Jenga Community

This year is different in ways I could never have imagined, but the sentiment as we wrap up (at a distance) remains true.

Tough Bananas

You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top. You take a block from the middle and you put it on top.

It teeters and it totters.

It weebles and it wobbles, but you don’t give up.

In September my teaching partner and I opened up a new pack of Jenga. Not literally, of course, but humour me. We opened up the box and there were twenty-eight fresh new blocks. Each one had a name and a story. They looked similar, but once you looked closer you could see the lines and grains that made each piece unique.

Gradually, over the days, weeks, and months, we created a tower together. Other pieces played pivotal roles: our fairy godmothers who brought us apples to feed hungry learners, guest teachers who taught us problem-solving and teamwork, community officers who cared enough to teach us about safety concerns. Steadily…

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I Blew It

We are further along in our parenting journey, but it still has its hard days. I still blow it.

Tough Bananas

I blew it.

Again.

Every day I wake up and tell myself to make the most of the day. To be patient. To be understanding. To be the parent our boys deserve.

Some days I hit a home run. I engage, create, play, listen, comfort, and console. Those days I tuck them in at night and feel content and hopeful. Hopeful that I’m doing this whole parenting thing right. Hopeful that this day’s good will spill over into the next one, and the next, and maybe even the day after that.

But the next day there are shortened tempers, tattling, demands for favourite pants that are still wet from the washing machine. But I cling to the good from yesterday and dig in deeper to make it return. But this day there are battles over diggers, refusals to put on socks, back talk over packing vegetables in their lunches.

There’s still…

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April Then and Now

Cliches are frequently used because despite being tired and worn, they ring true. I often do wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  I teach my students to read between the lines. Hindsight really is 20/20.

Hindsight, you fickle thing. Our current state of shelter-at-home has given a completely new lens with which to view our present circumstances as well as perspective on our past. If January me knew what was coming, she would not have gotten so upset about the mess in the basement or the piles of laundry needing to be folded. She would have spent her time hugging friends and buying stock in Lysol.

Alas, we do not have the ability to truly view our alternatives and their consequences in the moment, but we can learn from them. Our mistakes, disappointments, failures, successes, joys, and triumphs all shape us.

Today’s post is penned by a guest writer, my friend, Charmaine. We all have our “then and now” moments and I’m grateful she has allowed me to share hers.

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“April 1992 included the wedding day I remember in vivid detail. I give it the place of honour and respect it deserves because it changed the trajectory of my life.  Now that date has a new importance. While It still reflects change, it also mirrors growth and healing. April 2020 me is okay. More than okay.

The 1992 version of me could never have imagined the Covid-19 reflections of the 2020 me. Then again, none of us were prepared then or even a few months ago for our current daily lives.

Now some people I love are on the front lines, at risk every day to help and support our communities. Others are at home, minimizing risk. Some of the people I love are out and about with little concern for risk while some live in almost constant fear of this unpredictable virus. People I love are dealing with significant health concerns unrelated to Covid-19, while others are battling anxiety, depression, and loneliness as a result of it. Many of the people I love are healthy and thriving – well, most days.

Hey, 1992 Me, did you know that in twenty-eight years people I love will include educators doing a crash course on distance learning? Not likely. People I love are students doing what they can (sometimes) to keep up. They are pastors shepherding their communities and law enforcement officers keeping us safe. People I love are essential workers doing their under-appreciated jobs. They are engineers developing new technologies to assist in crises and scientists researching and recording Covid-19 data. And there are skeptics in my circle, too.

1992 Me could not have predicted that people I love are now struggling to provide services and keep businesses afloat due to a pandemic. Some are unemployed and under financial strain while others are unfazed by current economics. I care and weep for those who are grieving loved ones they could not say goodbye to in meaningful ways. We reach painful milestones of past losses without the presence of friends and family.  People I love are displaced due to border closures and immigration bans.

People I love are living fretfully and in tension with the restrictions imposed on their lives, waiting anxiously for a return to normal. Some live chaotically with more responsibilities than before. Some live in resentment and defiance of current restrictions and legislation. People that I love are also living calmly in spite of restrictions and promoting peace.

Some believe these are the end times. Conversely others believe that the future will be a better normal than the past. How do I respond to these polarizing and painful perspectives? I don’t need to convince anyone of my version of truth. I don’t need to have all the answers about science, eschatology, human behaviour, politics or grief. People wouldn’t listen if I did.

Instead I choose to live gratefully for every day I am given; for people I love whose life experiences are different from mine, who challenge my perspective and check my privilege; for God’s grace to cover my mistakes, His abundance to provide for my needs, His presence to give me peace, His blessings to give me joy, His promises to give me hope. I choose to be kind and generous, humble and forgiving, faithful to my Creator and to those entrusted to me.

We are lonely, at times. We are scared, at times. But we are not alone.

I am grateful for all these people that I love. Thank you for influencing my life and shaping me into this 2020 version.”
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A note from Charmaine:
Jan is an unsung hero of mine who I met teaching Bible stories to 2&3-year-olds. She was the voice of intrigue behind the puppets. I was the arm of comfort to the kids afraid of them. Okay, that sounds worse than it really was, but I think she would say “just go with it”. Please don’t blame her. Another spring day while I navigated my squad to hockey games, she enlisted her’s and mulched my flower gardens. In exchange for pizza that was more than 30 mins late. She drew the shortest straw that day.
There are lots of things we don’t know about each other, but they probably aren’t important anyhow. Mostly we share a virtual friendship, as old school as virtual can be. Messenger and email are just fine for us. I rarely process my thoughts on paper, and if I do they are awkwardly penned and endlessly critiqued. She creates delightful works of art that bring healing to my soul and normalcy to my life. Even now, during her own reflections of loss, she graciously offered to turn my left aligned bullet points into her signature style. She transformed them into another gift and drew the short straw once again.

Those Shoes

“I can try on these ones, right? That’s fine, but not those shoes.”

Correct. Not those ones.

Those ones belonged to her and now they belong to me. They are the best pair I own. Not because they are a certain brand or cost more than others, although they are a very good pair of shoes.

Those shoes were meant for someone else. Someone kind and wise and good who didn’t get a chance to wear them.

The owner of those shoes knew how to make you feel like the smartest person in the room. She listened with focused attention and compassion. There was no judgement, but she could challenge your thinking and loved you even if you didn’t see eye to eye.

She was the organizer of book clubs and prayer journals and pushed us to self-reflect. She valued friendships, relationships, and sincere dialogue.

She was my friend.

She would often arrive early to life group at our home and we would steal a few minutes to unload the frustrations of dealing with our loved ones. We talked about parenting and screen time policies and balancing the demands of family and work life. And she asked good questions about faith and God. It was a time I enjoyed and now I cherish.

Those shoes belonged to someone who was quick to tell you what she admired about you, who freely handed out hugs and arm squeezes. She loved cozy sweaters, chocolate, tea, and wine.  Oh, and camping, but I can overlook that.

She is gone, but not entirely.

See, those shoes belonged to someone with vast circles of friends. With her passing those circles have expanded and connected to create a web of relationships. When her girls get together I learn about her crazy summer adventures, her time as a new mom, and how she has impacted so many lives. Her legacy lives on in every telling of those memories.

Those shoes were bought by someone I wish I had had more time with.

So no, son, you can try on any of the shoes in my closet. Have fun, tease me about my fashion choices, hobble around in high heels, but leave those shoes.

Those shoes are special.

 

Little House, Big Fan

To describe me as a fan of Little House on the Prairie is a gross understatement.  Not the books, the TV series.  I was too young to watch it when it originally aired, but I caught it in reruns later and consumed the entire series, more than once.

LHOP shaped my worldview in many ways. When I was offended by something a friend or sister had done I would describe her as “such a Nellie Olsen”! If a character on a medical drama needed pain relief and they were given morphine my first thought was “Careful! It’s highly addictive. Just ask Albert after he got in with a bad crew and was so hooked he stole the drug from sweet Doc Baker. PA WOULD BE SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.”

My roommate in university and I stayed up late one night recalling episodes of our beloved show. She disclosed that she and her sisters would put nylons on their heads and braid the legs as hair and act out scenes as the Ingalls girls. In case you’re wondering, yes, I for sure casually strolled into her room several times as I braided my pantyhoes atop my head.

As newlyweds, Bearded Husband and I had a vegetable garden in a very sunny backyard. As I lugged watering cans from our rain barrel to the parched tomatoes I reminded myself that if a heavily-pregnant Laura Ingalls Wilder could take care of her and Manly’s crops during a drought, then surely I could manage our garden during a heatwave. Sadly, no Willie Olsen organized my students to help me out, but I also did not suffer from heatstroke, so there’s that.

One morning when my oldest son was about five years old, he complained that his neck was itchy. I discovered a fine rash on his torso and he was running a fever. We went to the doctor and the moment he laid eyes on my little guy he declared “Oh, he has Scarlett Fever, I can tell just by looking. Hop up on the table so can check to be sure.” I then waited for the punchline. Nothing. So I responded with “Pa! I can’t see! Help me, Pa!” Our doctor had an excellent sense of humour, but his LHOP frame of reference was nil. I had to spell it out for him: “Ha, ha, like Mary Ingalls, right? Little House?” After a beat he calmly commented, “Oh, yeah, it’s a real thing, but don’t worry we caught it early and he will be fine.” Wait, wait, wait, this was something you could still get?

The above anecdotes might not convince you that I was die-hard fan. Fair point.  But then let me ask you this: would anyone but a die-hard fan have the LHOP collector’s plates?

No. They would not.

My collection began as a kind gesture from my parents. They had the plates shipped to a friend who lived in the states (only US residents could order these treasures). He would  then bring them to us on his visits. The orchestration of the purchase and delivery of these memorabilia just adds to the legend that is my LHOP plate collection. I have saved them for such a time as this. We are all at home for social isolation and going out to the grocery store now is the equivalent of Caroline Ingalls going to the mercantile to haggle with Mrs. Olsen. Plus, they keep me company.

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Here they are, in all their Little House glory.
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Laura is all of us right now trying to keep our distance at the til.
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The plate that started it all.

I’m not lonely. Who said I was lonely?

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See? I can still have all my friends over for lunch. 

I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.

I’m willing to loan these out to those of you who are homeschooling the Pioneer Life unit of the grade 3 curriculum. Just promise to be careful.

So, LHOP fans – which episodes stuck with you? How did this series impact your life? 

Kindness Gift Shop

I was not on board at first.

I didn’t say that out loud, I kept that to myself. But I was less than enthusiastic. It was tough to get my head around the logistics and the point of the whole thing.

However, it wasn’t my vision and I wasn’t about to squash someone else’s big idea. So I got on board, albeit reluctantly.

The “it” was a gift shop for students to purchase items for someone they love. They paid for the gift using a Kindness Ticket they had earned by doing something nice for others. The store would be stocked with gently used items from staff and community.

We had close to 500 students. That’s a lot of items to collect. A lot of kindness tickets to distribute, a lot gifts to wrap which requires a lot of manpower.

Not my vision, not my idea to squash.

So I asked friends for donations and scoured our home for items that might be suitable. And it started to come together. A former office was converted into a shop and the gifts began to pour in.

Another concern I had was over how the students would feel about choosing a second-hand item instead of something new. Many of our kids live close to the poverty line and I was worried about their dignity. Again, I trusted those who were leading the project and kept my doubts to myself. I started catching my students doing things for others and handed out our Kindness Tickets.

Remember the manpower issue? Not an issue. Retired teachers and university volunteers along with community members manned the store and it was up and running. Any doubt I had that this might not work were swept away when my first student was invited to go shopping. The pride in earning a ticket was overshadowed by the absolute joy they had upon their return to our classroom with a carefully wrapped gift in hand.

Some students announced what they had bought and who it was for while others decided to keep it a secret. The care and thought that went into each purchase was staggering. The supportive excitement they had for each other’s selections was unexpected. They even scouted out possible gifts for their friends to select: “I saw a purse that would be perfect for your grandma!”

The Kindness Gift Shop was a success.

The next year it was decided to do it again. Would we have enough items a second year? Would the novelty have worn off? Would people be willing to volunteer again.

Yes. Donations rolled in. My own parents contributed rolls of wrapping paper along with gift items. The timing of their downsizing move to a condo was ideal. I brought a trunk full of supplies from a town two hours away because I matter to my family and so my school matters to them.

We are a few years in now and this November when I announced to my class that the Kindness Gift Shop would be happening it was met unanimously with cheers followed quickly by outbursts of their plans.

“Last year I got a gift for my mom so this year I’m getting something for my baby sister.”

“I’m getting something for my grandma this year!”

“I can’t wait to get something for pops. I don’t have any money, but he deserves something special.”

New and returning volunteers signed up to help. Wrapping supplies were restocked and new Kindness Tickets were distributed.

As the week of the shop opening approached one student asked me if everyone had earned their ticket yet. I explained that while we have a kind group, a few still needed to be recognized. That’s when my heart grew three sizes.

“Has Josh* received one yet? Because I saw him helping Amina with her math and he deserves one.”

“What about Ryan? He always lets us use his smelly markers.”

“Asia needs her ticket because she invites anyone to join her games at break.”

“I notice that Daniel always looks out for Chris and they have become really good friends.”

“Can we tell you about kids from other classes that have been kind?”

This went on for ten minutes or more. They stopped asking if their classmates had gotten their tickets and just kept sharing all the positive things they noticed about each other. Kids who sometimes went under the radar heard how they were seen by their peers and they sat a bit taller. Students would nod and murmur their agreement about the kind attributes others mentioned. This was a turning point in our classroom community and for me. It’s nice to be noticed by your teacher, but it’s powerful to be recognized by your classmates.

It’s not easy to change or try new things. We are creatures of habit and seek comfort in the predictable. I’m grateful for those who took a risk and thought big. I’m grateful to work with educators who take chances and make a difference. I’m grateful to be part of a community who seeks to care for students they might never meet.

When someone thinks big, support them.

And maybe tell your doubts to just pipe down.

Tricks, for sure.

Our house is going to get egged this Halloween, of that I am certain.

No, we remembered to take down our Christmas lights (eventually). And no, we haven’t forgotten to bring in our garbage bins. To the best of my knowledge no one in our household has started any feud recently.

But for sure we are going to get egged.

It goes back to November 1 of last year. That’s the day my husband went candy shopping for this year. He was pretty pleased with himself and the deals he found. And we have patiently stored his haul for 364 days. He hid it in a shopping bag at the back of our storage closet, which is overkill – no one was scheming to sneak some of that candy.

When I was a kid, stumbling upon the house that gave out full-size chocolate bars was like winning the lottery. The only thing better was the neighbour who handed out cans of pop, but that’s another story for another day. I dreamed of the day that I would be the grown-up making Halloween dreams come true and be the house that everyone flocked to because FULL SIZE BARS, GUYS. Some dreams do not come to fruition.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for buying post-Halloween candy on the cheap, but let’s be very clear, in no way is it to save for a full year. Nope – that candy is what gets me to Christmas break, plain and simple.

AND THIS IS WHY WE ARE GOING TO GET EGGED AND WE DESERVE IT.

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There is a reason this candy was deeply-discounted. It is the worst. It’s not good the first time around, let alone after a year of sitting in our basement. Actually, I believe all the molasses kisses were made back in 1943 and the company has just been trying to unload them on people like my husband, my mom, and one person on the staff where I work. They are the only people I have ever met who choose molasses kisses over other candy options. Also I suspect they might be robots. Or aliens.

Dubble Bubble gum tastes stale when it’s fresh out of the wrapper. Did you know it can get even staler? It can. It did. I think I’ll keep a few handfuls to launch a counter-attack to the inevitable band of youth who will be pelting our house with eggs.

Rockets. They are just a sadder version of Sweet Tarts. Rockets taste like if Sweet Tarts were bullied: powdery defeat.

My well-intentioned and budget-conscious husband insists that these candies are “fine” and that “free candy is free candy”. To humour him, I offered samples of them to our boys and their friends. Surprisingly, the Dubble Bubble rallied briefly and was chewable. But ultimately it gave up it’s flavour within moments (not a surprise BECAUSE IT’S DUBBLE BUBBLE).

The molasses kisses were met with mixed reviews. The neighbour kid said it tasted find, but ended up spitting it out (see?). And one of my sons described them as “not that bad. Like a better version of a raisin.”

I rest my case.

Please send me your cleaning tips for removing eggs from bricks.

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Behold, portable angst in a seasonal wrapper.

Sunday Funday

I look forward to Sundays. I mean I really look forward to Sundays. We start the day with church and then intentionally take time to relax and recharge for the new week. A typical Sunday includes coffee, time outdoors (weather permitting), reading, family game time, meal-planning, and if I’m really lucky: a nap.

Guess what my Sunday plans do not typically include. Go ahead, guess.

I can tell you this: my plans 100%, absolutely for certain do not include cleaning a poop puddle out of the basement shower. Yet that’s what happened. I have photo evidence thanks to being a mom of boys who enjoy taking photos of things like poop puddles. I have opted not to share those publicly, but trust me, they exist. I also thought that my issues with plumbing were over since the recent earring down the drain incident (if three time’s the charm, I am MOVING).

Our oldest child was hovering near the edges of the kitchen. He peeked around, then left. Skulked in a few steps, left again. Then he quietly told me (just me, even though his father was RIGHT beside me) “It wasn’t me, but the toilet in the basement is backed up and now there’s really gross water in the shower. I DID NOT DO IT.” He didn’t need to be so adamant about his lack of involvement. He has three younger brothers and I have seen the crime-scene level of destruction they have left in other washrooms to know he was not the likely culprit. And I didn’t even care who did it, I just didn’t want it to spread.

As per our pre-nup, my husband began plunger duty, I was the clean-up crew. I continued planning our meals and grocery needs for the week a safe distance from the sights and smells while getting increasingly frequent updates on the Poo-pocalypse of 2019 from our offspring.

Eventually the toilet was cleared, but there was still the issue of the standing water in the shower. It was like poop on steroids. I have never encountered a smell so terrible before, and please remember I live with five males, four of them being regular participants in games such as “Farting Morse Code Through the Furnace Vents”.  This situation needed handling.

I put on my rain boots, rubber gloves, and old clothes and armed myself with that plunger. Glory, glory, hallelujah it cleared out with minimal effort or splatter.

Next I took care of the sink. What is wrong with my children that they managed to clog THREE different drains? Does no one under the age of 14 understand the word “sluggish” and its possible ramifications on the sewage system? I do not use that washroom, for what I hope are now becoming obvious reasons, so I had no idea it was that bad.

Check and check, all drains were cleared. However, no amount of Lysol, Febreeze, scented candle or diffused oil was going to rid our basement of that foul odour, plus that shower was now a tiny corner of bio-hazard grossness. I had to call in the big guns. Environmentally friendly products, you’re on the bench. Bleach, suit up. It was such a bad scene that my husband didn’t even dispute the need for chlorine. IT WAS THAT BAD. “Get out of the way, boys, your mom has work to do.”

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Not today, White Sails, this is job for Javex.

I have failed to mention that the entire time I was plunging, spraying, inhaling fumes, and trying not to think about what I standing in, my boys alternated between playing ping pong and commentating on my status.

“Look! Mommy’s in the chokey! Just like Matilda!”

“I think she’s stuck, it’s a small shower.”

“Is she still breathing?”

“Are you still alive?”

“Are you sure you got it all?”

“Remember when there was all that poop in the shower?” (it had only been ten minutes earlier, so yes, I did remember).

“Hold still we’re recording this!”

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I have never entered a shower as carefully as I did this very moment.  Please note the protective gear, I’m no fool.
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An old cotton t-shirt is a perfectly fine protective mask. It’s blurry due to photographer heckling.

 

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I even got an unsolicited “thank you” which didn’t make up for this debacle, but kind of did make up for it.

 

The high I felt from a job well-done, or maybe the bleach fumes, did not last long. I decided to wash up and regroup from this Code Brown of Epic Proportions. The boys have been told not to harass me at the washroom door anymore. To their credit they did not. Harass me at the door. Instead I received a steady stream of texts from the living room.

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I need to be more specific and please note – their dad was RIGHT THERE.

No, Really, What’s That Smell?

I live in a house with four sons. It is loud and fun and chaotic. At any time you might find a pair of socks on the counter, paper airplanes in the light fixtures, or Lego pieces on the steps. Mostly I embrace these reminders of the high level of testosterone in our home. I don’t really know any different from my life with five males and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

EXCEPT.

Except the smell. We have tried to teach them manners and overall I think we have done okay. Then we have a run of “toilet humor days” and I feel like I’m failing. The gas is overwhelming and no amount of gentle and not-so-gentle reminders shuts down the flatulence.

This weekend was one of those weekends. We were in line for a live Nativity show and I thought a lamb was loudly bleating only to discover it was a massive belch from one of my offspring. While I was impressed with his sheer volume and pitch, I doubt Mary and Joseph were in awe (or the other patrons).

I was cozied up on the couch trying to recharge when I heard odd noises from the walls. Two brothers were farting to each other through the furnace grates. This time I pretended not to notice and kept on reading.

So when I went upstairs Sunday evening to put laundry away and there was an odour so thick you could see it, I had had enough. “THIS ENTIRE HOUSE STINKS AND I AM NOT IMPRESSED WITH ANY OF YOU” I shouted as I headed to the master bathroom. It was there I discovered the real source of the smell. Our sink drain was being cleared and there was a container of standing water under the pipe. I took decisive action and flushed the contents down the toilet. Done and done. The smell would dissipate. Yup, look at me being proactive and taking charge. Solving all the problems.

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So clean. So empty of stinky standing water.

Yes, gentle reader, I was pretty proud of myself. Pretty proud, indeed. That is until I released the handle and watched the murky water swirling far, far away with all the miscellaneous sink contents with it. That’s when I panicked.

You see, a few days ago my sweet husband dropped my earring down the sink. I own one pair of not-costume earrings. They aren’t fancy, but they don’t turn my skin green after a few uses. wp-15444065419257388005211613944868.jpg

Not to point fingers, but I often place my earrings in the soap dish. And by often I mean every night. It wouldn’t be a surprise that my earrings are in the soap dish then, right? But on this day one of the not-cheap earrings was stuck on the bar of soap and dropped down the drain. Again, not blaming anyone but that soap did not pick itself up, JUST SAYING.

So for the next few days the sink was closed to prevent further travels of my beloved jewellery into the sewage system until proper attention could be paid to the drain. It was fine. I got used to brushing my teeth over the tub and changing all my other normal routines in order to preserve half of a gift from my mother. My beloved mother. It’s cool. I’m a very patient person. Plus I mostly forgot until I went to brush my teeth.

Plumbing day arrived and that’s where the stories collide.

My precious, one-of-a-kind earrings gifted to me by my mother. I remember that day so well. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “these are for you, my most favourite child. Your life with all those males will be one of occasional hardship. May these earrings remind you of happy times and help you not to lose your temper.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Now those treasured earrings are gone – with one well-intentioned flush. Swishing and sloshing their way to the big water treatment plant in the sky.

At least the sink drains properly now.

RIP semi-precious earrings. We had a good run.

The moral of this story? Don’t use bar soap.


Update: After digging around in the pipe catcher thingey, my earring was discovered! It’s a stinky miracle!

A Sweet Addition

We have some big news around here an I am so excited to share it with you, dear reader.

As you may recall, I enjoy having a bigger-than-typical family. Our crew of four boys brings me joy and I am grateful for them all and the (mostly) delightful chaos they bring into our home. Some well-meaning friends have suggested we get a dog to add to the mix. Hilarious.

We are not getting a pet (beyond the beta fish that has miraculously survived longer than its three departed predecessors). There is no cat, hamster, or guinea pig on the horizon. We went in a different direction. Five of us were on board with this decision right from the start. It took some convincing, but eventually my husband saw the wisdom of procuring our new family member.

Please help me welcome, Big Bag of Chocolate.

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So glad we captured this precious moment. The whole family helped with the selection.

 

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Christmas – such a magical season.
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Cozy winter nights are perfect for reading with loved ones.
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I would have shared the blanket, but melting is a real concern.
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Hobbies are more fun when you share them with family.
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Almost forgot how to do a sling. Almost.
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Always ready to ruin things with healthy options, my husband.

Happy holidays! May your season be chocolate-filled.