Owen's Birthday Project: Book & Blanket Drive

It's that time again! As we prepare to celebrate Owen's 3rd birthday, we are hosting another Book & Blanket Drive this year. I'm not ready to commit to this being an annual event for each of his birthdays- I'd like to continue to take it one year at a time. I do know however that I absolutely love everything about hosting this and making it happen. Each year we are amazed by the turnout and support we receive. Your donations to families with babies and children in the ICU are so appreciated. Thank you.

If you are new to our story, Owen was our first baby who was born with a severe heart defect called Shone's Complex. He lived for 43 days and was the sweetest and strongest little baby. Books and blankets were two of his most favorite things. He loved being read to, and we loved reading to him. It created memories I will never forget. Having our own personal blankets in the hospital made the unit feel more like home (which is usually the case for a lot of these families- living in the hospital every waking hour).

We invite you to join us again this year if you are able. We will accept any new or gently used blankets and books. Blankets of all sizes and weights can be used. Longer children's books are great for more critical children and babies who are unable to move around and interact as much. I mostly read these to Owen because they helped pass the time. He liked looking at the pictures, and I liked knowing that he was hearing my voice. Board books are good for less critical babies and toddlers to stay entertained with. All donations will be washed and cleaned before packaging in gift bags for each family with a special note of encouragement.

This year we are not only delivering to Egleston in Atlanta, but also to Levine Children's Hospital here in Charlotte. I'm looking forward to delivering packages to both hospitals! 

If you would like to give monetarily, I am happy to shop for you or use your money to put toward packaging supplies. If you would like to buy new and don't want to pay for shipping, Amazon Prime is a great option! All donations need to be made by February 18th, and we will deliver to both hospitals on February 23rd. Email us at bookandblanketdrive[at]gmail.com if you would like to mail or ship items to our address. Atlanta friends, I have people who are able to collect donations. Let me know if you are interested, and I'll get you in touch with them.

I can't thank you enough for your support in this and making it so successful. As a former parent of a child in the CICU, I can honestly say that any act of kindness, especially from strangers, means the world when you are in such a state of crisis. We felt so much love from people we may never meet face to face, and it's an honor to do the same for others who are now in a similar situation. Thanks for joining us!

2016 Book and Blanket Drive
2016 Book and Blanket Drive Progress
2015 Book and Blanket Drive

Owen's Birthday Weekend & Book & Blanket Drive

Hazel had her first trip to Georgia for Owen's birthday weekend! So many people couldn't wait to meet her. It was a whirlwind trip, but so great to see family and friends. She did great in the car on the way there!
I didn't get pictures of everyone we saw, but tried my best! She got to meet my dear friends Anne and Krissy! 
 And Kathy of course!
She also got to meet Owen's night nurse, Ashely! It was so good seeing her again and fun to reminisce about our times in the CICU... This is the nurse who kept track of Owen's urinary output every hour throughout the night so that Brian could record it on owenspee.com. I'm pretty sure we are the only parents she has had who have made such a strange request. She gladly did it with a smile. 
Hazel also finally got to meet her cousins! Truett, Jack, and Meg were all so cute with her.
It was a little tricky to get a picture of all of them. This is the best I got.

We stopped by Hull and Northbrook to see some of my old coworker friends! I wish we could have seen everyone! It was so fun walking her through the halls and seeing some dear friends. I miss working at this school so much! They were all so supportive when Owen was sick and continue to be a great support. Love these people. 

We then got together with some old college friends and their children! Margot had her three kids, and Julie and her two. They made time for us in their busy days, and I am so thankful! It had been too long!
Levi and Hazel are just a few weeks apart! 
After that we drove down to Decatur and stopped to spend the night with the Ribes. Two years ago, this family opened up their home to us (strangers) for as long an indefinite period of time. They live five minutes from Egleston (and next door to one of Owen's cardiologists!), so we were able to be close to Owen at night while we slept. We stayed with them for six weeks. Kelly, Paul and their sons Griffin and Owen (yes, they have an Owen too!) have become some of our dearest friends. They really feel like family now. I always hoped to bring Owen to their house, so it really felt like a dream come true to bring Hazel. 
The next day was Owen's second birthday! Hazel got all dressed up in her tutu for the celebration!
Then we were off to Cakes & Ale for Owen's birthday lunch with some of his favorite nurses! Meredith, Susie, Danielle, and Amanda got to meet our sweet girl and celebrate her big brother. It was so special to see them meet and love on our little girl. 
I really can't express how special this was for us. These women took such great care of Owen and loved him so well. They are some of the few people who were able to meet and spend time with Owen. I am so thankful for the memories I have of them with him and for their lasting friendships! It feels like they have always been in our lives.
Hazel wore her party hat for the celebration!
Josiah and his mom, Lacy came too! Josiah is another heart warrior who we met when Owen was in the hospital. He was so cute blowing out the candle on the cake and singing happy birthday to Owen. He was such a good sport singing it three times so we could get it on video. :) It's so great seeing how strong and healthy he is after so many ups and downs when he was younger. He really is a walking miracle.

Josiah was really sweet with Hazel. Look at him kissing her hand. I just love when Hazel is around little boys around Owen's age. These "older brother" figures melt my heart as I imagine what Owen would be like as a big brother.

I am so thankful that we can laugh and celebrate. I wasn't sure it would ever be possible after we lost Owen almost two years ago. Of course there are still hard and painful days, but God really has sustained us and given us the grace we need to not only just get through these "harder" days, but enjoy them and celebrate. I hope this gives others who are newer in this grief journey hope.

Then it was time to head over to Egleston for the big book & blanket drop off! The most important part of the trip! Thanks to all of you, we had over 500 blankets and over 300 books donated this year! They filled up two SUVs!
Since the hospital doesn't have enough room to store everything, our wonderful nurses Amanda and Meredith are gracious enough to store them in their homes and bring them to work to replenish as needed. 
I may never get around to writing thank you notes to everyone who donated, (and many of you sent anonymous packages through amazon!) but please know how truly grateful we are for your contributions. As a former parent of a child in the Cardiac ICU, I can honestly say how much they will mean to these families. To know that someone is thinking of you and your child means more than you know when you are faced with the most impossible situation and you are filled with anxiety and fear. These packages will spread love deeper and wider than we will ever know. Thank you for making this such a success again this year. 
We were able to see a few of Owen's old nurses in the unit! We were especially excited to see Uno, our favorite therapy dog! 
Hazel wasn't in the best of moods (poor thing had hit her limit!), so we didn't stick around too long, but it really was great to be back and show Hazel where her brother lived. I hope that we will be able to come back here for many more of Owen's birthdays. 

Happy 2nd Birthday, Owen!

Dear Owen,

Today is your second birthday! What a big boy! It's hard to believe that you would no longer be a baby. I wonder what you would look like and what you would be into these days... I wonder what kind of birthday party we would be throwing for you. I wonder what your little voice would sound like and how you would feel wrapped in my arms. I wonder how excited you would be about opening presents and eating your birthday cake. We miss you more than words can express. The ache for you is deep. It's hard to be patient as we wait to see you again in heaven. I know you are having the best party up there. I love to imagine the celebration. We are celebrating you today, little one. Your life changed ours for the better and we will never be the same. Hazel is wearing her "little sister" onesie with her party hat and tutu. She is so excited to meet all of your friends in Atlanta and especially at the hospital where you lived. We are gong to deliver cupcakes to your friends at Egleston and over 200 packages of beautiful books and blankets to the other heart babies and children. So many of your friends and family donated hundreds of books and blankets in your honor. What a legacy your life has left. You continue to spread love and joy to others in more ways than we know. It is worth celebrating, and today, we are going to do just that. 

Two years ago we waited and waited for you to make your arrival. When you were finally here, we experienced a level of happiness we didn't know was possible. Our hearts grew immediately when we saw your sweet face for the first time. Owen, you were perfect. You will never be replaced, and we will continue to remember you and celebrate you in the years to come. You truly are a gift from God, and we are so thankful for the six weeks and one day we got to spend with you. Your birth day was the happiest day of our lives, and we remember it as we celebrate you today.


2016 Book & Blanket Drive Update

You guys! The Book & Blanket Drive is in full swing. We have already collected 179 blankets and 118 books! Amazing! All you amazon primers, thank you! There haven't been names of buyers in most of the boxes, so I can't thank you individually, but just know that all of your donations are going to make so many families happy. Aaden + Anaias donated blankets again this year which is so wonderful. Just another reason to love their company. And to all of the etsy shop owners who have sent and continue to send blankets, we love them all and appreciate your generosity. We will start the process of getting the gift bags together soon! If you haven't donated and want to, we will continue to collect items for three more weeks. February 17th is the cut off in order to get everything packaged up in time and off to Atlanta. If more trickle in after that day, they will be saved for next year. 

Another great way to contribute is through Usborne Books! A friend of mine sells books through Usborne, and has created a fundraiser to raise money that will go toward the purchase of more books. Usborne will match 50% of your contribution (so if you donate $20, it will be a $30 contribution). You can also buy books through them and they will be shipped directly to us. Click here if you'd like to make a contribution! 

I love walking into my dining room and seeing this. 

Checking the mail each day has been so much fun. So much love is put into every box.

Every time Hazel and I read stories together, I remember my special times reading to Owen. It is such a gift to make memories with her like I did with him. Hazel is just as engaged and focused while reading as Owen was. 

Know that your contributions will be a huge blessing to parents and children during such a difficult time. It will mean so much to them just to know they are thought of and remembered. It means so much to me that you guys are so supportive in making this a huge success again this year! Thank you!

Hazel's newborn shoot

These photos. I am in love. Our incredibly talented photographer friend, Rebecca Necessary photographed our wedding six years ago, and it was a dream come true for her to capture these sweet moments of our girl when she was two weeks old. Hazel was still in a really sleepy stage, but quickly woke up and was quite alert during the shoot! These are some of my favorites.