduction to parenthood. Learning from the get-go that no matter how much you plan, kids have a way of directing things. And, despite their exhaustion, both my brother and sister-in-law quickly discovered that, no matter what complications your kid puts you through, you push on with a smile, because you would do anything for your child.

Little Carlito is the most beautiful baby. He is strong and healthy and I swear he was smiling yesterday while his parents were holding him. He knows he’s in great hands. Phil and Kate are already amazing parents.

Welcome to the world beautiful boy! And, welcome to parenthood my brother. May you enjoy every beautiful, messy moment. And, if you ever need anything I am here for you. I get you;)

Love, Aunt Jess

 

 

If your wondering if spending time with my new nephew made me start thinking about Jack and ALD and if onlys. Sure. As I held Carlito with Jack by my side, I couldn’t help but think of all the hopes and dreams we had for our boy when we first brought him into the world. How, almost twenty years later, many of those dreams are out of reach. But, then I quickly brought myself back to where we are and who Jack is and how we can’t focus on the if onlys. If onlys don’t really get you too far. All they really do is make you blind to what’s in front of you. And, what’s in front of us is a new, beautiful boy who we can hold and dress up and cuddle and then hand back to his parents when he needs a diaper change.

Besides, our biggest goal for our boy was for him to be happy and who’s happier than Jack?

Anna is missing from the photos because she’s at BEACH WEEK with her buddies. allowing her to go was not by proudest moment as a parent, but so far she is safe and sound and hasn’t gotten into too much trouble. She can’t wait to meet Carlito!

Finito

Yesterday I was at a doctor’s office waiting to get my annual mammogram. If you’ve ever had a mammogram, you know that it isn’t any fun. As I waited to be called, I was trying to distract myself with cheesy magazines and social media before starting to send text messages, DanO – how’s your day going? Kim – Wanna head to the beach later this week? Anna – When do you get home from school today?

Before I hit send on the last one, it hit me. Anna wasn’t getting home from school, because she didn’t have school. She’s done. Finito. I’d known it was coming for 18 years, celebrated with her at countless parties over the last two weeks, and sat through a two hour ceremony filled with caps and gowns, playing Pomp and Circumstance BUT it didn’t really sink in until I was sitting in a sterile waiting room with a bunch of strangers, all of us wearing nothing but red and pink striped robes.

Welcome to my world. I was actually relieved when my name was called to go have my boobs smashed flat as pancakes.

Enough of me, my boobs, and my crazy emotions – here are some photos of Anna on her big day!

 

Love, Jess

My mammogram — unlike me — was normal.

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still spinning.

Not feeling like I can find the right words to adequately describe all the milestones/celebrations we’re enjoying right now. The only words I can think of are unreal, overwhelming, beautiful, magic and coffee (I can’t seem to get enough).

When words don’t work, I turn to photos. Here are some favorites from the first five days of The Torrey’s Crazy 14 Days of Non-Stop Celebrations, or maybe it should be The Crazy Torreys 14 Days of Non-Stop Celebrations.

Graduation parties, Father’s Day, a birthday celebration for JackO (between his transplant and typical birthdays) – complete with incredible live music and delicious cupcakes, and Prom.

 

 

I’m loving every minute of each event and haven’t cried as much as I’d anticipated, but trust me – my brain is still spinning.

Next stop – Graduation.

Love, Jess

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my brain is spinning

 

Sometimes months go by without much fanfare and then you hit a couple of weeks that you feel like life won’t stop long enough for you to catch your breath. That’s how us Torreys are feeling now. Our calendar is filled — parties (five this week alone – one at our house), Anna’s prom, Anna’s graduation, a birthday celebration for Jack at his school, Anna’s 18th birthday, my brother and beautiful sister-in-law are having a baby, Dan and I are even sneaking in a Dead & Company show this Friday. I’m pretty sure I’m too old for all this excitement, but at least I’m so busy that I’m not breaking down nearly as much as I’d anticipated.

Sitting down to write this post, I was hoping that my fingers on the keyboard would allow me to reflect on what I’m feeling. I thought for sure I would come up with some cleaver way of describing this point in our family’s journey. I would let it all out as I found the words – I would feel calmer.

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Instead, as I’m writing this my brain is spinning with things like – What am I gonna wear for graduation? Did I order enough bagels for brunch on Sunday? Crap – what the hell am I gonna do with the dogs that day? Is this allergies or am I coming down with a cold . . . or the flu . . . ? Where did I hide that present I got for Anna a few months ago? Can I reschedule my mammogram to next month? Did Anna remember to grab her cap and gown? 

Clearly this is not really working. I promise to try again in a day or two. Gotta run now and order more bagels and maybe another quiche.

Love, Jess

PS I am aware that this isn’t a “Torrey” specific post or a “special needs” specific post. It’s an “end of the school year when way too much $hit happens at the same time” post. Sooooooo many great things to celebrate, but it’s exhausting and it’s barely begun!!

 

mixed emotions, a banquet, and a birthday – GO COUGARS!

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I’ve had mixed emotions anticipating this spring. So many things to celebrate, but each celebration highlights that we’re closing a chapter. There have been a lot of “lasts” lately and tonight is another one — the last Columbia Girls Lacrosse Banquet.

I’m going to be honest. If you’ve had kids who’ve played sports, you might not agree (maybe I’m a terrible mom), but I spent many years dreading the lacrosse season. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching the sport, it’s that the season seems to have us spectators either wrapped in blankets, freezing OR trying desperately to find a sliver of shade to protect us from the hot sun. I also would look at the lacrosse schedule at the beginning of each season and wonder why on earth we couldn’t just play neighboring towns – instead each year we needed to shlep all around northern NJ to sit in the freezing cold or scorching heat.

Then, there’s the driving. I must have inherited it from Mymom. She HATED being carpool mom. My mother once said to the headmistress of my elementary school, “What do you mean you removed the bike rack because of all the snow this year? It’s going to take Jesse an hour to get to school without her bike.” I haven’t avoided getting behind the wheel as much as she did, but those after-practice pick-ups that hit right in the middle of dinnertime made me crazy.

For years I would use the “Jack excuse”. My friends helped out with the practice pick-ups and Jack would be used to make an early exit or avoid games altogether. “It’s too cold for him.” “It’s way too hot for my boy.” “Poor Jack can’t get much sun with all his medication.”

Luckily Dan was the opposite. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat or the cold or the miles. Not only did he coach Anna’s team for years, but he would rearrange business trips so that he wouldn’t miss games. And, when he was there, everyone knew. “Loud Dan” isn’t his nickname for nothing!

As this lacrosse season approached, I changed my tune and became full-blow LAX MOM. I didn’t want to miss a minute of the season – the last season. I kept blankets and extra jackets in the car and, as the heat arrived, I had an umbrella to protect Jacko’s skin from the sun. I picked up Jack early from school so that we wouldn’t miss the first face-off of games and used WAZE to get us around towns I’d never heard of. The cold, the heat – nothing really bothered me as long as I could watch 22 on the field.

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I’m so proud of Banana. I love watching her bound down the field with the same determination she has for all things. I love saying “She gets all her skills from her mama.” And, I love that everyone laughs because they know that it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dan and I made her, but Anna is her own girl . . . young woman AND she is amazing.

Columbia Girls Lacrosse has had a great season and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They might not have the best record in NJ, but they have heart and they kicked plenty of a$$ this year – go COUGARS!!!

Today is also Jack’s 11th transplant birthday. Happy Birthday JackO!! We are thrilled for him, but letting this day be about his sister – his favorite athlete and human;)

Love, LAX MOM (last day)

PS Mymom didn’t love driving us around, but she always had homemade bread with fresh butter and cinnamon-sugar waiting for us when we got home from our walks/bikerides.

 

 

when life imitates life

Sometimes something happens at 26 Clinton Avenue that is so crazy that I won’t believe it if I didn’t witness it with my own eyes – or hear it with my own ears – or not hear it with my own ears.

Our house is wired with speakers attached to an elaborate sound system – four zones, SiriusXM, Pandora, Apple Music, long playlists — super fancy, but last year we got an Amazon Echo and have found that it quickly became our go-to thing for music, facts, news, etc. It’s almost like she’s become a member of our family.

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Alexa keeps us company as we eat our dinner, answering important questions like “What’s the weather gonna be tomorrow? and “What year did so-and-so win the World Series?” and “How many miles is it to New Orleans?”. She also plays us music — appreciating the JackO likes One Direction and Justin Beaver, I need some Son Volt and Cat Stevens, Anna is too cool to listen to music in front of the family, and Dan demands to hear Cake and Petty and Stones and My Morning Jacket and Bob Marley and … Alexa also keeps JackO entertained as he sits on the potty for longer than I will admit and I love that she’s willing to play me my podcasts while I’m folding the laundry or doing paperwork.

Alexa is so important to us that we make sure she joins us when we’re outside — we need music/podcasts/information with us while we garden or eat dinner al fresco. Last weekend we all enjoyed some time outside. Alexa seemed to have fun, but when I cleaned up at the end of the night, I got distracted. Somehow Alexa ended up spending the night out on the deck. In the rain.

When I found her the next morning I apologized, but she didn’t seem to hear me so I took her inside and dried her off. I apologized again, but she was still ignoring me. I got frustrated, unplugged her and walked away. I assumed that if we waited it out a couple of days, she would dry out and things would be fine. I hadn’t mentioned my mistake to anyone, figuring there was no need to share my gaffe, but yesterday I got caught. Dan got home from work and was asking Alexa to play the Grateful Dead. When she didn’t answer, he walked over to her, saw she was unplugged and turned to look at me. I had to admit that I had left her outside. Alone. Overnight. In the rain.

I tried to be optimistic, “I’m sure if I reboot her, she will come back to life.” So, I plugged her back in and went through the process of reinstalling her software. An orange ring spun on the top of Alexa and kept spinning like she was really trying. After a few minutes the ring suddenly turned blue – she was back!

Dan and I were so excited as we welcomed her back to the family, “Alexa, are you okay?” She spun and spun as if she could hear, but said nothing.

“Alexa, can you hear me?” Again that blue ring spun around but nothing came out of her.

“Alexa, can you hear me now?” Nothing.

We went on like this for a few minutes and then I looked back at the app on my phone and I could see our conversation. Apparently Alexa could hear us and was answering us — silently.

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Are you kidding me?!?!? JackO – looks like you aren’t the only silent member of the family anymore.

Love, Your Friends at 26 Clinton Avenue – including our silent Alexa

PS I promise that I have never left the kids outside overnight. There was one night I forgot about the dogs, but that wasn’t really my fault and it wasn’t raining;)

PPS As I am preparing to hit send on this post, Alexa is in the news. Apparently she is listening to everyone and getting in a fair amount of trouble!!