Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Letters Part One!

It's that time of year, and once again, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year here at the Townsend cottage. Rather than complain about how bad things are since Doug lost his dream job in August, I am going to compose a letter from the characters in my book series. The good news is that since our holiday isn't the most wonderful, you get to see a glimpse of how Christmas is going for my characters.

All photos used in my Christmas Letters posts are from chose the ones that looked the most like how the picture of my characters homes that I have in my head.)

Despite the fact that our Christmas season isn't a happy one, my husband and I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a Spectacular New Year! We hope it's much better than ours!

Anyway, on with the letter!

December 2013

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season this year. I cannot believe it's already that time of year! We're slowly piecing everything back together since I went into remission last March. This year has been quite busy. I've regained some of my strength, but I'm not quite back to my "normal" self, whatever that may be. It's been so long. 

I'm enjoying being an active part of my children's everyday lives for the first time since Ashtyn was born. She's already two years old, now. She will be three in three months, which is so hard to believe. 

Steve's still working at Wallace Memorial Hospital, where his oncology practice is located.

Last year and the year before, I only sent out cards. I just wasn't up to writing letters the past two years. I'm sure you can appreciate why. So many things have happened since my last letter two years ago, and there are many new changes that I have to share with you, so I'm going to try to fit two years worth into this year's letter. Please bear with me.

Since Steve and I returned home from London, where I was receiving treatment, in September of 2011, we have tried to get back into the swing of things, but there's no real normal when you have cancer. Thankfully, our friends, Trevor and Benjiro, were staying here with us, and they helped us out greatly. We had an elevator installed in our home so Benjiro, who lost the use of his legs after an injury and has to rely on a chair to get around, could go upstairs to the second floor. Steve also found it easier to move me to and from the second floor in the elevator as well. (He was carrying me up and down the stairs.) Benjiro stayed with me while Steve and Trevor were working.

I was hospitalized in October 2011 for anemia, which was caused by the treatment. While I was there, I got some good news from the doctor. Treatment was actually making a difference! I was released after an almost two week stay at Wallace Memorial Hospital. The next day, Steve received a phone call from a lawyer in London. His cousin passed away due to an accident while I was in the hospital, and they were looking for someone who could take his three year old son. Steve and I discussed it. We both felt like there was a possibility that I would never be able to have children again. We called my parents and his parents, and we prayed about it. (I'm sure people probably thought we had no business taking on another child with the stressful situation we were going through, but I don't regret it, not in the least.) Steve and his father went to London to sign the paperwork and begin the adoption process, and they returned with our three year old son, Declan Steven McAuley, on October 31st.

Steve and I fell in love with Declan from the moment he came home. He is an adorable little boy, intelligent, and his British accent just added to his adorableness. He looks a lot like Steve's paternal side of the family. His hair is wavy and the same shade of dark brown/auburn as Steve's father's. He has two different colored eyes. One of them is dark blue and the other one is dark brown. Steve explained that this condition is called complete heterochromia iridis. (Sometimes the word iridum is used instead of iridis.) And little three year old Declan told us that it runs in the McAuley family. I was so shocked that he had such information! 

Declan was thrilled to find out that he had a little sister. I think Ashtyn was just as thrilled to find out that she had a new big brother. They instantly bonded. Her first actual word, aside from "Mama" and "Dada" was "Declan". He got such a kick out of it that. He spends nearly every waking moment with her.

Then, on November 20th, just a few short weeks after he arrived here, Declan turned four. We threw a huge party for him. Unfortunately, I was having a bad day physically, so all I could do was lie on the couch and watch the party as it went on. Everyone took turns keeping me company, including the birthday boy. He walked in and sat down next to me. I told him to go back and enjoy his party, and he said, "But I want to take care of you." This kid has a heart of gold!

Christmas wasn't the best for me, but I put on a brave face for Declan, who thanked us profusely for every single gift we got for him. He hugged me, Steve, and Ashtyn, and said, "The best present I ever got was you." He made me cry! I could tell Steve was on the verge of tears, too.

We rang in the new year, 2012, with our four year old son.

The stress began getting to all of us in January 2012. Things were very difficult for a while, even Declan and Ashtyn were feeling the stress. At one point, Declan expressed his fears about losing us as his parents. He even went up to his room and started packing his things. When Steve went up to talk to him, Declan announced that he was moving back to England and taking Ashtyn with him. Steve got him calmed down, and we sat him and down and asked him why he thought he was going to lose us, and assured him that we were not going anywhere. Then, on Valentine's Day, for the first time, instead of calling us by name, he called me "Mummy" and Steve, "Daddy". (That later became "Mumsy and Dadsy" which to this day makes Ashtyn giggle uncontrollably.) That was one of the happiest days of our lives.

I celebrated my 25th birthday on February 25th, 2012, just eleven days after Declan called me "Mummy". I honestly did not expect to see twenty-five, but I did. That in itself is a miracle.

In March of 2012, Ashtyn turned a year old. Ashtyn had not expressed any real interest in any specific thing, aside from the color "red". She wants a red everything. She wants to drink out of the red sippy cup, wear her red dress, a red head band, red shoes, and she loves the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz. She'll say, "Ooooh, red," when she sees them. So we ordered red party decorations, and a red velvet and white checkered birthday cake with white icing. "Happy 1st Birthday, Ashtyn," was written in red icing, and we had the ruby slippers drawn in icing on the cake with edible red glitter on them. She yelled, "THANK YOU," the moment she saw the cake. It was totally worth it!

We had an intimate party for her, mostly just family. I was a nervous wreck because Steve and I were waiting for my test results.The phone rang when Declan helped Ashtyn blow out her candle. Steve practically dove for it and answered it before it could finish ringing. It was the nurse. She told us to get down to the office as soon as we could. The doctor wanted to see us in person. We left Declan and Ashtyn in the care of my parents and Steve's parents, and headed straight to the doctor's office. The doctor stepped into the room before we even had a chance to sit down. He told me that my bhcg level had remained at zero during the last three clean up courses, and that I was in remission. Then, he told us to take all the time we needed, stepped out of his office, and shut the door. Steve and I sat there in his office holding hands for about ten minutes before we could say anything. I cried tears of joy all the way home. And since our families were there for Ashtyn's party, we got to share the happy news with them. Ashtyn was too young to understand what was going on, but Declan was as thrilled as we were. After the party ended, I called Gabrielle, Leah, and Tallullah, and gave them the good news.

(While I'm thrilled to be in remission, I still have to go in periodically for tests. So far, we've had one scare, but everything is fine. The doctor is surprised at how well I'm doing. Steve thinks I'm taking on too much at times. He fusses over me. He's a natural born worrier. It comes with the territory, though. He's starting to relax more now.)

Our family took advantage of the down time we had from the middle of March until the end of August. I felt like we could finally relax since I went into remission. The kids and I spent time at home, playing games, coloring, drawing, doing crafts, baking cookies, and enjoying each other. Steve would join us when he got home from work each day.

Tallullah turned 25 on April 26th. Gabrielle, Leah, and I took her to lunch at her favorite barbecue place. Then we went to the mall. I was so tired. I'm still on the weaker side after everything I had been through, so Tallullah pushed me around the mall in my chair, popping wheelies, making engine noises, and being silly, which made the other people in the mall giggle at us. Despite how tired I was, we had a great day!

Trevor moved out at the end of May after he and his fiance, Amber, eloped. He lives on the other side of Forest Hills, just walking distance from us, with his wife and her three children. He's the head of the gastroenterology department at Wallace Memorial Hospital, so he and Steve see each other all the time.

Benjiro felt like he should move on as well, but he decided to stay close by in New York instead of returning to Japan. He's living in an apartment in Manhattan, he just started dating Elizabeth, and he's currently pursuing getting his US Medical License. (He's a licensed epidemiologist in Japan.)

Steve celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday on August 29th. (Yes, he's only 25 and an oncologist. He's a prodigy.) Gabrielle, Leah, Tallullah, and I arranged for Paul, Peter, and Ryker to take Steve out for his birthday. When they got back, we had a surprise party waiting for him. It was a great day.

At the end of August, Declan started kindergarten. He wouldn't turn five until November, but his preschool teacher felt that he was mature enough to handle kindergarten. He was actually working at a second grade level, but we wanted to see how he handled kindergarten. Declan is very creative, as well as intelligent, so he enjoyed some of the activities kindergarten had to offer, but he grew bored and restless, and he was starting to tell his teacher he didn't feel well so he could come home. We had him officially tested by the school counselor and found out that he has a very high IQ, and that he was working on a second and third grade academic level. We decided to let him go to second grade, but he did some of the same work that the third grade students did, such as spelling, reading, and math. He loves school now and is excelling academically.

September 10th was Leah's 25th birthday. Gabrielle, Tallullah, and I took her on a trip to LA on Labor Day weekend. We checked into this glorious five star hotel, where we spent three fun filled days and two nights. We took Leah to an upscale spa, where we were pampered, massaged, and relaxed. After the spa, we had an intimate lunch at the hotel right there on the balcony of our suite. It was such a beautiful day! We went shopping in Beverly Hills, got our hair and make-up done, and painted the town red. We had a great time!

Gabrielle turned 25 on October 1st. Unfortunately, Phoenix was in the hospital, but the girls and I brought her cake and gifts. We took her to dinner at a bistro down the street from Wallace Memorial Hospital, while Peter stayed with Phoenix.

Declan and Ashtyn experienced their first Halloween in 2012. He was "chuffed to bits" as he put it. He dressed up as a doctor, but not just any doctor, a surgeon. Steve ordered him some little blue scrubs and let him borrow his old stethoscope, the one he was issued in med school. Declan was over the moon! We took him trick-or-treating. Steve put my wheelchair in the trunk just in case I needed it, but I was able to walk around with them. Declan was glad that I was able to walk, but he offered to push me in my chair because he wanted to tell everyone I was his patient. I love that little guy so much! He's so funny! We dressed Ashtyn as a Monarch butterfly. She wasn't as excited as her big brother was. Declan would hold her little hand and walk her up to the door and show her off to everyone, proudly saying, "This is my Ashtyn." And Ashtyn would say, "My Declan." She did okay for the first half hour, then she started crying, so Steve carried her the rest of the way.

November 20th was Declan's fifth birthday. He had been living with us for one year and two weeks at this point. He didn't want anything specific. He said he had us and that was enough. He's such a good kid! Instead of decorations, he wanted us to make a banner of pictures of our lives since he arrived. (Did I mention that he's such a good kid?) We celebrated at home, just thankful to have each other, especially after all we had been through. He wanted to go to a museum and out to eat, so Steve took him out for his big day, while I stayed home with Ashtyn.

Thanksgiving 2012 was spent with my parents at their house. My mother and grandmother did all of the cooking. They let me help a little, but only from a chair at the kitchen table. My brother, Taven, finally brought his girlfriend of two years to dinner this year. She's very nice. Her name is Victoria, but she goes by "Tori". My brother, Tory's real name is Victor, like my grandfather, Victor, who also goes by "Tory", a nickname my grandmother gave him. Confusing, I know. So whenever my brother said, "Tori" or "Tory", two people turned around and asked which one they wanted. When my grandmother said, "Tory" or "Tori", three people asked which one she was talking to. It was hilarious!

Christmas of 2012 was much better than last year. I was feeling much stronger. I baked all sorts of goodies to hand out as gifts. Declan helped me decorate gingerbread men while Ashtyn decided to coat herself thoroughly with icing, which made Declan giggle until he cried. She had it everywhere! After I bathed her, Declan and I made cookies and Chex Mix for Santa. He even wrote a note to Santa, telling him that he left the milk in the fridge for him so it wouldn't spoil. He's so funny!

We spent Christmas morning together, talking, laughing, opening gifts, and singing Christmas Carols. 

We spent New Year's Eve of 2012 together at church, where we rang in 2013. Instead of facing the year with fear and trepidation, I couldn't wait to see what would happen next!

Our 2013 has been the best year so far! My 26th birthday was February 25th. It was another miracle to make it to my 26th birthday, and for that, I am thankful. Ashtyn's second birthday was on March 11th. She's walking and talking nonstop now, but I'm strong enough to keep up. And Steve's 26th birthday took place on August 29th.

The annual events took place as they always do, but they were all so much more special this year. We celebrated with our friends on our birthdays, we got together with family and friends for the holidays to exchange gifts, we attended our friends children's birthday parties, as well as theirs, celebrated their successes, and helped them through the hard times, the way they helped us. We celebrated these big events like they might be our last, and we truly cherished each other each and every day. I didn't have to wait until the holidays this year to realize how truly blessed I am.

Declan started third grade this year. He still loves school and is academically gifted. His teacher is already talking about letting him go to the fourth grade. I'm not sure if he's ready. I know I'm not ready. We compromised by letting him join the fourth grade class for Spelling and Math. Steve and I don't want him to be bored, but we both feel that his social skills are important, and may be ignored if he moves up another grade level. We have him eat lunch and go to recess with the first and second graders three days per week. He also goes on certain field trips with the first and second graders, depending on where they're going. He wants to be a crossing guard so bad, but we feel he's way too young for that right now.The kid has a lot of his plate these days, but he loves every minute of it.

For Halloween this year, Declan announced that he wanted to go as an oncologist. You could tell how proud Steve was to hear that! I wasn't sure how to dress Ashtyn, but she surprised us by saying she wanted to be a sock monkey. She wasn't as cranky this year. She walked with her big brother every step of the way and thanked the people who gave her candy.

November 20th was Declan's sixth birthday. He was too sick to enjoy it. I felt so badly for him. He just curled up in a ball on the couch and slept. He didn't even feel like having cake or opening gifts. We had originally scheduled his party for the 23rd, but we decided to reschedule it for the following Saturday, November 30th. We spent Thanksgiving at home, since Declan was ill. My mother brought some food and dessert to us and spent some time with Ashtyn.

Three days before the party, Steve, who never gets sick, came down with whatever Declan had. So with the help of my parents, we had to call everyone and tell them that the location for the rescheduled November 30th party had to be moved to Chuck E Cheese. My mother and I hosted the party while Steve stayed home in bed. Thankfully Ashtyn and I didn't catch whatever it was. Poor Steve is still on the weaker side. The good news is that we were still able to make the trip to France. We're spending Christmas in Paris with Steve's mother and father. We brought some of Declan and Ashtyn's gifts with us to open on Christmas morning, like new clothes and pajamas for both of them, a baby doll for Ashtyn, and a teddy bear for Declan. I'm sure Grand (Grandpa) and Glam (Grandma) have purchased some very nice things for the kids. (There are so many gifts that I'm sure some of them will have to remain here!) Once we get home, we will celebrate Christmas all over again. That gives Declan and Ashtyn something to look forward to, and it extends Christmas just a little longer. They still have gifts to open from Poppy, (my father) and Nonni (my mother) too!

After a seven hour and fifteen minute flight, first class, we arrived in France this morning at 8:25 at Charles de Gaulle Airport. We had breakfast with Steve's parents, Declan and Katerina (our Declan was named after Steve's father). Then, we took Declan and Ashtyn around the city. We went shopping. We stopped off at Katerina's boutique so she could show off her grandchildren.

The kids wanted to go ice skating. It was Ashtyn's first time. She handled it well. She's growing up. And it makes me a little sad. She giggled every time she fell on her bottom. I watched from a park bench as Steve, Katerina, Declan, and the children were having a good time. I decided to go out on the ice. It looked like so much fun. I used to go ice skating all the time. It wasn't long before I was showing Declan and Ashtyn tricks and jumps. They were very impressed. We had such a great time. I was so tired, but it was totally worth it.

We had such a busy day that we were ready to go unpack and take a nap. Steve's Mom and Dad took us to their place. After we unpacked our things, Steve, Ashtyn, and I napped for a couple of hours while Declan stayed in the study with Grand and Glam and worked a jigsaw puzzle.

Once our nap was over, the six of us sat down together and had a late lunch. When we finished eating, Declan announced that he wanted to go sledding. The grounds of McAuley Manor are quite large. We bundled up the children and ourselves, and went outside. I sat on the patio with Katerina while Steve and his father took turns pulling the sled around the yard, and carrying Ashtyn up and down the hills. Ashtyn was terrified the first time she went down on the sled. She started crying at the top of the hill. Steve asked, "Do you want to get off the sled?" And she's sobbing and saying, "no." By the time they got to the bottom of the hill, Ashtyn was squealing with delight. After the sled riding was over, the six of us built a snowman.

It was growing dark, so we went in and had some hot chocolate. We spent the rest of the day relaxing. Steve went to bed early. And I'm here, composing this letter to all of you, our cherished family and friends. Before I go, I'll enclose a few pictures. (They are in no certain order.) The top picture above is of Declan and Ashtyn, standing in front of Grand and Glam McAuley's tree next to the grand staircase.

(Declan and Ashtyn's tree. Declan wanted a red, white, and blue tree this year.)

(Peppermint hot chocolate that I made. It was my first attempt, but it turned out great.)

(Poppy and Nonni Rupert's sitting room tree. "Poppi" and "Nonni" are what my children call my parents instead of "Grandpa" and "Grandma".)

Poppy and Nonni's living room tree. My parents still hang my stocking over their fireplace, even though I'm married and no longer living with them.)

(The tree and stockings in Poppy and Nonni's sunroom. I know what you're thinking, "Why do Braxton and Rhiannon have five stockings when they only have four children?" Good question. Aside from me, there are my brothers, identical twins Taven and Tory, and my sister, Coreena. There are five stockings because one of them was for my brother, Colin, who was Coreena's twin. He was stillborn. My mother bought the stockings while she was pregnant with Coreena and Colin. Rather than return one of them, she kept the fifth stocking to honor Colin's memory.)

(Our neighborhood, viewed from the second floor hallway window.)

(Our tree in the sitting room of our house, and a bit of view into the formal dining room.)

(Baskets by the sitting room fireplace.)

(Our living room tree!)

(The rec room in the basement.)

(Our rec room in the basement decorated for Christmas.)

(Our family dining room, just off of the kitchen, decorated for the holidays.)

(A closer view of the decorations and tree in the family dining room.)

(Decorations by the back staircase in the hall beside the kitchen.)

(The study on the second floor of our house.)

(The fireplace in our study.)

And now, I will share some pictures of the trees here at Grand and Glam McAuley's spacious home in France. There are at least twenty trees here. I've only snapped pictures of a few so far.

(One of the trees here at Grand and Glam McAuley's house.)

(Grand and Glam McAuley's study/library.)

(The tree in the family room.)

(The tree and stockings in the playroom that Steve's parents put up just for Declan and Ashtyn. All of those gifts are for them, too! This room used to be the sewing room, where Steve's mother made her first wedding gown ever. A year later, production was moved to her boutique in downtown Paris, which was the first of many boutiques. The former sewing room sat empty until last summer, when it was turned it into a playroom for Declan and Ashtyn. Her first wedding gown sits in a glass case in the basement of her boutique. People from all over the world have begged to purchase it, but she refuses to sell it. A king and queen, she won't say from where, recently offered her one million dollars for that dress. She still declined.)

(Steve mother's tree at her boutique.)

(The tree in Grand and Glam's master bedroom. The whole master suite is decorated.)

Declan walked over and said, "Mumsy, I want to look at the rest of the trees." And Ashtyn just climbed into my lap and is looking up at me and smiling, so Katerina and I are going to show them the other trees and put them to bed.

That concludes the events and happenings with our family, but I look forward to writing to you next year. May your holiday season be filled with blessings and miracles!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The McAuleys
Steve, Daisy, Declan, and Ashtyn

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