On Sorrow and Celebration

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but it has not been the right time. In fact, I don’t even have time now but I’m writing it anyway determined to piece it together in whatever snatches of time I can grasp. I want to write about my life over the past six months and my reaction to other lives that are close to me.

One day last October I was on the phone with my mother lamenting the aches and pains I was having from adjusting to a new job working with preschoolers. Ya’ll, that is hard work. They are mostly precious and it’s mostly fun, but it is hard on this 48 year old girl’s frame. When I finished all my jabbering, my mother proceeded to tell me that my brother, who is 19 months older than me, had been diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma on his tongue. You can look up the diagnosis. It’s bad. The prognosis isn’t fantastic either. I was stunned and alarmed but I didn’t know anything about the illness at that time.

Later that day, my family of five hopped in my car to travel to Raleigh to see Switchfoot in concert for my husband’s 50th birthday. I didn’t say anything about my brother’s cancer to my family because I wanted to talk privately with Mike first so I held on to the news and waited for a time to talk to Mike alone. It’s about a 45 minute drive to Raleigh and when we had been on the highway for about 20 minutes, at about 3 in the afternoon, a deer ran from the other side of the highway and collided with us, totaling my car. Thankfully, no one was injured; including anyone else on the highway, traveling at 70+ miles per hour.

A new season of life was opening before me and I have been feeling the weight of it ever since.

A team of doctors collaborated and Jamie’s surgery was scheduled for two weeks away. For those two weeks, while I worked my new job and my family traded turns with the remaining cars, I grieved. I knew that my brother had two weeks of the rest of his life to speak normally. I began to assemble a group of friends to pray. I know it sounds strange to some but I just couldn’t pray. I was in shock and full of sorrow and so tired and I just couldn’t do it but I knew that my friends and my church would fill that gap for me. And they did.  I was so very thankful. We planned an early Thanksgiving so we could all eat together and arrived at the hospital the next morning at 5 am.

The plan was to remove the majority of his tongue, hoping to retain as much as they could, and replace it with a prosthetic tongue created from tissue in his thigh. This replacement tongue is called a flap. The risks of surgery were many including the possibility that he may never speak again or eat again. Even with a successful surgery we knew that a major, devastating life change was ahead for him.

My brother, machine that he is, came through 11 hours of surgery with flying colors. There were other procedures and incisions that were included in the entire process and he had not one single complication. The next day he was breathing on his own and within two weeks his trach was out.

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Me and Jamie, the night before his surgery.

I called my parents one day to ask my dad about how to get a smell out of my new to me car and in the background Jamie, who used to detail cars for a living, starts telling me what to do.
“Wait,” I say to my mother, who was also on the phone, “He’s talking??? When did he start talking???” She says, “Honey, he’s been talking for two days.”
I was absolutely giddy with thankfulness.

Then the 11 weeks of radiation began and the pain and depression set in. It’s been a pretty low ordeal ever since. Weight loss and low blood pressure and weakness became the norm for a few months until he finally needed a hospital stay. That hospital visit turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For it was then, 6 months after surgery, that he finally began to take in some pureed food through his mouth. Until then, it was strictly tube feeding. This was a game-changer in his disposition.

He has a long road ahead of him but his resiliency is incredible. I wish that I could change things for him. I wish I had all the money to meet his needs and the ability to ease his burden. I wish I could plan out every hour of his day and insure his healthy decision-making behavior but we all know life’s not like that.

And even when things are crumbling around us, life still goes on.

I remember one morning at breakfast, just talking to my husband and eating a bowl of Raisin Bran. I was exhausted and I just started crying, realizing that my boys were going to graduate from high school in just a few short months.  The excitement, joy, stress, busyness and expense of ALL THAT has been ever before me.  I have been determined to enjoy it regardless of what else is going on though because I am not going to get these days back.

At this writing, two of my three have had their graduations. Lindsay earned her Associates Degree on May 12 and Jonathan graduated from his Classical Conversations group on May 20. There is one graduation ceremony left where Caleb and Jonathan will both graduate with our local home school group. We will laugh and cry and celebrate like we should. If you follow me on instagram or facebook, you’ll be seeing all the pictures. You may or may not see my brother, depending on what his life is like on those days. He wants to come. He is so proud of my life and my family and I want him to come if he can. I want him to have joy filled days and things to look forward to in life as he walks in his new normal.

It has been a strange combination these past months walking in sorrow and pain and joy and celebration. Some days I do it well, some days I don’t. But it’s a balance I guess we all have to learn at some point in life. I have been graciously spared a lot of grief in my life and that makes me a little nervous about the days to come but I know that all my days were written in His book before one of them came to be. I’m in good hands. Psalm 139:16

Sunday Salon – Christmas Edition

Wow! I’m looking at the date of my last blog post, and it has been three and a half months. I’m hoping I remember how to do this.

I have been reading….some. I just finished my goodreads goal of 30 books this year. I thought that was shooting low and that I would actually read more than that but it turns out it was a Christmas miracle that I completed that many. (And two of them were story books.)

A lot has happened lately and I really want to talk about it here, I do. And I may soon but I think today, instead, I’ll share an article that is so much better than what I have to say. It’s about six years old and it’s just what I need to hear in the midst of all the merry making and stress during this most wonderful time of the year. Maybe it’s just what you need to hear too.

(Full disclosure: I don’t hate Christmas, I love it, but it still kicks my butt every year and fills my stress level to the max. I just yelled at my husband and almost lost my ever loving mind because my chocolate didn’t melt right for my peanut butter balls….so…..yeah…stress.)

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Christmas Is for Those Who Hate It Most

December 15, 2010

We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ehem—problems with this season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It’s been a story very hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want “home” but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray. Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.

 

 

September Mourn (vol.2)

I’m feeling melancholy these days. It’s not my normal personality but like anyone, I am not immune to it. The world’s not ending, but my summer is and other things are changing too.

1.) Fall was my favorite season for many years. I loved the weather, the decorations, the football games and back to school. I LOVED going to school. Not for the virtuous reason of loving to learn, but because that’s where my people were. But for the last several years summer has become my favorite time of year. It is the only time that my heart and mind are fully at rest. Being a homeschool parent to high school kids has changed the fall from being a time of excitement and anticipation to a time of fear and stress. (I am not speaking for other homeschoolers here, the majority that I know are nailing it with all kinds of peace of mind and success.) I am aware of my boys’ work load at all times and feel a level of pressure for them to succeed that is probably more than I should feel. But the summer time? The summer is the beach, being invited to the pool with friends, time to do lots of experimental cooking, wearing lighter, shorter clothes, cookouts, long days and NOT having to worry about if someone got their paper done or how well it is done.

2.) My kitty Gandalf is gone. Last Saturday, one week after we celebrated his first birthday, he just disappeared. He has always been indoor/outdoor and I let him out when he pleases. He always sticks around, he’s neutered, and happily comes back in to eat. I let him out last week at about 4 in the afternoon, (a little earlier than his routine time of around supper time), and I never saw him again. I am heartbroken about this. I miss him terribly. He could be out catting around, he could have been picked up by someone, he could be trapped, hurt or worse. I have no idea. I just miss having him around. All my neighbors are on the look-out, I’ve posted signs, checked with vets and with the animal shelter. I’ve prayed. I don’t know what else to do but just wait and hope that he shows back up. And if he does, he will have sown his wild oats for the first and last time as he will be inside forever.

3.) I’ve got to get a job. It’s just that time. College is coming up for my guys and our college fund is the “Darlene Goes Back to Work” fund. I’ve done several short-term jobs here and there to make a little extra cash, mainly for me to play with, and I have a couple of child care jobs that have been very helpful with school expenses, but the financial needs are expanding. We have more drivers in the house than we have cars and this has put us in scheduling straights. We are going through tons of gas. I really don’t hate the idea of working but the thought of being gone full time when I still have one kid in his senior year whom I am pretty involved with school-wise makes me a little sad. We are in the homestretch with the kids’ education and I want to finish strong. I NEED to be able to balance that with working and that is intimidating to me. But I am encouraged. I have seen many homeschool moms do it.

So, this song,  September Morn, is one I think about every year when this month rolls around. The music captures my mood perfectly, even though lyrically it doesn’t fit. It’s also nostalgic because it reminds me of my younger years when it was playing at the skating rink on a Saturday night and I was hoping to couple skate with Martin or Daniel. (hee hee)

To everything there is a season…Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

With all the enthusiasm welcoming the fall, anyone else sorry to see summer go? 

September Mourn vol.1.

Sophie’s Choice

Ok, I’m doing this “review” because Bryan from Still Unfinished encouraged me to take my thoughts to the blog. I had mentioned to him that I had finished Sophie’s Choice and I was conflicted because I wanted so much to distance myself from it when it was over but I also felt so compelled to talk about it. I guess that’s why I have a blog in the first place. So, here we go…

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Sophie’s Choice by William Styron – Published 1979 – National Book Award 1980.
This was a tough one. Really. I’m feeling a bit wounded from it. That’s not to say it’s not a compelling story from a gifted writer, but it’s painful, and obscene. And I don’t feel one bit hyperbolistic, (is that a word?), about calling it obscene because even someone who played one of the characters in the movie described part of the book as obscene. Now in general, I’m a somewhat conservative person, so you shouldn’t be surprised by my opinion, but when someone in Hollywood says something is obscene, then you can probably bank on it.

It wasn’t all bad, especially not in terms of the story. That is the part, after all, that kept me hanging on. (That, and my determination to read something that is considered to be great literature even if it holds me hostage in my non-comfort zone, because I want so much to see the beauty of the whole piece of work at the end.) I know, it’s sad. I wish I could just read for pleasure….but the story, as depressing as it is, is worth telling and knowing and sharing.

Sophie’s Choice takes place post WWll, in Brooklyn, NY. Stingo, an aspiring novelist, takes up at a boarding house where he meets Sophie, a polish immigrant, fresh out of Auschwitz, and her Jewish lover, Nathan. You would think that “Jewish” would not need to be specified here but trust me, nationality and race and origin all mean a lot in this tale. The three of them become the best of friends living it up in the summer of 1940-something until the past and the current state of someone’s mental health unravels them all. It’s intense ya’ll. I had to stop in the middle of it, and put it down for a few months because I just couldn’t…

Anyway, I learned a couple of things from Sophie’s Choice and I’ll tell you about them, as long as you don’t make me feel stupid because you already knew them.

1.) I did not know that back in the 40’s era, that Polish people, in general, were anti-semitic. I guess I should have. One can’t assume that all the hatred in the world for Jewish people originated with Hitler. But he gets the “fame” for it since he had no problem assassinating 6 million of them. But there were others that hated them too, apparently, and the Poles were some of them. (I know, there are always exceptions, but I’m speaking in general.) In Sophie’s Choice, there are Jewish sympathizers in Poland, as well as Nazi sympathizers.

2.) I DID know that Hitler desired to have a pure Ayran race, but I did NOT know that he actually implemented a program by which he was BREEDING this race!! Where he would take little blonde haired, blue eyed children and join them with Nazi people, and…I just can’t even finish that sentence. There was a name for it, the Lebensborn program. You can look it up. {{shudder}}

As uncomfortable as the book is, I do think it tells an important story. And I did learn some truth from this fictional account. It’s literary, it’s historic, it’s emotional, sad and yes, it’s abusive and obscene. And truthfully, after watching an interview with the author online, I can see why it was like it was, especially in terms of some of the sexual content. SOME. But some was just downright not necessary and frankly, made me feel sorry for men, for what goes through their minds. (Sorry guys). And I know, I’ve been told by a male friend, you guys don’t think it’s so bad. Believe me, I’ve got two 18 year old boys in this house, I’m not naive to what their brains are capable of. I speak frankly on this subject with them, whether they like it or not.

Sophie’s Choice has been on my radar for a long time. I remember my 11th grade US History teacher, Mr. Weart, talking to us about the movie in class one day. (circa 1985). I can’t remember the details of what he said but I apparently remember enough for it to stick with me that long and cause me to want to read it. When I first got my Kindle about five years ago, I downloaded the book for next to nothing.  I am glad I finally read it, but I’m also glad to be done with it.

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I’ve also read Darkness Visible by William Styron. This is a memoir that recounts the time when he was in a deep, deep mental depression. I was encouraged reading that one because at the time, someone very close to me was also depressed, and I was hopeful that she would recover because he tells the story of how he did.

So, it’s typical of me to read things that made their impact years ago. Have any of you readers ever read or watched Sophie’s Choice? What did you think? I’ve watched scenes on Youtube and Meryl Streep is, of course, phenomenal. I think she got an Oscar for her role. Duh.

 

Beach Reading Survey 2016

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It’s that time of year again! The time when I grab my beach towel, hat, sunglasses and chair and I plop myself right in the sand, close to the water’s edge. I take a look up and down the beach and I wonder…what’s everybody reading? And THEN, I do the thing my family has come to expect from me. I get up, start walking and start talking to the people who are reading about what they are reading. It’s become one of my favorite things to do on our beach vacation.

This is the third year of conducting my survey. The results of the first one were reported on my facebook page with no pictures. Last year I talked to a lot more people and you can read that post and see those photos here.

So without further ado, here is what the people were reading last week at North Myrtle Beach, SC.

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This may be my favorite. I call her the Gangsta Reader.

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This adorable couple was from West Virginia. Their one month old baby girl was sleeping back in the room. Mom’s not reading here but told me she is a big Emily Giffin fan.

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The beach was covered in readers this year and I’d like to thank them for being super cool and allowing me to post their photo on the world wide web. See ya next summer!!

Little Men

It is hard to believe but, my boys are now 18 years old. Baby A and Baby B have made it to adulthood. Whew!! Or at least what I consider the onset of adulthood. There is still a great deal of transition going on around here. You know just as well as I that there is nothing magic about that number. (Except now, the Doctors and the Financial Aid officers and Teachers are no longer interested in hearing from me. Whatever.)

I’m going to spare you most of the mushy-gushy feelings that I have because you know, I’m their mom and it won’t surprise anyone to read about all the fierce emotions that have come with parenting them. I’d rather talk about who they are now and allow you to get to know them a little better, if you don’t already. So I conducted an interview…

20160806_133744-1_resizedThis is Jonathan. (Baby A)
He is hilarious. Only when he wants to be though, never on demand. He’s like a two year old that way. But my gosh he can crack people up. He is sooo smart and such a deep thinker. He studied a lot of Shakespeare last year and he loved Hamlet and Julius Ceasar. He can straight up dance like nobody’s business but he doesn’t do that on demand either. He is a great listener and adviser to his friends. My favorite thing he said as a kid: I received flowers from my husband and  I was making a big deal about them. Jonathan asked me what my favorite flower was and I told him “daffodils,” and he said, “When I get big, I’m gonna give you a hundred daffodils.”

The Interview :
Who’s your Celebrity Crush? – Hayley Williams (Paramore) I don’t like that question.
Favorite Band/Music Artist – Twenty One Pilots (even before they hit mainstream)
Favorite Song of All Time – Bohemian Rhapsody
Favorite TV Show Ever – Drake and Josh
Favorite LOST Character – Sun and Sawyer (Yes, I trained them well)
Favorite Movie – The Dark Knight and The Sixth Sense
Favorite Childhood Movie – Toy Story 2
Favorite Childhood Book – A Wrinkle in Time
Favorite Super Hero – Please, Batman. But Superman inspires me more. Then why don’t you just say Superman? Cause Batman is cooler.
Favorite Villain – The Joker
Favorite Thing about your Brother – His willingness to try.
Favorite Thing about your Sister? She buys me stuff.
Favorite School Subject – Literature (That’s my boy!!)
What Makes You Happy? – Music, concerts
What Makes You Sad? – Political stuff on social media. Arguing, hate. Hate makes me sad.
What do you want out of life? I don’t know….chicken.

20160806_134119_resizedThis is Caleb. (Baby B)
He is a forever kid, full of the sense of wonder and always getting the most out of life. He plays guitar, basketball and spends way too much money on nerd collectibles. He is also a deep thinker and an animal lover. He loves a party, loves a wedding, and doesn’t shy away from hard work. In the last year or two he has acquired a taste for sarcasm. I tell him that’s fine with his peers, not with his mama. My favorite thing he said as a kid: He was still in a car seat. We were listening to Christmas Carols in the car and The First Noel was on. He was listening intently and said, “That poor shepherd, he couldn’t find his sheep and he just said, ‘Oh well.'” (He thought the song was saying Oh well instead of Noel, Noel. That still cracks me up!)

The Interview
Celebrity Crush – Daisy Ridley
Favorite Band/ Music Artist – Switchfoot
Favorite Song of All Time – Dare You To Move (Switchfoot)
Favorite TV Show Ever – LOST (that’s my boy!) and Person of Interest
Favorite LOST Character – Desmond
Favorite Movie – Lord of the Rings/Return of the King
Favorite Childhood Movie – Spirit
Favorite Childhood Book – The Trumpet of the Swan and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM
Favorite Super Hero – Batman
Favorite Villain – The Joker
What do you like most about your brother – His sense of humor
What do you like most about your sister – Her compassion. The way she cares for others.
Favorite School Subject – Math (Not really my favorite but it’s my best.)
What Makes You Happy? – Jenna
What Makes You Sad? – When pre-movie reviews aren’t good. It kills my excitement.
What do you want out of life? – To represent Christ.

I truly love these boys so much. And I really like them too. I don’t say that to be trite, they are enjoyable people 99% of the time. The other one percent? They’re imperfect and aggravating like everyone else. I’ve been known, occasionally, to try and give them away. And for all the great things about them, they are still dang messy. They haven’t grown out of that yet. They’re only in transition…right?

 

 

 

What’s Been Up

Hello readers, friends, and strangers! I’ve been muy ocupado this summer and I thought I’d just give ya’ll an update on all that’s been going on. Let’s start from now, and move backwards, shall we?

My daughter is in Uganda. That’s on the other side of the world. All the way on the other side. Sigh. She has been thinking of making this trip for two years now. She is there with three other people from our church and 21 other people from around the U.S. They are there serving Imani Milele, an organization that is devoted to locating and rescuing orphans and vulnerable children from the villages and areas out in the bush. Lindsay and her team are there to work in a medical clinic, have Vacation Bible School camps for sooooo many children and to help construct brick classrooms for their schooling.

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There’s a lot of people at the airport at 4 am.

In Uganda, there is no free education. If a child is rich, they can go to school. Otherwise, you must be sponsored in order to go. Education is absolutely PARAMOUNT in the lives of these Ugandan children because it is the only way to break the cycle of poverty. If a girl reaches the age of 13 or so, and is not in school, she will be married off and will perpetuate the cycle. But if she is in school, if someone pays for her school, then she is able to continue through college. The children that we have hosted in our home for the past few summers have described what it is like to go to school. They rise at about three or four a.m. They walk between 1 1/2 and 2 hours to school. School begins at  6 am and ends at 6 pm. Then they walk back home. They do this 6 days a week and they love it. They appreciate it so much because they know what the alternative is. Most of their classrooms are mud huts that get destroyed in the rain. That’s why Lindsay’s team is there to contribute to the construction of brick classrooms.

All of the children that come here to the US for their choir tour have been sponsored. They take a year off from school so they can make the tour. They come completely devoted to their work of raising awareness of the plight of children in their homeland and they ask us to come. It’s interesting that they would so much rather have you come to Uganda to help them than they would have you write them a check. They are the most loving and hospitable people I have ever encountered in my entire life.

The week before Lindsay left, we hosted two boys. Julius and Geofrey. Each child in the organization has a Ugandan name and a “Christian” name. (Which I think just means an “English” name.) We had a wonderful time with them, even with the distractions of getting Lindsay ready to go.

Geofrey loves to cook and he was often in the kitchen helping me with meal preparation. I started to slice an avocado one day and he took it right out of my hand, preparing it the way that he had been taught. He had great skills with a knife and I showed him how to use a vegetable peeler. He also made us Ugandan eggs. We call this an omelet. When he was not cooking, he was goofing off, laughing or playing Mario Kart.

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Julius loves Jazz music and wanted it to be playing at all times. I showed him how to find music and artists on youtube. In the last few years, my world has become very quiet. I can be in the house for hours and hours and never have the TV or radio on. I won’t even notice it. So when I was cooking or cleaning or whatever, he would come in the room and turn on Jonathan Butler or George Benson or Kirk Whalum or Peter White. And he liked it loud. We would all be washing dishes, (because my dishwasher messed up the week before they came), and we’d be talking and I would turn the music down a little so I could hear people and not have to shout and as soon as I did, Julius would apologize for it being too loud. It’s so funny that there are some people like me where music is in the back ground of their day and others where music is in the forefront at all times.
( He also likes Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. And I promise I didn’t even bring it up. He did when he saw my bookshelf.)

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Julius also bonded with my cat. Even though cats are considered a nuisance where he’s from.

So, it’s been a little busy as you can see. I don’t know why I always look forward to some down time in the summer because really, most days are just as busy as the other seasons of the year. I guess the one thing that is a huge sense of rest to me in the summer is that I don’t have to worry about if my boys are getting all their school work done. You have no idea the amount of space that takes up in my brain on a daily basis during the school year. I know people think I’m going to be sad when that comes to an end in 2017, but I won’t. Not about that anyway.

Since I have taken up enough internet space thus far, in my next post I’m going to tell you all about my pie adventures this summer. You don’t want to miss it! Yum!! See ya later!