Home travelPeru a tiny village, the famous MACHU PICCHU, and life-changing surgeries

a tiny village, the famous MACHU PICCHU, and life-changing surgeries

by Shawni

This is “PERU part 2.”

“Part 1” is back HERE, and the intro to all this hoopla is back HERE.

And I know I should break these up into smaller posts, but I want to keep all these memories as close together as possible, so brace yourself for LOTS of pictures.

Because Peru!

And Machu Picchu for crying out loud!

Here we go: the last half of our trip to Peru.

The tippy-top mountain village of HUILLOC

We took our little vans up the steepest, quite terrifying dirt roads (narrow cliffs, I swear our wheels must have been balancing on the very edge most of the time!), zig-zagging back and forth to get to Huilloc, the home of 15-year-old Eliana: the millionth patient CharityVision has operated on (in conjunction with other organizations, but still, pretty impressive).

We were I think over 13,000 feet in elevation there, so we were pretty woozy making our way trudging up the mountain across the little patches of grass Eliana’s extended family had put out to soften our journey to the top, three men playing flutes and drums marching along beside us as we huffed and puffed to breathe.

As a side note, when you look at these pictures you may think they got all dressed up just for us.

But this is really how the people dress in this mountain region. (In the big cities not so much, but out in the country, yes.)

En route to the top of the mountain we saw all kinds of people walking to their next destination…maybe to plant? Maybe to pick up supplies? We actually picked up a couple people walking that steep road and took them where they needed to be, and got to talk to them as we drove. The older gentleman in our car was on his way to help his grandson with his planting, all dressed up in his beautiful, traditional garb.

Back to Eliana’s home, we passed through two flower arches they had made and finally got to the top of the hill where they dressed us all in their traditional clothing when we passed through the last arch, wrapping flowers around us, and pulling us into their dance.

This is Eliana on the left below:

She is fifteen. She had had an injury in her eye from the time she was young and had lost her vision. It was a quick surgery to fix it, but it wouldn’t have happened without CharityVision’s outreach.

Which is pretty amazing.

These clothes though! Aren’t they so beautiful!?

We spent the whole morning up there in that village.

Among other things, we got to participate in their special ceremony to honor Pachamama (the Inca goddess for Mother Earth, I love that name) before they plant crops each year:

They worked on some kind of brew and had us take turns sprinkling it on the alpacas, (maybe a symbol of sacrifice??) to bless the planting season.

(I LOVE Eliana’s grandmother in the picture above, I wish there hadn’t been such a language barrier and limited time so I could have heard more about her life.)

Then they took us even further up the mountain where they plant their crops.

They taught us how they plant and plow the ground, all by human power and simple handmade tools (it’s so steep).

(Max and Abby weren’t feeling so great right at this time, so we were enjoying it extra for them.)

They fed us guinea pig (traditional Peruvian dish), actually pretty good:

They showed us how they make their alpaca yarn and dye it (much like we had seen the day before).

And we had the chance to buy some of the things they have woven..so beautiful!

This is a blurry picture from a video, but I wanted to share it because he was telling us about how they use this microphone to make announcements to all the neighboring little villages. The way the mountains are situated make it so that people can hear from miles away.

Pretty cool, right? (I’m still not sure where the electricity comes from…)

He also told us all about how when he goes to town in his traditional clothing some people ask why he doesn’t “get with the times” and wear something more modern, and others ask how they can get clothing like his.

Kind of interesting to think about the old and new cultures and traditions merging together.

As I pondered in the tippy top peak of those Andes mountains, I wondered how it would feel to be there at night.

How quiet it would be.

How still.

How the stars would look.

How I want more of that stillness in my life.

Doing the things that really matter most.

OLLANTAYTAMBO IN THE SACRED VALLEY

I must admit, we were all pretty relieved when we made it down that steep mountain alive. Phew!

From there we headed to Ollantaytambo (all of this was in the famous Sacred Valley) to see the Ollantaytambo Fortress which is the “Temple of the Sun” in that area.

See those buildings built right into the mountain behind us up there in the picture above?

Here’s a better picture of them down below:

The ancient Inca stored grain and food there. Pretty interesting. The Incas built them (they are called “qullqas”) because the wind and lower temperatures up there would help the food to stay more fresh. They have ventilation systems and everything.

I left my camera at lunch (Elle and I RAN back together to find it, heaving for breath in the high altitude, SO happy when Elle came out holding it in her arms).

Ticket to the fortress where we actually had to scramble for timing purposes to catch our train:

But we literally RAN most of those steps diligently and learned as much as we could cram in in that bright Peruvian sun.

Complete with the Incan signature perfectly carved stones at the top:

We scrambled back to the vans to get all our stuff situated, an overnight bag to take to Aguas Calientes and sending all our other stuff back to Cusco.

We RAN to get to the train on time, I lost my ticket (well, Dave took it and I didn’t realize he had it), passports all checked, and we boarded the train with a giant sigh of relief that we made it.

Phew!!

We got to take the “vistadome” train which was so cool, all rounded glass ceiling so we could see all that beauty out there as the seven of us played cards en route to the town (Aguas Calientes) at the base of Machu Picchu.

AGUAS CALIENTES

We had a jumbled evening trying to figure out what to do with an opinionated group, but ended up going to the actual “Aguas Calientes” (“hot water” like hot tubs with natural hot mineral water) with most of our group.

Yeah…would you want to get in there?? Ha! I have to say it was a little on the stinky, interesting side, but we chocked it up to a pretty funny experience.

MACHU PICCHU!!!

Another early morning (every morning was early there…did I mention we were in a different hotel every night?), but this one, as I mentioned in my introduction, I jumped up literally shaking with excitement, my hands could hardly pack my backpack I just couldn’t believe I was actually there:

My long-anticipated chance-of-a-lifetime visit to MACHU PICCHU!

We waited in a long line for the bus that carried us up another dangerously STEEP zig-zag road:

And waited in the crowd to get through with our passports.

We walked up the incline little path…

…and then THERE IT WAS: the glory of those Inca ruins stretched out in front of us.

I was in deep awe.

Just thinking of how it was built, that part of it isn’t even excavated yet, picturing the people who carved out those stones so perfectly, built aqueducts (that are still working today), how they worshipped, how they lived, how they were taken hostage to the Conquistadors and the Spanish flu.

SO much going through my brain and heart as we explored.

I mean, how did they think to build this?:

…right into the mountain?

What kind of means did they use to haul all those rocks up to build this place on the side of a mountain??

Please google all about Machu Picchu to learn more, because it is fascinating, but my short little recap is this:

There are no written records for the Incas since they didn’t have a written language, so we don’t know a ton about how this site ran back in the 1400s (the dates estimated by archaeologists). We don’t know the names of the buildings or largely what they were even used for, but through the years archaeologists have gathered as much information as they could through the artifacts and tombs found there.

Can you imagine how it must have felt to be Hiram Bingham III (Yale professor in 1911) and come across those overgrown ruins hundreds of years later.

It is believed that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Incan Emperor Pachacuti (1438-1472), and was abandoned about a century after it was built because of the Spanish conquest. And recent research leads us to believe that it may have been called Huayna Picchu by the Incas who lived there.

Some of the ruins have been partially rebuilt to show how they would have looked.

Here are some before and after pictures:

I’m glad they didn’t change too much.

It is so incredible to explore and envision the terraces planted, the roofs thatched, the people and what their lives were like.

The Temple of the Sun:

The best leaders:

The signature Inca stone carvings:

There is SO much to be learned about this place.

So much awe running through my veins, and these kids too:

So much awe that we even got a little cheesy with the pictures:

Ha!

I mean, how many times do you get to go to Machu Picchu??

HUAYNA PICCHU

Ok, see that mountain that creates the background for the iconic Machu Picchu backdrop below?

Well, we climbed that thing.

Climbed what seemed like millions of stairs up to the very tippy-top.

It was STEEP, and pretty exhilarating to sit perched at the top with that view that unfolded below.

Wow.

We got to FaceTime with Claire while we were up there:

That picture actually makes me tear up a little, GOSH we missed that girl (and Lucy too!). But so fun to share some of the grandeur with her from our perch on that mountain.

The way down was an adventure as well:

We left feeling filled up with wonder and so much satisfaction to have walked those paths through ancient history.

Back in Aguas Calientes

We had the BEST lunch:

And once again raced, scrambling to shovel in the last of our food, to run to catch our train back to Cusco.

(This trip would have been AWFUL for Lucy, I kept feeling so much gratitude she wasn’t with us even though we missed her so much, and kept feeling so sad Claire was missing it all…she would have sure added an extra element of fun I tell you.)

It was a long train ride with more cards and discussions and beauty.

And we had a little time when we got back to the city to find some souvenirs…

Back in our favorite little main square in Cusco:

…and some delicious crepes before an almost midnight dinner back at the hotel with whoever was awake enough to join.

SURGERY DAY

The LAST day came, and we used it to visit the brand new CharityVision clinic in Cusco.

We got to hand out more glasses to adults:

Blow bubbles with the kids while they waited with their parents:

And also got to scrub up and observe some life-changing eye surgeries.

Most of us couldn’t stay in there long, got a little woozy watching, but Carson was right in there checking everything out. He is ready for surgeries I guess! Which is good, because they are coming!

They can do the cataract surgeries in 7 minutes each, most with huge white clouded lenses, rendering them able to see.

Pretty amazing.

Dave had a pretty special experience he related to us though some emotion after: he got to give glasses to one of the women, and as soon as she put them on she started to cry. She explained (with a translator) that she hadn’t been able to see her kids for a while, she had started falling more often, she had been really struggling. And now she could see.

This was extra emotional for us all, hits so close to home.

We bid goodbye to that place…

…and headed back to the main square for a tiny bit of exploring before the airport.

One of my favorite things about this trip was getting to talk with our adult kids. I loved one night in the van when the kids were just spilling out all kinds of memories from growing up, so funny to hear the random things they remember.

We had our own little church one day, about the “three levels of obedience” that was really so interesting, and they gave such good insight.

We also had a chance to talk about philanthropy and our 71Toes Foundation.

Gosh it’s tough to let kids grow up, but I sure like who they are.

We had one last meeting with everyone on these steps, everyone recounting their favorite parts of the trip:

…and then we were gone.

Goodbye Cusco!

Goodbye Andes Mountains!

Goodbye new friends and our children spreading out back to their own spots.

I’m filled up with gratitude for all of it.

And a sense of awe of goodness going on in the world.

There is so much light.

Other travel posts:

The Grandeur of the Swiss Alps with my Swiss Family

The Queens Birthday, an Interesting Bike Parade, and a Whole Lotta Girls

(Timely with the Queen’s passing yesterday, we got to see her a few years ago. So sad to say goodbye!)

Morning Light at Angkor Wat

A Day in the Life in Uganda, and a Daring Repelling Adventure

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21 comments

Jill September 10, 2022 - 6:57 am

Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience!

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Shawni September 11, 2022 - 3:33 pm

xoxo

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bh September 11, 2022 - 10:56 am

I am very uncomfortable watching Eliana (a minor child) and other patients being put on display here. I believe you raise money for BBS – would you be OK if, based on the fact that I donated, I’d expect to meet you and your extended family, that you introduce me to the fascinating culture of Arizonans and Mormons – and then I’ll write a detailed account on my blog, including lots of pictures?
It’s perfectly respectable to wish to visit Machu Picchu, it’s an amazing site – you don’t need to justify this by adding a charity tourism element.

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Shawni September 11, 2022 - 3:32 pm

This is an interesting point of view and I would genuinely love to try to understand better where you’re coming from. In answer to your question to share my perspective, if someone donated to the cause of BBS, I would be (and am, because many blog readers have donated to help fight the devastating effects of BBS for which I am so very grateful for) more than happy to introduce my whole extended family, as well as introduce my whole culture in sincere gratitude.

But perhaps that isn’t a fair answer because I do that anyway here on the blog. To get to a more personal level, if there was any organization who could actually cure Lucy’s eyesight, we (Lucy and our whole family) would want to shout our gratitude from the very rooftops. Until you have a child with significant vision loss that affects pretty much every single aspect of her life, you perhaps couldn’t fathom the depth and breadth of that gratitude.

It would change her life.

It would change our lives.

And I would want, with ALL my heart, to share that joy with anyone else who’s life it could change. I would want others to have that same life-changing gift. So if someone wanted to come in and take pictures and share our story, share the story of that amazing organization who took the energy and might from their own lives to change my daughter’s life, I would beg them to come. I would beg them to share. Because maybe it could help them too. Or maybe it could help their cousin or their Aunt, or someone they don’t even know who they could connect. We need to share good things!

Perhaps that hits a little bit too close to home, and I’m sorry if this sounds a little bit over dramatic, but we are in the thick of this vision loss right now and it is extremely close to our hearts. We know from experience how something like that could change lives.

Anyone who has enough courage and fortitude and strength to go out and change lives like CharityVision is doing should most definitely be celebrated. The people affected by the good they are doing in their own country are so grateful. (This happens here in the United States as well, they have outreach all over the world, we just happened to get to experience Peru.)

I think when you are proud of and grateful for your culture you want to share it. I know I sure want to share mine! This family was so excited to show us how they live. They dressed us in their traditional clothing because they love it. They let us join in their spiritual rituals. They showed us how they live life. I can so relate because that’s exactly what I try to do here. I want to share goodness. We gain so much from each other by sharing and interlinking and learning from each other!

Also, they were so excited to share the joy that the gift of sight has given them. Maybe pictures just can’t do it justice. Eliana is one of the MILLION people who’s life has been changed through CharityVision because she is able to see. It was amazing to talk with her through a translator and have her tell us how her life has changed. It was amazing to hear the story from the Peruvian outreach who found her (or she found them), and to hear about the change in how she conducts herself, how she can now look people in the eye, how much confidence she has gained because she can now do the everyday tasks she couldn’t do before. Her whole future is changed (a future that weighed her down with worry before). Her entire life perspective is different because of a seven-minute surgery.

I think that deserves some celebration.

Maybe the reason for some of the pushback in this and a few other comments is because people are getting the impression I’m saying we did this or that we are the “helpers.” I deeply apologize if that is the impression I gave. We did nothing except for donate to a good cause and were so thankful to have the opportunity to have our eyes open to the good that is happening in the world. It was an amazing opportunity and THEY were the helpers (the people we got to visit with as well as CharityVision).

I’m so glad CharityVision does things like this because it helps spread awareness that there is still so much GOOD in the world! There are people giving their lives to help and lift and breathe life and light into uncertainty and hopelessness. And I think that in our world today there cannot ever be too much of that. Or too much sharing of that. Ever.

We need each other! I love anything that interlinks cultures and people, and as I share these things here on the blog I hope it can give that “interlinking” to people who may never go to Peru. I hope it will help people fall in love with another culture so different yet so similar. (We loved this culture!) I hope it will help people appreciate their vision more. I hope sharing what CharityVision is doing will spark in all of us a desire to reach out more and love more like they are doing in so many good ways.

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Emma September 11, 2022 - 2:15 pm

I am quite shocked you felt like it was okay to be present during other people’s surgery. Why did you think you had a right to be there? Because you donated money? It just seems really off. Can you imagine a situation like that here in the US? Would you let a stranger in on your surgical procedure simply because they gave money? It is shockingly entitled and to label it as “service” seems like a major stretch in justification.

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Shawni September 11, 2022 - 3:40 pm

See the above comment but yes, you can bet that if someone donated money to change my life by restoring my vision, they could watch anything they would want! Just as my friend’s son has been “shadowing” another friend (oral surgeon) to learn whether he wants to be a surgeon himself, we had the opportunity to “shadow” this good work and try to search our hearts for the different unique ways we may personally be able to lift others around us in our every-day lives.

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Lisa September 11, 2022 - 7:26 pm

Don’t listen to the critics, especially when they’re not even in the arena. I did extended service in villages in Peru. They LOVE sharing their lives and culture with new people. Your significant donation to and subsequent sharing about this important charity is critical to it’s continued success. They are doing important work. I’m so glad you loved some of my favorite people and places on earth. They’re pretty special.

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Steph September 12, 2022 - 2:06 am

Charity Vision offers these expeditions to anyone who would like to sign up for and attend. Additionally, anyone and everyone is welcome to donate to this cause. Their website offers many personal stories of those whose vision has been restored or improved by Charity Vision. They also have a blog with even more experiences to share. I know of other organizations that invite and encourage people to attend expeditions and then ask that they share their stories on social media to help spread the word. The more helpers (whether monetary donations, physical assistance, some organizations even ask for prayers) the more they are able to help. Often, others want to share their life, their world, their experiences with others, they are proud of their country and heritage, they are thrilled and filled with gratitude and want to share their excitement with anyone who will listen. I do know of some organizations that do not encourage photos to be shared publicly, but they make this quite clear. Charity Vision is delighted to share and I’m sure if someone they were donating their surgeries or eyewear to did not wish to be photographed, they would honor that. Thankfully, there are diverse opportunities for anyone who wishes to give to do so.

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Tammy September 12, 2022 - 7:12 am

Shawni thank you for sharing your light. You and your family do so much good for so many! Until they walk in your shoes they don’t know what you are going through with Lucy! There are many of us online that are applauding all you do! The Peruvian people are lucky to have met you and your family! May you be blessed for all the light and good you share with so many!

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Anne September 12, 2022 - 10:38 am

Oh my goodness people, let Shawni and her family live. It is frustrating to see someone sharing good in their life and being critiqued for it. There is injustice in this world, it is everywhere. Charity tourism IS an issue (would love to see Shawni/someone expound on that in a blog post here someday). But there is nothing wrong with sharing the good. As Shawni shared in a comment above and has shared many times on this blog, she and her family have personal experience with vision loss and being able to share in the joy of restoring/aiding vision loss in the world was a gift to them. Let people live through these happy moments.

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bh September 12, 2022 - 1:16 pm

also @Anne, my family has personal experience with cancer, but I don’t believe it would be appropriate for me to share stories of cancer patients (including pictures) in order to ‘share the joy of contributing to funding cancer research’, or to expect doctors to give me a tour of the facilities including attending surgery. What do you think?

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Anne September 12, 2022 - 6:05 pm

I’m sorry your family has experience with cancer – as does mine. I think there is something to be said about sharing experiences but by no means should it be mandatory if you’re on the receiving side of charity. From my personal experience, I grew up on welfare and received a full scholarship from my university based on my financial need. I was asked to be in promotional materials for the scholarship to be given to donors and I said no thank you for four straight years. Was I any less thankful for the scholarship? No, it completely changed my life. But at the time I was not comfortable with anyone seeing me as poor – even the people giving me money. I could imagine that everyone brings complicated feelings to the table when they are in need. But I also struggle to believe in a situation in which someone is forced to engage in something as a promotion – be it in materials from an organization or a personal blog. Is there pressure to do so? Yes, of course, I have literally lived it. Are these lines likely blurred even more in foreign countries with outside charities? I do not have the insight to say, but I could guess yes. As with everything in the world there are power imbalances. But do I believe some people happily engage in such situations, as it seems here with a family welcoming Shawni’s. We are all very different people with different feelings about charity. I only hope we can make room for each other to explain our stories rather than cast aspersions so quickly.

Also, at least in the United States, another person who is not a medical professional cannot be brought into a medical setting without the consent of the person who is receiving the medical procedure. I don’t anticipate that Shawni and family just casually walked into the procedure without someone explaining the situation to the patient, but I could be wrong.

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Shawni September 14, 2022 - 10:49 am

Thank you for sharing your experience, Anne. That is a powerful example. I so agree with you that we all come from such different backgrounds and we tend automatically judge the world according to our own unique lenses. I know I do! I am so glad when we can look for opportunities to learn from each other as we make room to listen and let others show us where they’re coming from.

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Jessica WIchman September 12, 2022 - 12:59 pm

I have always wanted to go to here as well, such a dream, and still is, love seeing all your photos. You and your family are very lucky!

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Shawni September 14, 2022 - 10:43 am

Thank you Jessica. I did feel so overwhelmed with gratitude, we are very lucky. So I just want to share any way I can since I know not everyone will have the opportunity to visit, hopefully you can get a feel for it all from these pictures.
xoxo

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bh September 12, 2022 - 1:11 pm

THank you for all your comments.
– re ‘there is nothing worong with sharing the good’ – it depends. I actually think that charity work is best done quietly
– re ‘if someone they were donating their surgeries or eyewear to did not wish to be photographed, they would honor that’ – do you seriously believe there is an equal relationship between the patient whose future depends on a surgery/visual aid, and the charity having the power to provide said surgery/aid? or that the charity seats down with each patient to run them through ‘social media, the good teh bad and the ugly’? . If you hold some power on someone, don’t abuse it even in some a small way.
Likewise, just because someone agrees to have you attend their surgery (because you funded that surgery) isn’t sufficient reason to do so. Sure they’re better off having surgery with viewers than not having surgery at all, but take the high road and let them be alone. I’ve had (benign) eye surgery, it was so scary and painful I freaked out and the nurse had to hold my hand and comfort me – believe me I am glad it was a private moment
– @Shawni – you’re right, I can’t fully comprehend the gratitude you’d feel towards an NGO that would cure Lucy’s vision. But if that happened, and I had supported it, I wouldn’t expect you to welcome me in your home or anything – I don’t support charities because I expect gratitude, but because I share their goals and I have happy to support them. And when I help at the free meal place and people thank me, I find it embarrassing for me, and I feel terrible that they need to thank anyone for such a basic thing in the first place.
– re celabrating charities : I absolutely agree but I think it can be done in a dignified way ie not enfringing on people’s private lives. Blur their faces, leave their names out … it can be done.

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Shawni September 14, 2022 - 10:52 am

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I learn from them. I love that even if we have different opinions with this, we can learn so much from each other’s perspective!

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Andrea September 13, 2022 - 10:53 am

Omg that story from Dave made me cry.. we usually take so many things for granted! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

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Shawni September 14, 2022 - 10:53 am

xoxo

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Mindy September 28, 2022 - 9:47 am

Shawni, I have a question for you. My children, like most of yours, are young adults (ages 21-28). You often take trips with them (and include their spouses). My question is – do you pay for all of their expenses, or do you ask them to pay for part of the trip? My husband and I struggle with this. We would love to take our adult kids on trips every year, but should we really just pay for everything? What is your philosophy on this? You guys go on a lot of trips, and sometimes they are big trips, like this one. Do you just always pay for everything because you don’t want them to miss out and you love being with them, or do you have a system where they are asked to pay for part of the trip?

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Shawni October 17, 2022 - 8:17 am

Hey Mindy! I have been meaning to come back to this question and finally here I am all this time later! The answer is yes, for now we do pay for our kids to come with us on things like this. Our philosophy is that we want to make memories together and they could never afford to do this at their stages of life right now. Dave and I won’t leave any money for our kids to inherit when we’re gone (and we let them know that all the time!), we like to think of trips like this as what we’re leaving for them when we’re gone…their inheritance is memories together. (This is what my parents have done for us in my growing-up family as well and I’m so grateful!) Once they are able to contribute we’ll sure let them!

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