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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Too Hot in Texas!

Mom's been running like the Energizer Bunny this past week, and I think she finally hit the wall on Sunday! But before that, she enjoyed a great dinner out Saturday night at the Trail Dust Steakhouse with Steve.

Couldn't get her out on the dance floor, but watching the boot-scootin' sure was fun!

And unfortunately, she's been paying for all the fun now.  The first part of this week have been spent recuperating. Appetite's waned, fatigue has taken hold, and the chemo-crappies have set in. Thankfully, she can snuggle in on the couch with a good book, pillows for her feet and nap whenever the mood strikes. It's hard to imagine how people deal with cancer and these treatments, and still hold down a job or raise a family. And we know there are many brave and courageous cancer survivors who have done just that. Our hats are off in your honor. It takes a massive amount of energy to battle this disease. And to keep going when your body is so wrung out. True heroes. My paltry woes pale in comparison.

Praying that mom's strength returns in the very near future. Chemo #2 in this cycle is tomorrow. I think the heat wave may break by then - forecast predicts a high of only 100!  Yesterday, our outdoor thermometer hit 106.   A friend told us that it was so hot...How hot was it, we asked?  It was so hot that all the grasshoppers were sticking to the shady side of the fence post. We laughed and then we looked. She was right! Every fence post had dozens of grasshoppers clinging to the shady side!   I just had to get a picture of that!

Turns out that I'm not a very good grasshopper photographer!  Every time I got within 20 feet of the fenceposts, the grasshoppers' antenna swiveled in my direction, and they all went into panic mode, leaping to the four winds.  I must have sounded like the proverbial stampeding elephant to their sensitive ears.

But all's not lost.  Leroy, as it turns out, is a very good grasshopper stalker.  He captured these photos for me when he got home from work.

It may be hard to see the hoppers, but they're there on the shady side of the t-post!  Now, how strange is that?!  Tell me, does this only happen in Texas, or what?

As you can tell by the photos, the pasture and ground around here is parched.  And it's only July!  August is knocking on our door.  Texas is in the midst of an extremely severe drought.  While we may laugh at the oddities of grasshoppers, the truth is that farmers, livestock and neighbors are hurting.  Today marks the 26th consecutive day of triple digit heat in the north Texas area.  That's hot!  I don't care if it's dry heat or not, it's just hot!

Saying our prayers for mom, for rain and for healing.  To all in the heat wave zone: Stay cool, drink plenty of water and keep your mouth closed (flying grasshoppers are everywhere)!

 Love ya, Jane

Friday, July 22, 2011

Birthday Celebration!

Yesterday was Mom's 71st Birthday!  


Can I just start by saying how absolutely wonderful you all are?! Truly, mom was honored and her day brightened immensely by your many words of love and sweet well-wishes. If you could have only watched her read your notes while sitting in the chemo chair!

It was like you were right there with her. And it was quite a party!! I only wish you could have enjoyed the Birthday Kolaches.

They were particularly scrumptious! I felt kind of like a room mother; you know, when the birthday rolls around you bring cupcakes for all the kids in class? Well, we brought Kolaches (a yummy czeck pastry) for all the nurses and chemo patients.  Give us a reason, and we can make a party out of it!! And I think celebrating this birthday was reason enough!

All in all, mom had a wonderful day. If you put doctor visits, chemotherapy and urn shopping on your birthday wish list.  Yes, mom and dad had another memorial park they wanted to visit after chemo was finished!  On your Birthday I ask?!  Yes, she replies, what's wrong with that?!  Mental head shake me...  Anyway, this time we visited Rolling Oaks Memorial Park and received a tour of their funeral home and columbarium.

Beautiful facility...

Inside and Out....

And they had the most unique columbarium niches made entirely of glass....

These niches truly were memorials to the loved one.  A beautiful tribute filled with personal mementos, pictures and notes.  Mom and Dad both were intrigued with the possibilities.  And to some, this might seem very counter-intuitive; to be planning a funeral while fighting the cancer.  It reeks of just giving up.  And that's so not the case.  Mom is fighting this battle with every weapon available, but she's also a practical soul and desires to have her affairs in order should the unthinkable come to pass.  I'm starting to be okay with talking about funerals and cremation and things, but when the funeral director asked if we wanted to see the cremation witness room I admit to hyperventilating just a bit.  So, I'm not as okay with things as I thought...  Still working on it.

And all on Mom's 71st Birthday.  So glad we had a nice dinner planned for the evening with a few close friends and family.  Now, that's more like it.

Great food...

Great Gifts...

And Great Company...

A time to rejoice in a special day with a very special woman!

To celebrating many more special days with you mom! You're not done party-planning yet!

Love you bunches, Jane

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ruffled Feathers

Fox Update: As of this morning we have captured 16 raccoons and 1 duck. Not 1 fox.  Something's wrong with this picture!  This is what greeted me this morning.

Duck-Duck. Our less than happy muscovey duck. And boy were his feathers ruffled. Duck-Duck is older-than-time and equally as grumpy. He can't quack, but always tries. Sounds like a squeaky tea kettle hissing or a gas pipe leak, neither of which is pleasant. He waddles around the farmyard keeping everyone in line by either pecking them if they are in reach or taking a flying jump and flogging them with his wings (ask Kelli, she's had experience with this offensive tactic...).

Perhaps you can't tell from the picture, but Duck-Duck is giving me the evil eye. I debated taking him on a drive to Deep Creek, but then came to my senses.  He is a fixture on the farm. For all we know, he may the reason the fox keeps to the boundary line! It's not wise to cross Duck-Duck!

Update on Mom: Trip to Wendover last week was a wonderful mini-vacation. Yes, she got tired, and yes, her feet ballooned up like melons, but the diversion, the fun, the sightseeing, and the meals more than made up for those minor inconveniences.

They got home last Thursday and we made a run to the chemo lab on Friday. It was her week off from the Gemzar, but Dr. Davis had her slated for fluids, steriods and anti-nausea meds in the off week. While we were there the chemo nurse and the P.A. took another look at her swollen feet and ankles, and advised her to make a follow-up appointment with her family doctor. He was the one who saw her first for the swelling 2 weeks ago and put her on antibiotics. So, yesterday she went back to Dr. Maxwell and they x-rayed the foot, suspecting perhaps a stress fracture. Negative on that count, so now we've ruled out cellulitis, blood clots and broken bones. Hmm...Begininng to suspect that the Gemzar treatment is the culprit.

We'll be talking with Dr. Davis this Thursday when she goes in for her weekly appointment.

Until then, she's reclining like a queen with her feet up on pillows. I think maybe Dad is feeding her grapes and keeping her cool by fanning her. Oh, wait...that would be Dad with a glass of wine turning up the a/c because it's running all the time! Well, at least I know mom has her feet up.

Here's to finding our ankle bones, cool summer breezes and out-foxing foxes,

Love to each, Jane

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Those We Love Pave the Way

Yesterday, my sister-in-law, Lisa, said goodbye for the last time to her precious mom, Pat. She passed away after a long, courageous battle with liver disease. Surrounded by family and friends, she slipped from this place into the next with a sweet smile on her face.

The grief is still raw, but even in the sorrow of those left behind, I see that love transcends even this boundary. A physical presence isn't necessary for a deep love to be felt or returned. Nor is death to be feared. Those we love pave the way, and I believe with all my heart, they will be waiting as we enter the life beyond this. A life we can't begin to comprehend.
A grief counselor shared this story from Larry Libby's Someday Heaven, to try and explain her feelings of what heaven will be like:

Try to imagine something with me. Imagine you are a little bird who lives in a tiny cage made of rusty metal. And inside your cage you have a food dish, and a little mirror, and a tiny perch to swing on.

Then one day, some kind person takes your cage to a big, beautiful forest. The forest is splashed with sunlight. Proud, towering trees cover the hills and valleys as far as you can see. There are gushing waterfalls, and bushes drooping with purple berries, and fruit trees, and carpets of wild flowers, and a wide blue sky to fly in. And besides all these things, there are millions of other little birds, hopping from one green limb to another and eating their fill, and raising their little families, and singing their hearts out all through the day. Now, little bird, can you imagine wanting to stay in your cage? Can you imagine saying, "Oh please don't let me go. I will miss my cage, I will miss my little food dish with seeds in it. I will miss my plastic mirror and my tiny little perch. I might get bored in that big forest."  I don't think so...

I love that picture of release. Life on this earth may be all we know. But faith prompts me to insist that there is so much more. And, no, I don't think we will be bored in the life to come! I can't begin to imagine what awaits those who believe, but I do know the sovereign God whose Son, Jesus Christ promised, "In my Father's House are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." John 14:2.

Pat's room has been prepared, the welcome mat laid out on streets of gold, and she is home at last. Grief still consumes, but peace triumphs.

Keeping Lisa, Dean, the grandchildren, and all of Pat's extended family in our hearts and prayers. May peace and comfort truly find a home in the many, many beautiful memories you hold close:

Surprising Pat for her 68th Birthday with a Big Party just a few short months ago!

Pat's Favorite Girls:  Kalon, Sarah and Lisa

Mom and Dad with Pat

Pat, your loss cuts keenly, the sorrow is ours alone for we know you are finally finished with the pain and suffering, liberated in great joy.  For that we are so grateful, but you will be missed always!  Until we meet again...

My Love, Jane

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Summertime Walk

This morning after chores were done, I took a walk to enjoy the cool of the morning.  The sun promised to heat things up, but for a brief time, it was pure bliss...

A country lane...

Sunflowers nodding...

found treasures...

flowers and fences...

The quiet offerings of a new day.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Embracing Life to the Fullest


Mom and Dad left Monday for some serious R&R in Wendover, NV.

Most of their friends were aghast that they would even consider traveling in their conditions. One weakened from pancreatic cancer and the other wheezing from pneumonia.  Have to admit, I had a twinge or two of worry myself!

However, here is where the embracing life to the fullest part kicks in.  Mom and Dad have always loved to travel.  They've cruised the world and have enjoyed every minute.  One of the things that mom's cancer diagnosis has threatened to take away is that joyous gift of traveling. 

Mom was diagnosed in November of 2010.  We were already knee-deep into our daughter's destination wedding plans at that time and everything came to a screeching halt.  The wedding was planned for February 26, 2011 on the beautiful island of Cozumel.  The bride and groom plus 38 close family and friends would be boarding a cruise ship the Thursday before, arrive in Cozumel that Saturday and return home the following Monday.  An extended celebration to be sure.  This wedding was not for the faint at heart, nor for the sea-sick prone!   None of us were sure mom would be able to travel, and my daughter was devastated over her grandma's illness, trying to cancel plans and rearrange the wedding to be close to home so mom could attend.  Mom, however, would hear none of it.  She decided there was no way Katie should give up her dream wedding, and she was not going to miss the event, even if she had to be carried in (a recurring nightmare I suffered thru for many weeks...)  She talked with her oncologist who was immediately on board.  I believe his exact words were, We will make this happen.  And they did.  Mom was in the middle of radiation therapy and continuous 5-FU chemo in February, but the doctor arranged for the 5-day break, and actually made sure she had extra prescriptions for antibiotics, pain medications and anti-nausea meds before she left.  Is it any wonder we love him so?!

And the wedding was fabulous!  We never made the beach in Cozumel - that's a whole post in and of itself...  But the wedding went off without a hitch.  Made even more special because mom was there.

And here's mom with Katie, later that evening at the Gala Wedding Reception:

That wedding was a turning point of sorts for mom.  A light switched back on as she discovered that, Yes!  You can travel with cancer!  She arrived home with color in her cheeks and some added weight gain.  It's a fact, you can't go on a cruise without indulging!  The doctor decided that he should prescribe cruises to all his patients.  We agree!!

And so, with her doctor's blessing, mom has planned small trips here and there.  The latest is this trip to Wendover with Dad.  They arrived safely, albeit tired, and have thoroughly enjoyed the break.  Mostly resting, but also eating...

In this way, mom has chosen to embrace the life she has, rather than endure the tedium of wasting away in her living room.  It's a nice living room, but the 4 walls do start closing in after a while!  Exploring a new place is so much more fun...

Should the unthinkable happen, and one of them collapses or becomes seriously ill (more so than they are now), then we will deal with it.  For now, Mom and Dad are happy, content and hopefully in bed asleep! 

Praying for safe travels as they head home tomorrow.  Can't wait to hug their necks! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kids on the Lam

Here I am with one of "The Boys" from our cashmere goat herd.

Looks sweet doesn't he? You'd never know he was a fugitive from the Law. A kid on the lam. A rebel on the run... Scary, but true.

Leroy and I got home from running errands this weekend and found an ominous, but official notice on our front gate warning us that our "livestock had been found on the road. Future incidents would be met with possible impoundment and fines." signed sincerely, your local County Sheriff's deputy. "P.S. We have returned them to you this time, and closed your gate."

Hello?! Leroy and I exchanged theater-caliber glances filled with all the "What???????????" we could muster. Then we proceeded through our gate, down the lane, around the pond and smack-dab into a herd of horses, that, by the way, were not ours. Granted it was a small herd, only 5 head, but definitely not ours.

And just past the house, snug in their locked-up-tight compound, "the boys" looked on with innocent interest while their mama's bleated desparately for their babies to stand back from the fence. Stranger-Danger, and all that.

Rest assured, the Sheriff's office was called and all was straightened out in a matter of hours. The Houdini herd of horses had slipped through a neighboring fence and the "kind, but completely confused" deputy thought they must be ours, because, well, your front gate was open and that's how they must have escaped. As I ponder that logic, it occurs to me that "escape" usually entails getting out of a closed gate, but respect for authority prohibited me from pointing that out.

All in all, it was an eventful weekend. And, you may wonder what that has to do with mom. Really nothing, except maybe a distraction from the rigors of cancer treatment. I just somehow felt compelled to share our close brush with the law in the hopes of encouraging other lost souls.

Hang in there, the truth will come out! "The Boys" are enjoying their short stint of notoriety. But they really are sweet, don't let them fool ya!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Orange Crackers and Peanut Butter

Who says chemo can't be fun?

Lisa, my brother's wife, came along this past Thursday afternoon, and helped liven up the infusion lab! We talked and laughed the entire time. And Lisa was also extremely thoughtful and got mom a nice little snack during chemo.

Here she is in the picture offering mom a yummy orange cracker with peanut butter.

And here is Lisa helping Mom eat the cracker.

I'm not sure if Mom was trying to inhale it or swallow it!

We do get bonus points for increasing mom's calorie intake, just for those that didn't know....and Lisa can be very persuasive!!

Now I think there was some snorting going on. Cracker never did go down. But it was fun trying!

As far as chemo goes, it was an iffy day in chemo land. Mom's blood work dropped dramatically during this last week. Her platelet count was down to 98, the lowest it's ever been. And her oncologist was on vacation, so the PA and nurses had to make the decision on whether to proceed with the Gemzar. They debated for what seemed liked forever.

Low platelets means the chance of bleeding out. Much lower and she would need a transfusion. They eventually decided to go ahead with the Gemzar with the understanding that if mom even bruises she will go to the nearest ER and check herself in. A little concerning to say the least. However, mom was glad to keep the Gemzar going. This is her 3rd week of the cycle and next week is the break. She wants to blast the cancer cells as hard as she can. And even with the low platelet count, she doesn't feel extremely terrible, just somewhat tired.

One other medical note. The PA took another look at mom's ankle, which really hasn't improved much since Tuesday, and decided to send her for a doppler sonogram to rule out a blood clot.  Good news -sonogram went great. No blood clot! Yea! But ankle is still swollen and red. Mom figures it's one of those things that just comes with cancer territory. If it's not a clot and it doesn't really bother her, then no sweat. So, we won't sweat it.

But, we are sweating the weather. Our thermometer hit 107 this afternoon. And that's hot! So thankful for air-conditioning. And Dairy Queen!

I'm also thankful that mom hasn't lost her sense of humor.  With the swollen ankle and the low platelets, this could have been a depressing day.   Mom was pretty confident going in to the sonogram, that the swelling in her ankle was not likely due to a clot.  Mainly because her platelets were so low that they're worried she will bleed out (clotting was just not happening!), but the PA wanted to rule it out, just to be on the safe side. We're okay with that. We like to be safe. You know, seatbelts, smoke alarms, deadbolts, bicycle helmets, anything we can do to minimize risk....  
Because as mom has found out on this journey, life is full of risks.

Gotta do what you can to play it safe, but know when to take a chance, and then laugh while you can!

Thank you Lisa for bringing the laughter to this day!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Let's Eat!

Lunch is Served!

And dinner too!

Have you ever wanted to do something for a sick friend, but couldn't think of a thing? Or maybe you thought about making a meal and bringing it over, but didn't know what to make? Or wondered if the sick friend really would appreciate it?

The answer is a huge, resounding YES!!!

Yes - do something for the sick friend.
Yes - make a meal.
Yes - your sick friend will be forever grateful!

And no, it doesn't have to be a 5-course meal. Dish up an extra plate of whatever's on your cookstove for the day. Easy as pie! And doubly sweet.

What wonderful friends mom has been blessed with! I know of at least three divine cooks that have made it their mission to keep mom well-nourished with all sorts of tempting treats.

Pat, Ruth and Delores - you are angels with chef's aprons! And there are probably more of you in the neighborhood, forgive me for not mentioning you by name. Your simple and tasty gestures are heaven-sent.

And I know you don't do it for the applause, though you will get plenty from me! I see a pure and gracious servant's heart. True friends you are.

Thank you for your sweet offerings....

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Things are Just Heating Up

Time for a medical update x 2!

First, Dad's pneumonia is improving (that's what he says), but the doctor increased his steroids and put him on another antibiotic this afternoon. Not sure who I believe, but I'm guessing that dad's idea of improving isn't the same as the doctors! He does feel sort of okay. As long as he's relaxing in the recliner and taking his meds! No hiking around Texas (or the Gaylord) for another week or two (or three...)

Mom won't be hiking anywhere for awhile either. Her left ankle has ballooned up again (never actually went down from last week), and started turning a suspicious shade of red yesterday. And it was getting painful. Enough reason for a trip to the doctor today.

It definitely is something, but the doctor's just not sure what. Looks like a case of cellulitis, but he doesn't think it is, but then said there's really not much else it could be. So after some chin-scratching, he put her on antibiotics too.

And this is after a crummy two days with the typical Gemzar reaction. Fever, flu-like aches and fatigue. So, no, I think hiking anywhere right now is out of the question.

Not that we'd really want to go hiking anywhere anyway. 103 in the shade and nary a breeze to be found. Ahhh, summertime in Texas. Remind me come January.

The heat may be addling the raccoon brains too. We're up to lucky #13 as of this morning. Where are they coming from? We're even catching them without bait. No joke. Last Thursday I had to leave the house early to get mom to chemo, so I decided not to bait the trap the night before. Lo, and behold, what should greet me when I woke up? The rattle of the trap door and one onery coon. I think she was madder than most, because after all the hype from her friends, she fell for the trap and didn't even get a treat. That stinks.

We talked all the way to Deep Creek. I tried to impart some age-old wisdom. If all your friends were jumping off a bridge would you jump too? I think maybe she would...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bluebonnet Hills

And it's off to Bluebonnet Hills! After mom's chemo treatment on Thursday, that's where we headed.

Now, just some background before we begin, in case you're not familiar with this Texas beauty. The pretty bluebonnet is the Texas state flower. When the spring rains come, bluebonnets blanket the hillsides. It's absolutely beautiful. And it's tradition to get your picture taken, at least once, sitting in the middle of a field of bluebonnets.

And so, mom and I headed to Bluebonnet Hills. As in the Bluebonnet Hills Memorial Park and Funeral Home.

Not a bluebonnet in sight. Of course, it is the middle of summer and the heat is blistering. Perhaps in April, we'd have more luck finding a field of bluebonnets. But, as you may have guessed by now, we weren't there looking for flowers. We had a date with the director.

Mom has been mulling over final arrangements in her mind for a while now. Terminal illness has a way of clarifying priorities. And this is one issue she felt needed to be handled, decided on, and done with. And so, we tackled it head on. Difficult yes, but somehow necessary and practical as well.

Mom attacked it with her usual pluck and humor. And that's good, because if we weren't laughing, we'd be crying. And, here, let me just say, that mom's health is still very stable. The doctor is pleased with her progress and is cautiously optimistic. No talk of hospice or palliative care at all. So, please don't be discouraged. Mom isn't.

Both mom and dad decided years ago that they wanted to be cremated. One decision down. But where to go with the ashes? How many of us laughed over the scene in "Meet the Fockers" where Grandma's urn was knocked off the fireplace mantle, scattered all over the rug and used hilariously inappropriately by the cat? Not good. Mom does not want to be displayed over the fireplace. So, we started checking things out and found that there is a rather unique way to memorialize the cremated remains in what is known as a columbarium. This is a permanent structure made up of spaces or niches where the urn can be placed. A marble or bronze plaque is then used to memorialize the loved one.

Enter Bluebonnet Hills. They have a variety of columbaria and we decided to check it out.

A little intimidating at first to walk into a funeral home, but we were on a mission. I think the director was a little nonplussed when he saw our notebooks out and camera ready. But nonetheless we got an education. No decisions made exactly, but we do have more questions. Like, should mom and dad be buried in the same niche, or would separate niches, side by side be best? Mom wasn't sure dad could handle the close proximity for all eternity. And we laughed. And the director looked startled. And by the time we finished the tour, we were able to talk quite freely about graveside committal services, death certificates, fake flowers, and respectful memorial tributes.

Not everyday that you grapple with these things, but mom offered this thought. She sees this as her final gift to us, her family. By making sure these decisions are made and finalized now before the end nears, we know that her wishes will be followed. And that does give peace. Odd to realize, but it does.
The grief will come and I know it will swamp us, but these decisions lay a path for us to walk when we won't be able to see for the tears. And I will remember the way we laughed at Bluebonnet Hills, and it will make it easier to bear.
Love you Always, Mom

p.s. We don't plan on using that columbarium for years and years, just so you know...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Only One Seriously Ill Person at a Time, Please!

There's an abundance of medical news to report this week at mom and dad's place! First, just let me say, that everyone is doing "fine." But they have been keeping the doctors busy!
Starting with Dad. Wednesday he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Caught it early, started antibiotics and prednisone, but still he's been a tad under the weather. And also stubborn as a mule. Doctor told him to take it easy for at least a week, i.e. no work, stay home and rest. So, where would he be today? Yep, at work. For those that don't know, Dad works part-time as a chauffeur for the Gaylord Texan Resort.

We're not sure if he just really loves his job, or if he really just loves the tips! Irregardless, you can't keep a good man down. I am thinking, though, that the pneumonia might be doing some serious talking about now. Curious to see how he feels when he gets home this afternoon :) Tables are turned: Mom's now making chicken noodle soup for Dad and doling out meds!

Mom is actually doing fairly well! Hallelujah! Only one seriously ill person at a time please. She had her second Gemzar chemo treatment yesterday. And so far, so good. Of course, her blood work is getting rocky. We expect that. The platelets and red and white blood cells are starting their slow decline, but are still in the okay range for now. The dreaded tumor marker, unfortunately, has gone way up. We expected that too, but had hoped for better news. The gallbladder fieldtrip took her away from the chemo for almost 2 months. The cancer saw an opportunity and took advantage. The marker is at 630. Up from 118 in May. The doctor wasn't overly concerned at this point. She has responded well to the Gemzar in the past, and he expects that number will go down as the chemo does its job. Praying this is true.

We are concerned with the swelling in her left leg. It comes and goes, but never completely goes away. We're beginning to think that the cancer is somehow interferring with the lymph drainage in that leg. Elevating it does help some. But you can't spend all day with your leg propped up in the recliner! (Does sound tempting though.)

On another front, Mom's appetite continues to hold steady. Yea! Prayers answered. She was even able to snarf down dessert from Mimi's Cafe during chemo yesterday! Marked improvement! How can you go wrong with the dessert sampler? A little apple crisp, some brownie drizzled with caramel and their famous bread pudding with rum sauce! Yum!! Our little corner of the chemo lab was infused with happiness!

That little boost from the rum sauce (just kidding, I'm sure they cooked it all out....right?) was exactly what we needed for the trip we took after chemotherapy. We headed over for a visit to Bluebonnet Hills yesterday afternoon. And that's actually a whole other post for a whole other day! I'm thinking that Bluebonnet Hills isn't exactly what you're thinking it is. So tune in tomorrow, for all the details...

Love you all to pieces, Jane