Happy Birthday CJ!

On this day two years ago our sweet Cassidy Joan was born! I was induced at 39 weeks because I had polyhydramniosis (too much amniotic fluid around baby) and was considered high risk. 8 hours later our 3rd baby was born…and we knew almost immediately that something was not right. I brought her to me to nurse right away and she started choking and had trouble breathing. After a few minutes of working with her in the room they took her to the NICU. I’m not really sure why, but even though I had a “high risk” pregnancy it didn’t really occur to me that I had a “high risk” baby. We had done all the tests, had lots of ultrasounds, visited specialists, and ruled out all the possible problems. And yet, here we were in the maternity ward on the evening of February 22, 2014 without a baby in our arms. And we waited. Kenny stayed with her in the NICU and reported back to me often, mostly about how she couldn’t breathe on her own and wasn’t really improving much despite lots of efforts from our nurses. At that point I think I was too tired to worry much, and I kept thinking back to how Avery was in the the NICU with breathing problems for a little under an hour when she first arrived. Nothing to fear, we’d be reunited soon.

A couple hours later the pediatrician came in. She had a report and started with the words, “you did not do anything to cause this nor could you have done anything to prevent it…” and then she told us that Cassidy was born with TEF (Trachea Esophageal Fistula). In other words, her esophagus was not attached to her stomach but instead formed a little pouch at the top of her throat. Anything she swallowed (like when I first nursed her) would come straight back up because it had nowhere to go. She also had an opening from her trachea into her esophagus (that’s the Fistula part of TEF). She needed to have surgery. And they needed to transport her to a higher level NICU in downtown Denver.

My heart sank. I was terrified. And sad. And maybe a bit mad. And I felt completely responsible and full of guilt. We rushed her into flight for life, drove to another hospital, got ourselves admitted into a NICU parent room, and waited again–this time for surgery. She had surgery to connect her esophagus to her stomach and to close up the fistula on her trachea on her 2nd day of life and it went as well as it could have. We had an amazing surgeon who is the most wonderful gift to our family. He saved our girl! The next 13 days were a whirlwind…tests to rule out other problems with her brain, heart and kidneys, healing from surgery, intubation, extubation, intubation again, feeding tubes, my milk not coming in, then my milk coming in, pumping, lots of tears, exhaustion, wanting to be home with our older two but not wanting to leave our fragile baby. And then feeding our girl, seeing her get stronger, breathing and eating on her own, getting discharged, and finally introducing her to Avery and Zeke (and our lovable dog Samson). Looking back over our time in the NICU I cannot help but be filled with such gratitude. We had loving, caring, skilled nurses who watched over Cassidy 24 hours a day. Many of them prayed over her and encouraged us. They are our heroes! We also made friends with another family whose son was born with TEF just a day before CJ. It is a condition that affects 1 in every 3,000 to 5,000 newborns and while we were in the NICU there were 4 babies who needed surgery for TEF. We believe God brought us together at that specific time and we are grateful for the relationships that were formed.

Now two years later Cassidy is a growing, thriving, sweet, stubborn, clever little girl. She blesses our family in so many ways and we have learned so much from her! A really good friend of mine once told me that “God is intentional” specifically in the way He has brought Cassidy into our world. Kenny and I didn’t plan for a 3rd child, and yet God intentionally gave us another kiddo. He created her, formed her, put her together piece by piece, and none of her congenital anomalies were hidden from His eyes. He knew about her having RSV and pneumonia at 10 months old and He knew that she may have other respiratory issues as she grows. He knew she’d need physical therapy to start walking and that she may develop scoliosis (well, I suppose he already knows if she will develop it…we just don’t know yet). He knew we’d have to re-explain all her health stuff to each specialist and doctor we ever meet with. He knew she’d often choke on her food and have to be encouraged to eat with her “monster teeth.” He also knew that she’d be joyful and smart and kind. He knew that she would teach Avery and Zeke about compassion and empathy. God is intentional and He uses Cassidy’s story to bring glory to His name. I am thankful that we get to witness how she brings hope to so many. We are very proud!

A couple verses/songs that have been important to us over our hardest and best times with our girl:

  • “Oceans” by Hillsong
  • “Wake Up” by All Sons and Daughters
  • Psalm 139:13-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
  • Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Happy Birthday Cassidy! We love you like crazy and we are so happy to celebrate you today!

 

A new season

Today we dropped our older two kiddos off at school for the first time ever. Avery started Grade R (Kindergarten for those of you back home) and Zeke started preschool in the Dolphin class. It was a big day filled with much anticipation and excitement, and by the grace of God it went amazingly! I am completely convinced that the Lord has been preparing A and Z for this during the 4 months that we’ve been in Africa because I would normally say that their fear of the unknown would have kept them from transitioning into school so well. They both walked away from us this morning hand in hand with either a friend or a teacher and bravely journeyed into their new adventure. And when we picked them up they had loads of stories to share. We are so very proud!

As change often does, this new season has me reminiscing quite a bit. For the last almost 6 years I have constantly been pregnant and/or nursing. I got pregnant with Avery in March of 2010, nursed her, got pregnant with Zeke while still nursing Avery, nursed him, got pregnant with Cassidy while still nursing Zeke, and nursed her. There has been no break from my littles. And I’ve loved it! I really feel like I came to life when I became a mama. But now Cassidy is almost 2, is starting to sit on the potty, and just weaned from nursing this last week. It’s the end of a very long era. I am now a stay-at-home mom whose kids no longer stay at home. And a mom to a baby who is really not a baby anymore. It’s weird.

I’ve had a lot of moments preparing for this day where I’ve been so sad. Sad to say goodbye to this season of my life. Sad that my kids won’t need me 24/7 anymore (I can’t believe I’m actually saying that!). Sad that our lazy weekday mornings are now going to be taken up by getting ready for school. Sad that my kids are getting old and that I’m getting older. Sad that things have to change, because I like how things have been.

But today, I’m not sad anymore (or maybe I’m just in denial and will be a puddle of tears tomorrow). Instead today I’m full of joy and hope! My kids rocked school! They did it! We believe they are going to grow and blossom and thrive at Kommetjie Pre Primary with their amazing teachers and new friends. Now Cassidy can experience special time as an only child of sorts, and I can give a few more hours a week to ministry with Living Hope. This is the start of a new season for our family and I am expectant that God will show up and do great things. I’m glad to be along for the ride.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Birthday blessings

On December 6th, 2010 I became a mom. It wasn’t the single best day of my life (I have memories of other much less painful and enjoyable days ;)), but the moment our daughter arrived and the 5 years since have been the absolute greatest of my life. Avery made me mommy and I treasure that part of my identity.

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Our first day together

This weekend we’ve been celebrating our girl and reflecting on all that she is to our family so I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you. Avery is creative, smart (or clever as they say in SA), and artistic. She loves to draw and to color, and all things crafty. She is responsible, helpful, and a wonderful (often bossy) big sister/mommy figure to her brother and sister. Most of you who know Avery know that she is quiet and observant, and takes her time to warm up to new people and situations. I love that God made her this way because those who are patient and spend time with her know that she has so much to share. She is a faithful and loyal friend.

Avery is kind, compassionate, empathetic, and generous. Last week there was a huge fire in the township of Masiphumelele. Our pastor John Thomas, the founder of Living Hope, asked the children at church to consider giving some of their clothing and toys to the kids of Masi who lost everything that night. When we got home Avery was eager to search through her clothes and organize them in to piles of “keep” or “give away”. As she went along her pile of “give away” grew and grew. I actually had to stop her a couple times and remind her that she needed to keep some things for herself. I have a tendency to hold onto things, but Avery practices generosity with much joy, and she challenges me to do the same. I love her heart!

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Pure joy!

There are so many other things about our girl that make her special and precious and unique and wonderful. We are so proud of who she is becoming and we are excited to see how God continues to use her giftings for His glory. Happy 5th Birthday Avery Elizabeth!

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Birthday dinner at her favorite place, The Toad. It’s fun (and HOT!) to have a summer birthday in December!

 

On finding a home

The Kneezle family’s search for a home here in South Africa has been a long and sometimes dramatic journey. About a month ago we lost a beautiful home that we loved in an amazing neighborhood just minutes from the beach. We had put in an application in competition with others and we were selected to get the house until the owner changed her mind last minute. The rental market here in South Africa is super competitive and there’s really not much available (much like home in CO), so we were extremely disappointed and felt a bit hopeless. The kids were bummed because they didn’t get the awesome treehouse in the yard.

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Our current landlord of our temporary home is super amazing and sent me these verses when we lost the house:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:8-12

She had the perspective we needed. God sure does know what He’s doing, and He doesn’t always do things the way we would (thank goodness!). If it was up to us we’d be in the treehouse house now. We’d be unpacked and moved in. We’d be living in a small space and my inlaws would be sleeping on bunk beds. But instead, a week after we lost it, we found another home. A better, bigger, less expensive home. Seriously!? In this crazy difficult market!? A home that we love and that we can actually grow into!? It feels like a bit of a miracle really. God really did have something better in mind for us all along and we are so very glad He knows what He’s doing!

We move in December 1st and we are all very excited to finally settle in and unpack all of our suitcases just in time for Christmas. Thank you so much to all of you who have been walking with us and praying for just this. We are grateful!

If you ever find yourself in the Cape Town area, come see us. We’ll have plenty of space, warm beds, and we love company!

Here’s some pictures from the last month:

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Halloween market. Beautiful butterfly.
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A boy and his stick.
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Zeke made a new snail friend.
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Summer time cutie!
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The spiders here are no joke. Karen and I ushered this one out of the garage with a loooong rake and shaky hands.
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We had a lovely visit at the local library and checked out some books to bring back home. It was so nice to do something normal and familiar.

We’re not so different, you and I

Sometimes I think that our family is way different than the people we are meeting here in SA. We come from different cultures, enjoy different foods, speak with different accents (or different languages entirely), etc. I feel like our kids are different too. Lots of kids here don’t wear shoes and they are fearless as they run into the ocean and dive through huge waves. Our kids, on the other hand, cry if the cold water even threatens to touch their toes. I actually can’t help myself from giggling when terror fills their eyes as the cold ocean meets the sand near us. It’s all new and I know that they will get used to a lot of what’s happening around them, but I imagine they will always be a little different from the children here.

The other day Kenny and I visited kid’s club in three of the communities that Living Hope serves in. We joined club in Red Hill toward the end of the morning as they were getting ready to do craft time. The younger kids had simple coloring sheets and the older ones were coloring, cutting, and pasting their art together. Midway through their time I saw one of the younger girls crying. This is not a super uncommon thing in club so I wasn’t alarmed. Maybe another child took her crayon? Or was being rough and hit her? Maybe someone called her a name? Or maybe she was mad because she wanted to sit somewhere else? I didn’t know.

But what I did notice is that she wasn’t even trying to color. Her coloring sheet was blank, and it was folded in half. She just held it helplessly as she cried. So I got a new sheet and sat down next to her. I offered her my new unfolded blank coloring sheet and she traded me for hers. She looked up at me, stopped crying, and got to work coloring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

And it hit me. We are not different at all.

This little girl is my girl.

Her anguish over her imperfect paper is exactly the anguish we experience with Avery any time her brother scribbles on her work or she colors outside the lines. I can’t even tell you how many times she’s had to start a coloring sheet over because it’s not perfect enough. She would have done the same exact thing in Red Hill that day if another child had folded her paper.

As we giggled and colored I found out that the girl’s name is Mercy.

Mercy and Avery are not so different. I think they could be friends, defending each other from the wild and free scribblers in the room.

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So I have work to do as I start to learn how not different we are from the people here, or anywhere in the world for that matter. We may come from different backgrounds, but we are all loved by a big God who isn’t affected by culture or language. His love is the great equalizer and I long to see His children (including the 3 that He’s entrusted to us) through His eyes. May this event mark a shift in the way I look at the world around me.

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…

Perspective

Three weeks ago today we landed in Cape Town. Tired. Relieved. Overwhelmed. Excited. Anxious. Three and a half weeks ago I naively thought that as soon as we got off the airplane in SA we’d be set to go. We’ve been here before. Done the missionary thing. Know this area. We are professionals for sure. All we had to do was get through that horrific flight itinerary and it would be smooth sailing from there on out. It’d be like riding a bike.

Let me just tell you friends, I was very wrong. Leaving home and moving to another country is not easy, even if you’ve done it before. And taking 3 little ones with you doesn’t make it any easier. This time around I’ve had the hardest time adjusting to the crazy cold (even though locals will tell you we’ve had lovely spring weather since our arrival!), figuring out how to do laundry for a family of five without using a dryer (kids socks and underwear are such a pain in the butt to hang dry!), and relearning how to grocery shop and cook (where’s my ground turkey?). I’ve been discouraged because we don’t have our family car yet and the rental market is super competitive so we have yet to find our home. I’ve felt overwhelmed, homesick, and sorry for myself more often than I’d like to admit. But God has been speaking to me about this self centered sadness…and encouraging me to change my perspective.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

I read these verses, and the whole book of Philippians, about a week ago after I had a crying fit while doing the dishes. I seriously couldn’t control my emotions and had to excuse myself for some quiet time. [Side note, the kids’ new favorite question is: “Mom, are you crying???” Apparently it’s a common thing these days.]

Paul’s words hit me in a new way that day. This life is not simply about my comfort or my happiness. It’s not about if I’m having a good hair day (which has happened zero times so far in this Cape Town humidity) or how well my kids treat me. It’s about others. We are here in South Africa, called by God, to serve those around us. We are here to learn. We are here to encourage international volunteers and to walk with them as they uproot their lives and come to work for Living Hope. We are here to continue relationships with “old” friends and to make new ones. We are here to empower local people. We are here to help friends in need when there is unrest in their homes. We are here so that our kids can learn from and love on other kids their age. We are here to be obedient, and to grow. We are here for such a time as this, for this season, until God says it’s time to go. So I had better get used to it…

I hesitate writing all this and putting it out there because I still feel so raw and new in what God is tweaking in me right now, but I hope that maybe someone else out there needs to hear those verses today? Be blessed friends. Thanks for walking this journey with us and allowing us the freedom to be real in the trenches.

Visiting the penguins…the lighting (and the cute kids) make my hair look not so terrible.

Summer Bucket List

We are in the final stretch now. Our first flight leaves in 6 1/2 hours…and as I’m writing this my stomach is turning in knots. All 18 of our bags are finally packed and loaded, and our 8 carry ons are waiting for their last minute additions. So much goes into moving across the world and it’s all the last minute stuff that I’m very thankful to be done with. What a crazy journey we are about to embark on!

While the kids are taking their last naps on US soil I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on our last couple of months. We knew we wanted to have a fun summer and fill our kids with all sorts of memories before moving abroad, so we made a bucket list of family adventures. We completed almost everything on our list, so this summer was a huge success!

  1. Eat at the Perfect Landing (we did this for Zeke’s 3rd Birthday)IMG_5266
  2. Go to Wyatt’s house (thanks Ebertowskis for hosting us!)
  3. Casa Bonita (crazy crazy, but the kids loved it!)IMG_6296
  4. Chick Fil A (we crossed this one off our list more than once a week sometimes!)IMG_5737
  5. Bowling (Zeke’s Birthday)IMG_5302
  6. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (feeding the giraffes!)IMG_6424
  7. Pool
  8. Krispie Kreme (the kids first time!)IMG_6266IMG_6276
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  9. Real De Minas (we sure are going to miss Mexican food)
  10. Rockies vs. Cardinals GameIMG_5364
  11. Noodles and Company (we also did this one a lot…our kids are mac n cheese monsters!)
  12. Feed the ducks at Grandma and Grandpa’s pondIMG_5221
  13. Einsteins (I’m noticing a food theme here…we sure do like to eat!)
  14. Go on an airplane (twice this summer, and one more time tonight)
  15. Throw pennies in the mall fountain
  16. Watch a movie in our van
  17. St Louis Zoo (Cassidy started walking here!)DSCN0317

We are excited for our next journey and all the things we’ll add to our bucket list in South Africa! See you on the other side!

The importance of community

This weekend was full of goodbyes. See ya laters. Until next times. Whatever you want to call them, it was very difficult. I wore my waterproof mascara and sunglasses to hide the fact that I’m an ugly crier. Leaving our friends and family is heart wrenching. But in all of it, we were reminded that the only reason it’s hard is because we are surrounded by the most wonderful and amazing community. People who have walked with us over the years and will continue to walk with us moving forward.

Six and half years ago when we left for South Africa we had maybe 20 people gather around us at a farewell open house. This past Saturday we had around 100 join in sending us off. It was an epic party! And it’s all because we have stepped out of our comfort zones over the last five years and become a part of meaningful, honest community.

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Our bounce house, farewell party extravaganza!

Kenny and I are both introverts. And God bless our kiddos, they turned out the same. We are totally content to spend time just us at home and we have to store up courage to venture out into situations where we’ll be surrounded by large groups of people we don’t know. So when we got back from SA in May of 2010 we didn’t have any friends. I mean I guess we had a few, but none that we would choose to go out with on the weekend. And honestly we didn’t mind too much. We enjoyed slipping in and out of church and saying hi to just a few familiar faces each week. We liked our routine and quietness, so we didn’t go below the surface with anyone.

Then Kenny got hired at our church and we had no choice but to meet new people and get involved in their stuff. It was part of the job description. Looking back I’m so thankful we were required to join in community because I’m not sure we would have done it on our own. We started a small group, hosted dinners at our home, and started getting to know people on a deeper level. Over time we found ourselves invested in families, praying for our new friends, celebrating with the joyful and mourning with the broken. It has been a great journey of faith to be vulnerable and honest, and to speak the truth in love. The Lord has revealed His character through relationships and we know Him better because of our community. We are sad to leave our people behind, be we take each of you with us as we journey on.

We couldn't miss our last chance for a church donut
We couldn’t miss our last chance for a church donut!

The time has come to reconnect with old friendships in Cape Town and begin to build new ones. We are excited and expectant for what’s to come for all of us, including the kids, as we invest in community on the other side of the world. And I’m so thankful for all the tools that will keep us connected with our irreplaceable team back here in this home!

Waiting for the Light

Last week our family went on a lovely camping trip. We played, went for walks, ate good food, roasted marshmallows, sat around the campfire, looked at bugs and watched deer, and had a wonderful quiet time as a family. But sometimes trips with 3 young children don’t go perfectly. We were off schedule (and our family thrives on schedules!), out of our normal comfort zone, and away from our beds.

The camper we were using had a nice set up with a master bed on one end and a bunk bed on the other. We also brought Cassidy’s pack n play. So the first night we put the older two kids to bed on the bottom bunk, baby in her crib, and Kenny and I shared the master. Everyone was exhausted from a long day with no nap, so things went smoothly at first. But then disaster struck (insert my dramatic gasp here)!

A little before midnight Avery woke up crying, and then fell back asleep. Then an hour later Zeke woke up crying and he wasn’t going to let us off that easily. Kenny and I took turns with him in his bottom bunk throughout the night and we both tried singing, praying, and rubbing his back. You know, all the normal stuff. But nothing worked. He was wide awake and wanted nothing to do with sleep. Eventually he became a bit delirious. He was seeing kitty cats, horses, thought that we were wearing masks, and talking all sorts of gibberish. A couple times he hid himself in the corner of the camper and screamed like a crazy person. Like he was really scared. It was horrible. We couldn’t help him and we hated every minute. He never did lay down or fall asleep.

That night was the worst night sleep I have ever had in my life (and I’ve nursed 3 babies through their infant stages, so that’s saying a lot). I had 2 distinct thoughts in between wanting to scream and help fix my boy: 1. Jet lag is going to suck. And 2. Please o please can it be morning right now? It was so dark and we had no where to go, short of getting in our car and driving home (which we might have done had the girls not been sleeping through most of this). There really was no relief in sight in the wee hours. We just had to wait. But if we could make it to morning’s first light, and the sun would finally rise, I knew that all would be ok.

I know we’ve all been in this place at one time or another, where life is dark and there is no light in sight. Where all hope is lost. But the Bible has a word about that. Our hope and our light is in Jesus. And He has made all ok.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” John 8:12

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

In that dark night and in the metaphorical dark nights of life I am so thankful for the truth that Jesus is light and that there is no darkness in Him. I’m also thankful that we had a beautiful day of rest and long naps after that hard night!

Now if we can just figure out how to manage the terrors of jet lag in a few weeks we’ll be set.

Camping and Gratitude

We just got back from our family’s very first camping trip. Our feet are dirty and we smell like campfire, but our hearts are full. Full of gratitude for our amazing neighbors who gifted us 2 nights away in their camper. They did everything for us…booked the campsite, hauled the camper, set it up, stocked the fridge and pantry full of food (I mean FULL-enough food for our family for a week), made homemade cookies for us (delicious!), brought firewood, and everything else you could think of. We didn’t have to do a thing except show up and enjoy. They gave us the greatest gift of space so that we could truly get away and enjoy one another. It was so nice not to send emails, set up meetings, coordinate schedules, call doctors, worry about packing and organizing, or plan what’s next. We are so grateful for their generosity!

As we reflect on this gift and how grateful we are for our neighbors, we know that they are only a small portion of our friends and family who are supporting us with their generosity right now. We are so grateful for so many of you! For those who are praying for us. For those who ask us questions about what is going on and really want to hear our answers. For those of you who love and encourage our family. For those of you who are making sacrifices to partner with us financially. For those who have been supporting us since we went to SA back in 2009 and for those who have just now signed up to support us moving forward.  If you are reading this, we are grateful for you! Thank you for being a part of our lives!

Here’s some pictures from our camping adventure:

Cassidy LOVED the cookies!
Um, I think it’s safe to say that Cassidy LOVED the cookies!
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Lunch time
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Walking around the reservoir
Cassidy loved getting dirty!
Cassidy loved getting dirty!
Baseball is his favorite.
Baseball is Zeke’s favorite.
Love our girls
Love our girls
Grandma and Grandpa visited the first night.
Grandma and Grandpa visited the first night.
S'mores.
S’mores. The kids enjoyed roasting them, but preferred to eat them straight out of the bag.
Our home for 2 nights
Our home for 2 nights
Gram, Pop, and Aunt Linda visited the 2nd night
Gram, Pop, and Aunt Linda visited the 2nd night
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Marshmallow time
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Sitting around the fire
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They loved camping and didn’t want to leave. 
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We saw a deer! Avery immediately said “camping is the BEST!”
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Our new buddy.
Watching a deer early in the morning
Watching a deer early in the morning
Breakfast time
Breakfast time.
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Our last morning walk.