Menu Plan: Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

 

 

May is here!! Hooray!!

 

Spring has arrived in full force around here. While two weeks ago I was driving in SNOW to take C. to horseback riding lessons, as I type this, the temp is pushing 80. Honestly, that’s a touch TOO warm for this time of year around here, but I am certainly not complaining. Winter was long and harsh in our corner of the country and warmth and sunshine are more than welcome! Joy!

 

I’ve been subbing a lot, hence my scarcity around here sometimes. It’s mostly awesome and that means it’s a pretty good fit for me, I’d say! My husband is endlessly amused by my new “local celebrity” status around here as kids come up to me in stores, restaurants, and events constantly.

 

And C. made her First Communion! Just one day shy of a year after her brother, she received the eucharist for the very first time, wearing the same dress my sister and I wore, and it was simply lovely.

 

doublecommunion

 

In the midst of all that, we still need to eat, of course! So here’s what’s been happening on that front:

you gotta eat

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

Brunch– Ham, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches, Clementines

Mid-afternoon Snack– leftover pizza

D–Shrimp & Avocado Soft Tacos

 

Monday: 

B–Egg Wraps, Apples, Milk

D–Penne & Peas with Cheddar

 

Tuesday: 

B–PB Toast, Clementines, Milk

sriracha ginger meatballs

D–Sriracha Ginger Meatballs w/ mixed veggies over Rice

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Ham, Egg, & Cheese Bagel Sandwiches, Apples, Milk

D–Cheesy Beans & Rice

 

 

Thursday:

B–Cinnamon Raisin Bagels, Clementines, Milk

D–Slow Cooker Chicken Parm w/ Penne, Broccoli

 

 

Friday:

B–Cereal, Applesauce, Milk

D–Pizza – Large Cheese, Medium Italian Chicken & Red Peppers

 

 

Saturday:

B–Breakfast Burritos

D–Macaroni Alfredo w/ Ham & Broccoli

 

 

 

And that should do it!  

 

 

 

 

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If the dress fits…

 

 

“Mike’s end-of-the-year work party is coming up, so I ordered a bunch of dresses from Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom’s, figuring I’d just have them delivered and return what I didn’t like. I think I got like a dozen of them. Mike may have raised a brow at the $2,500 charge (giggle), but I knew I’d be returning most of it.”

 

“So did you find something good?”

 

(sigh) “Well. I didn’t like any of those, but I drove to Macy’s and I found a really cute dress for only $175, so now I’m excited, because–”

 

“– You can splurge on shoes!!!”

 

(much nodding and laughing)

 

I heard the conversation and didn’t think much of it. I’m glad she found a cute dress. And, frankly, it’s not even close to unusual for women to drop a couple hundred dollars on a dress they’ll wear once or twice. It’s not my money and not my decision. It truly makes no difference to me whatsoever. If it works for their family? Go for it.

 

On the flip-side of the coin, I know women– online, not in real life– who manage to find adorable get-ups at tag sales and thrift stores for pennies on the dollar and still look like a million bucks. I’m super happy for them– that’s awesome. At the same time, I cannot stand going to tag sales and thrift stores aren’t my jam, either. I admire these frugal fashionistas for their incredible scores, but I’m not even interested in attempting it myself.

 

Somewhere in the middle, I have this large group of friends and family who fall in the Stitch Fix/Target/TJMaxx camp. Obviously, those are three very different places and ways to shop, but all of them fall in the broad “mid-budget” category. They’re reliable, with a wide array of choices. It’s not as much work as a tag sale, but you won’t have to drop triple digits on many items.

 

Me?

 

spearmint dress

 

I ordered the dress from Walmart. It was less than fifteen dollars. It came for the juniors department, which means it’s probably pretty weird for a thirty-eight year old woman to be wearing it.

 

But I don’t care.

 

Because, if the dress fits?

 

Wear it. :)

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IRL vs. Online

 

 

Something I’ve been thinking about…

 

IRL vs. Online

IRL, I’m one of the crunchiest people I know because I make about half of my cleaners and use rags instead of paper towels.

Online, I’d be kicked out of Camp Crunchy in a heartbeat for using disposable diapers.

 

IRL, I eat more whole foods than 95% of the people around me.

Online, the fact that I like a can of Spaghettios here and there means I’m fair game for scathing comments about my junky diet.

 

IRL, I’m one of the most “free-range” parents in my circle because I send my 4th grader into the store by himself and I don’t feel the need to cross every street with my children.

Online, that pretty much just means I’m not a helicopter parent.

 

IRL, I’m safety-minded and careful with my babies.

Online, I’d likely get blasted in a “bad parent” meme due to the fact that my kiddos rode in car seats with winter jackets on sometimes.

 

IRL, making pizza from scratch means buying pre-made dough for many people, so the fact that I make my own from flour, yeast, etc. makes me fairly remarkable.

Online, the fact that I don’t grind my own flour means I “cheat a little.”

 

IRL, I can tell my birth story and get amazed and awed responses, but no judgmental questions.

Online, I’ve had to defend my c-section, my diet, my prenatal care, and even the spacing of my children to total strangers.

 

IRL, my lack of cable is a real rarity.

Online, it doesn’t really count since I have Netflix and Hulu.

 

IRL, I’m a young-ish mommy with a larger-than-average family.

Online, I’m an old lady with a smallish family.

 

IRL, I’m very sensitive and a bit of a people pleaser.

Online, I’m very sensitive and a bit of a people pleaser.

 

Well, at least that’s something. :)

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Little Things Making a Big Difference

 

 

I’m having a fantastic day.

 

I really am! And this is in spite of the fact that today marks the end of Spring Break. And I had to get out the door at the crack of dawn* to drive A. to Advanced Orchestra. And I hardly got any sleep last night thanks to a certain five-year-old who concocted more issues than I knew were humanly possible. And I ran out of my beloved Italian roast coffee. Oh, and I got hailed on. HAILED ON. For the love…

 

IMG_20150420_100841

(Apollo’s happy to inside– and pouncing on window raindrops.)

 

 

Anyway, despite ALL of that, I am in a simply splendid mood.

 

Why? Why on earth would I be feeling all lovely and smiley when so many unpleasant events have unfolded?

 

You might think I’m going to give you some answer about God or devotionals or prayer or faith at this point. I’m not. Those are all wonderful and important things as far as I’m concerned, but that’s not actually what I’m pinpointing today…

 

As I dropped my son off for his early, early music group, I waited in the standard drop-off lane and, you know what? Everyone did just exactly as they were supposed to. They took turns. They moved efficiently. They pulled forward. It was beautiful.

 

I drove down the road to the elementary school and a bus’s lights went on as the stop sign came out. I slowed to an easy stop and waited, hanging back a bit so as not to block an intersection. After picking up a little girl at her stop, the bus driver flipped on his turn signal to go onto that road and flashed me a big thumbs up. It made me smile.

 

Crossing the school parking lot with my girls later in the morning, I ran into the on-site police officer and beamed a smile at him through the raindrops. “Good morning!” he called out with an enthusiastic wave.

 

Dodging hail in the grocery store parking lot, I was fairly skipping because I was so excited about scoring more of the discounted cinnamon maple bread that my family adores. An old man tipped his hat to me and gave me a little salute. I flashed a toothy grin right back at him– I couldn’t hide my good mood!

 

And, finally, winding my way back up the steep, curvy road that leads to home, I saw the “utility work ahead” signs and prepared myself to stop. And wait, if need be. I did have to wait– probably less than a minute– and then was waved ahead by a man clad head to toe in heavy yellow rain gear. As I drove past, he gave me cheery nod and a wave and I did the same.

 

I’m home now, groceries put away, and wet clothes swapped for dry.

 

And I’m still smiling.

 

It was an ordinary morning, by all accounts. Dropped off children, got gas, ran to the store… there’s nothing exciting there. If anything, it was on the unpleasant side due to extra stops and nasty weather.

 

But I’d call it a great morning.

 

Why? What could make  a plain, boring day so bright and fun?

 

It’s really so simple: the people.

 

Tiny little gestures making a whole world of difference. Could it be that easy? Following rules, smiling, waving, and greeting… do these things really set the whole tone?

 

I’m going to suggest that they do– that they can.

 

No one did anything amazing for me this morning. I have no dramatic stories to share with you. Just ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things…

 

that add up to extraordinary in a world that’s too often distracted and self-absorbed.

 

So smile. Wave. Give a thumbs-up or a high five or a cheery little nod.

 

It’s the little things that make a big difference.

 

 

*perhaps a slight exaggeration

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For the Smell of It

 

 

So far, I’ve written a little about what got me interested in essential oils and also what mistakes I’ve made along the way. I apologize upfront for this series being so very spread out, but it truly is intentional– I don’t want to bore or overwhelm you, for one thing. For another, this is an emotionally charged topic for some people and I honestly don’t want anyone to feel insulted, attacked, or to get riled up. For those reasons, it’s best to take it slow and easy, I think.

 

Let's talk about essential oils

 

Today, I want to just take it back to the very, very simplest reason to use essential oils:

 

For the smell of it.

 

Here’s the thing– we humans? Like things to smell good. How we define “good” is highly individual, but there’s no denying that what you smell helps affect your mood.

 

I want to be clear here– I am NOT a scientist and I don’t know all the chemical effects of every compound on your brain, nerve endings, and everything else on a cellular level. Honestly? Few of us do. I’m also not going to pass on information to you gleaned from other non-scientists. This is not because it’s all bad– it’s just that I haven’t vetted the info and, thus, don’t feel comfortable passing it on. Fair enough?

 

I’m talking about smell at the most very basic level.

 

Let me offer a few personal examples to better explain what I mean by that…

 

  • When I feel nauseous? Peppermint is just about the only scent I can handle and it immediately helps settle the queasies a bit.
  • When I smell lemon + pine/fir together? It smells like a super clean house to me.
  • When I inhale eucalyptus? It helps clear my sinuses.
  • When I breathe in sweet orange? It calms me. (Lavender does this for some people, but not me.)
  • When I smell fir needle  + cinnamon + mint? Well, it might just as well be Christmas.

 

The list goes on and on.

 

In many cases, these very real effects are caused by just how powerful the brain really is. There is no doubt about it– scent is evocative. We all have aromas that immediately transport us to a different place or time. Maybe the smell of sunscreen takes you back to a beach vacation. Perhaps the smell of lime and spearmint reminds you of a mojito you had on your honeymoon. Take a whiff of baby powder and your mind will take you back.

 

This is how we’re wired. This is how we work.

 

Essential oils allow me, in a natural way, to deliberately evoke the memory or response I want from my body. Since I know the smell of grapefruit is bright, energizing, and makes me happy, I have learned I can reach for grapefruit essential oil to diffuse or inhale and I can expect a good result.

 

On the flip side, ylang ylang is a very popular essential oil for a number of reasons. One of its wonderful benefits is the ability to help lower blood pressure just through inhalation. That’s all well and good and makes it AWESOME for many people. For me? It means that I feel dizzy and disoriented and overall lousy. That’s not because the oil is bad– it’s because we’re all individuals and we all have different responses to scent. (Remember how I told you that lavender isn’t particularly calming for me? Well, there you go.)

 

There is MUCH debate about there about ingestion and dilution for topical use. Those are important topics, but not for today.

 

Today I just wanted to talk about using essential oils for their wonderful smelly goodness and the very legitimate impact that that has on our bodies. Sometimes I think people underestimate that purpose– it seems too simple to just SMELL something and have a positive effect.

 

But it’s real. And it’s effective. And it’s one of my favorite ways to use my oils.

 

In case you were wondering? Today, I’m diffusing a blend of fir needle, blood orange, and peppermint in my kitchen and it smells like the freshest, cleanest place ever. Those scents are energizing and encouraging for me, while being clean and fresh enough not to overwhelm.

 

So there you go.

 

Even if I did nothing else with them? (And I do…)

 

I would use essential oils just for the smell of it.

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Buttered Bowties with Peas

 

 

“You should share the recipe,” my husband told me.

 

I laughed, “Seriously? It’s not even a recipe. I just threw things together. Simple things. Anyone could do this.”

 

“Yes, anyone could. That’s the point. It’s easy. But not everyone likes to come up with WHAT to throw together on their own. So just share the recipe.”

 

So here you go. Blame him. ;)

 

Buttered Bowties with Peas

 

Buttered Bowties with Peas
Author: 
Recipe type: pasta
Cuisine: Italian, kid-friendly
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Fun-shaped pasta coated with butter and lightly seasoned is both kid- and budget-friendly for lunch or a light supper.
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. bowtie-shaped pasta (farfalle)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup frozen peas (thawed)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon basil or Italian seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, about 11 minutes.
  2. Drain pasta and immediately add butter to hot pan and melt over low heat.
  3. Toss pasta and peas in melted butter. Season with basil/Italian seasoning and black pepper.

 

Simple and popular! It’s good to have a few of those tricks up your sleeve.

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Menu Plan: Spring Break Edition

 

While I totally realize I’m just a substitute and not a “real” teacher, I work enough days that Spring Break feels like a big ol’ gigantic treat to ME, too– woo hoo!!

 

Added to that, Connecticut decided that this would be the week we’d really welcome Spring with gorgeous mid-60 temps and abundant sunshine. How perfect is that for Spring Break? We’ve been enjoying every bit of it around here!

 

The kids have been outside a ton. I’ve been picking away at washing windows and gradually turning over wardrobes, but I’m also trying to really breathe in the fresh air and enjoy this time. I’m convinced that Spring Break was not really designed to be packed with only Spring Cleaning. ;)

 

So, as we enjoy this blissful little break, here’s what we’ve been eating. It’s mostly umcomplicated fare with flexible cooking and serving tmes– stress is not welcome this week!

you gotta eat

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

Brunch– Ham, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches on Maple Cinnamon Toast (<– SO stinkin’ good), Fruit

Mid-afternoon Snack– Cheese & Crackers

D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s– Grilled Chicken, Baked Potatoes, Broccoli, Salad, Fruit, etc!

 

Monday: 

B–Blueberry Toast, Applesauce, Milk

D–Lobster Ravioli, Broccoli, Garlic Bread

 

Tuesday: 

B–Pancakes, Scrambled Eggs, Apples, Bananas, Milk

D–Hot Dogs, Baked Beans, Pickles, Salad

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Spiced Carrot Bread, Raisins, Milk

D–Cheesy Beans & Rice (date night)

 

 

Thursday:

B–Cinnamon Raisin Bagels, Cheese, Apples, Milk

D–Carnitas & Spanish Rice Burritos

 

 

Friday:

B–Ranch-y Migas, Applesauce

D–Pizza – pretty positive one of them is going to have tomato, mushroom, caramelized onion, and feta on it– YUM.

 

 

Saturday:

 

B–Egg Sandwiches, Berries

D–Soup, Cheese Bread

 

 

 

And that should do it!  

 

 

 

 

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Misplaced Shame

 

 

I often feel ashamed that I’m not a better housekeeper.

 

I mean– I just don’t keep a good handle on things, I guess. It seems every time I think I have things under control, I turn around and things blew up all over the surfaces.

 

My husband’s MBA work has taken over the coffee and end table. My kids art supplies and proud homework achievements spill out over the dining room table and the hutch. The kitchen table seems to be the landing spot of all sorts of randomness. My counter space is so quickly overtaken when I embark on a half dozen simultaneous kitchen projects and, if I don’t put the griddle away right away, I lose almost 50% of that space straight up.

 

Sigh.

 

I come from a family in which the women tend to be better at this than me– I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I don’t put more effort in. I don’t know why I can ignore the papers sliding onto the floor in favor of trying a new orange chocolate scone recipe– but I can.

 

It’s not that I don’t like or appreciate a completely tidy home–  I do! I just lack the drive and determination to keep mine that way, I guess. My husband passes zero judgment on me about the whole thing– in his opinion, I work plenty hard– so I think that makes it easier for me to let things get away from me. Still, I let myself feel shame because of it.

 

One of my good “IRL” friends is incredibly neat. She will confess that she actually feels like she has obsessive thoughts about cleaning and she can’t have things out of place or unscrubbed or she starts feeling twitchy.

 

I feel intense pressure when she comes to my home.

 

I’ll suddenly look around somewhat frantically. Now– I KNOW my house isn’t “dirty.” The bathrooms are cleaned, the counters wiped, the dust bunnies vacuumed. Laundry is almost always caught up. It’s not perfect, but there’s nothing disgusting happening here.  But… still. I’m not looking at any carefully cultivated tableaux around here. Not even close.

 

And I hate that. I hate that I would feel anything but joy at the idea of a friend coming over. I hate that I can’t make my stupid self just do a better job already– what is WRONG with me? Why don’t I just fix myself already and do a better job? Other people can. Other people do.

 

And, then, as I look over at the jam-packed “art center” and inwardly cringe, I hear an email alert on my phone.

 

It’s from my impeccably neat friend.

 

“Hey–” it reads, “as you’re no doubt flitting around trying to pull your house together, please know that I have never– not once in my life– made brownies without a mix.”

 

I smiled.

 

Sat down and laughed.

 

It’s true.

 

She feeds my kids goldfish and capri sun and entenmann’s cookies and you know what? I don’t care. It’s never occured to me to judge her for that. So she doesn’t bake or cook much– so what? What do I care? It says nothing about who she is, as a friend or a wife or a mother.

 

But I feel shame about myself. I feel bad about my own shortcomings. I assume others see FAILURE stamped across my forehead when they see my far-from-perfect abode.

 

Is it possible that that label is written in invisible ink? In ink that only I can see?

 

Maybe it’s time to try to release the misplaced shame. Maybe I need to accept that, while I could definitely do better, my goal shouldn’t be to have a home as tidy as the tidiest of my friends or family.

 

I know one thing for sure– that thing you think makes you a failure? That thing you think you don’t do as well as everyone else? It doesn’t make you a failure.

 

And maybe it doesn’t make me one, either.

 

 

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A Peek in JL’s Shopping Cart

 

 

Well, hey there! Guess what? I was actually OFF yesterday from working in the school. It was a very deliberate move on my part and one I try to make, ideally, once a week. Working every day outside the home leaves me feeling frantic and behind in my house. Sooo… I try to take a day here and there to do some shopping and get caught up. Yesterday was that day!

 

I did some grocery shopping to get us through the next week or so and thought, you know what I haven’t done in awhile? Shared a peek into my cart with you all!

 

So here you go…

 

IMG_20150409_101834

 

 

 

My first stop was a local supermarket chain. I love going there early in the morning because it’s just me and a few old guys, typically. :) Anyway, I went there for three things– to return some bottles to get my deposit money back, to pick up canned cat food, and to hit the discount bread rack. Here’s the deal– I LOVE to bake bread. And I still do. But I have also learned that my store’s bakery bakes fresh bread every morning and then, the next morning, sells it for 90% off. Bagels, english muffins, and specialty breads all for less than a quarter a pack? I love both the value and the convenience and I always go take a peek to see what I might find…

 

Big Y

 

  • 20 cans Friskies cat food– $10.00 (I admit I picked out the varieties with cheese because our kitten is a cheesehound just like me.)
  • 2  1L bottles seltzer (Seltzer is my beverage of choice when I get home from teaching!)– $1.00 (plus 10 cents deposit)
  • 2 loaves Maple Cinnamon bread– $ .56
  • 2 loaves Blueberry bread– $ .56
  • 2 loaves 100% Stoneground Wheat bread– $ .54
  • 3 packages multi-grain English muffins– $ .57

 

Total:  $14.03

 

 

Next, I went to ALDI. I got there just after they opened, at 9AM. I honestly had no list and no real plans other than to get my husband more nacho chips and buy a few dozen eggs. I mean, I knew I’d buy more– I just didn’t write anything down. So here’s how that played out!

 

IMG_20150409_102524

 

 

  • 3 dozen large eggs– $5.85
  • 1 gallon milk– $3.19
  • 2 packages mushrooms– $1.58
  • 1# baby carrots– $ .69
  • 2 green peppers– $ .99
  • 3# yellow onions– $ .99
  • 1 loaf garlic romano bread– $1.79
  • 3# bananas– $1.29
  • 1L seltzer– $ .59
  • 2# angelhair– $1.79
  • 1 bag nacho chips– $1.19 (for hubby!)

 

IMG_20150409_103228

 

And…

 

  • 1 roll Spring-themed paper towels– $ .69
  • 2 jars organic natural apple sauce– $2.58
  • 2 bags oyster crackers– $1.78
  • dark chocolate PB– $1.75
  • 1 giant can mini-ravioli– $1.29
  • 2  2L lemon lime soda– $1.38  (for the husband!)
  • 1  4 pack energy drinks– $2.49  (husband again!)
  • 1  4 pack Cadbury eggs– $1.69  (aaaannnnddd… one more for the husband. :) )
  • 1 bottle organic apple juice– $1.49
  • 12 oz. farfalle pasta– $ .99
  • 1# turkey breast lunch meat– $3.49
  • 2 jars marinara– $1.98
  • 1 bag shrimp & crab ravioli– $2.45
  • 2 cans tuna– $1.30
  • 8 oz. pepperjack– $1.79
  • popcorn kernels– $1.19
  • white American singles– $1.89 (<– I messed up when I grabbed these– I usually buy pre-sliced white cheddar for in our sandwiches. I could lie and tell you I plan to return them and fix it, but the truth is we’ll just eat them. I know they’re “fake cheese.” We’ll survive. And I’ll be more careful next time! ;) )

 

Total: $51.84

 

And that did it! Well, I did run to Walmart to grab some fun and funky plastic Easter eggs for next year– I saw them before Easter, but waited for the 75% off markdown. ;)

 

Thoughts? Questions? What good deals have YOU found lately?

 

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Uncut Diamonds

 

 

We teased our children about how spoiled they are. Not only did the “Easter Bunny” bring them some fun little doo-dads and treats– like cool new leak-proof water bottles!– they had even more goodies rained upon them. There were the expected baskets from Bama and Papa. The random treat here and there from school friends. Then, the man who sits behind us every week in church surprised me on Palm Sunday with some gorgeous hand-painted tin pails packed chock-full of all sorts of kid-awesomeness to give them. Lucky little ducks, I have! Still, I didn’t anticipate the man who sits in FRONT of us showing up at our doorstep Easter morning with three gloriously wrapped and bowed baskets for our little ones. So much generosity and kindness abounds around us.

 

This last gentleman also pressed an Easter card into my hands along with a bit of gourmet chocolate. He didn’t linger. Just wished us a blessed Easter and was on his way.

 

The card itself is lovely.

 

IMG_20150409_064924

 

I opened it to read the pre-printed message inside and was surprised to find it filled with his hand-written thoughts…

 

“In life it is said, ‘enjoy the little things… for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things…’

 

Your daughters’ smiles and laughter, I am confident, bring our parishoners and definitely myself a ray of sunshine to every Sunday’s morning mass. Our Sundays are brightened with a couple of smiles and a bit of laughter that makes all else or any gloom or distraction melt away. These brief moments and small but very signifcant minutes take up the most room in our hearts.

 

Your son’s weekly dedication and devotedness every Sunday is admired by all.

 

I have taught my sons to always be respectful, humble, confident, and to have compassion for everyone. Many have commented to us that they display these qualities. I light up when this feedback comes my way.

 

So know that their smiles are a reflection of your teachings. They are truly uncut diamonds.

 

So enjoy this Easter and we hope that we could express our sincere thanks for brightening everyone’s weekly Sunday.”

 

 

And I got all choked up and misty.

 

 

I share this not because I want you to think I’m so awesome. Trust me– I’m the mama whose patience often runs thin and who shoots daggers with my eyes if I see my son fidget at the altar. I am as imperfect as they come and I make no attempt to hide that.

 

However.

 

To have someone tell me I must be doing something right? To have someone share what he sees when he looks at our little family ? To have a man who’s further into the journey of parenthood than I point out the good?

 

Oh, what a treasure.

 

Share the good, sweet friends. Share the triumphs. Let’s be honest with one another like this gentleman was with me– we all like to hear the good feedback! It helps keep us going when the going gets tough.

 

You’re doing awesome, my friends. You’re making a difference in the world and the lives of others.

 

Keep on keepin’ on.

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