Screen Time for Summer Sanity

 

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It’s summer vacation, it’s the fifth rainy day in a row, and the kids have exhausted all of their Montessori-approved ideas for enriching indoor learning activities.   You know about the American Pediatric Association’s recommendation of 2-hours or less of screen time a day for children, but if you don’t get a break you might just reach the end of that rope and turn into Scary Mom.  What to do? My recommendation is to heft that backpack full ‘o guilt off your back and embrace a little media therapy.  How much TV did you watch when you were little?  My guess is that most of us engaged in way more than the 2-hours of screen time that the ever so helpful APA recommends.

As for me, every Saturday morning  my brother and I would roll out our sleeping bags on the living room floor and hunker down for a good 4-5 hours of mind-numbing and sometimes violent (Thanks Tom and Jerry!) Saturday morning cartoons.  We both lived to tell about it and neither of us has even ended up on “America’s Most Wanted” list (yet)! And so, oh great and powerful members of the APA, I have a message for you.  In the words of the great Tim Hawkins, “Sometimes y’all just need ta chill!” (On a side note, if your family doesn’t know Tim Hawkins, they really should.)

Click here to visit Tim’s website

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 Now that you’ve ditched the guilt, let’s further lighten the load by providing you with a list of some family-friendly shows that you might even enjoy watching with your kids.  I got frustrated one night when we were trying to find something that we could all enjoy that was free from sexual innuendo, profanity, and the variety of in-your-face agendas being pushed by the media today.  Plugged In is an excellent Christian resource for finding such shows. Common Sense Media is also a good one, although it comes from a more secular perspective.  We watch both mainstream and Christian media and use both to have meaningful conversations with our kids about the ideas we see on TV and how they do or do not measure up to God’s standards for our lives.

Here is a list I came up with that would suit most kids 8-12 (my kids age group).  Disclaimer:  I have not personally watched all of these shows, but did read the reviews and ratings and deemed them worthy of at least a first viewing.  You can read reviews for any of these shows at either of the sites listed above and decide for yourself.  If you have cable (we don’t), you will be able to find many of these shows on your cable channels.

Family Friendly TV for ages 8-12 (and their parents!)

1. Granite Flats – Netflix streaming

2. The Man from Uncle – Amazon instant – free with ads

3. The Willis Family – Amazon Instant $$ or Youtube

4. Time Traveling with Brian Unger – Amazon Instant $$ or Youtube

5. Meet the Smiths – Amazon Instant – $$

6. Child Genius – Amazon Instant- $$

7.  Evermoor – Amazon Instant – $$

8. Romeo! (Nickelodeon) – Seasons 1-4 on Youtube

9. Strange Days at Blake Holsey High – Youtube

10. Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide – Youtube

11. The Addams Family – Amazon Instant – $$

12. Discovery Atlas – Youtube

13. Mystery Hunters – Youtube

14. Who’s the Boss – Youtube

15. Trading Spaces – Youtube

16. The Cosby Show – Hulu (We own the first 4 seasons on DVD, which you can purchase at half.com for $3-$5/season.  Well worth owning.)

17. Digging for the Truth – youtube

18. Awesome Adventures – Amazon Instant – free for Prime members

19. Green Screen Adventures – Youtube

20. 7th Heaven – Amazon Instant – free for Prime members

Classics also available on Netflix streaming (and possibly Hulu and Amazon Prime)

21. The Munsters

22. The Andy Griffith Show

23. Leave it to Beaver

24. The Twilight Zone

25. The Dick VanDyke Show

26. MacGyver

27. The A-Team

28. Family Ties

29. The Wonder Years (for ages 13 and up)

30. Star Trek

31. The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones

Consider yourself equipped with at least a few hours of sanity for those lazy, hazy, CRAZY days of summer.  Let those kiddos veg in front of the TV.  You have my permission.  Then, take a deep breath and repeat this mantra, which we hear so seldom from the overabundance of “experts” out there:  “I am a great mom and I know what is best for me and my kids.”

Now I’ve gotta go.  Cosby is on!

8 Strategies for Surviving Infertility

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Oh, high school self, if you only knew what was coming around the corner.

Yep, that’s me with the lion-like hair and the queenly sash.  I cringe when I look at this picture now.  I’m well aware of today’s beauty pageant rep and would not likely encourage one of my daughter’s to become a contestant.  It is worth taking a moment, however, to consider my naivete at this point in my teenage life.  I had faced very few challenges and didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the ones that might lie ahead.  Less than a decade later, I would be in the throes of full-fledged infertility treatment, each month turning a new page of grief and uncertainty and feeling very much alone.

Now that I am on the other side of that journey, I realize how very caught up I was in the whole thing.  I wish I had had someone (someone besides my therapist!) to come alongside me at the time and insert the truth into the pack of lies that were running rampant inside my head.  All I can do now is to share what I learned with you…and pray that you will hold onto hope, dear reader, in your struggle. Let me assure you that there is every reason to hold to it tightly and experience peace in the waiting.

8 Strategies for Surviving Infertility

1. Focus on the other things that made you “you” long before infertility came along

When Mark and I were going through waiting and treatments and more waiting, the “infertile” part of me became the whole me.  I was just one large, walking label that read “broken” and “defective” and I spent a whole lot of my time believing that lie.  My life became more manageable when I stopped seeing myself from that skewed perspective and took time to honor the other parts of me, which — in truth — made up much more of me than the infertile part.  I started celebrating the “worship leader” me and the “teacher” me and the “photographer” me and the “loving wife, sister, daughter, friend” me.

Your God-given gifts do not disappear just because one thing is not working right.  You’ll feel a whole lot more positive if you wear this truth like the comfortable and protective garment that it is.

2. Allow yourself to celebrate holidays in new and different ways

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During the holidays, family and friends will expect you to celebrate with them in the same ways you have in the past.  They will truly believe that being with them is the best thing for you, regardless of the nature of the celebration.  This is no time to worry about hurting other people’s feelings at the expense of your own.  Family celebrations can be devastating to the couple experiencing infertility.  As much as the people you love want to support you, they have no idea what it is like to be walking in your shoes right now.  As much as they think they are being sensitive to your needs, they simply are blind to the many things that might be hurtful about a given celebration.

This is a time for creating new traditions with each other.  It is ok to kindly turn down the invitation to the Easter party complete with egg hunt to, instead, take a hike together.  It is fine to go to a great comedy or action film on Mother’s Day instead of going to church and to the family get together afterwards.  Take some time to tell those closest to you about your alternative plans.  The people who love you will support you, regardless of whether they completely understand the nature and intensity of your grief.  They will recognize that this stage of your life is temporary and that happier times will likely allow you to rejoin traditional celebrations in years to come.

3. Throw yourself a limited-time-only pity party

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Feelings demand to be felt.  They will not simply go away if you ignore them.  On the other hand, they won’t go away at all if you allow yourself 24-7 to wallow in them.  Take 10 minutes a day to think about the unfairness of it all.  To curse your current state, to cry,  and to ask why.  Then, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on with your day, focusing on the positive things in your life.  A great job, a supportive husband, a friend that understands you?  Whatever your blessings, there are sure to be many.  Don’t let your infertility steal these from you.

4. Grieve over real losses

An early miscarriage or loss of a baby later in pregnancy are real causes for grief and must be marked and remembered as such.  Plant a tree or place a garden stone in a prominent place in your yard.  Write a poem or memory journal.  Light a candle, say a prayer and remember.  Give yourself time to cry and take time to honor the small life that was lost and to say goodbye.

5. Stay away from energy drainers

During our infertility struggle, pretty much every one of my friends and family members who were close in age experienced pregnancy, child birth, and becoming a mother for the very first time.  Many of these friends knew of my distress and steered away from topics  that might be painful when they were with me.  Others not so much.  I had a few friends who insisted on bringing their purse-size baby brag books everywhere (this was before smart phones) and leafing through the pages, stopping to give me a play-by-play analysis of each and every dimpled and drool-laden photo.  As much as I loved (and still love) these friends, I learned that they could not be trusted with my fragile spirit during that painful time.  Learn early on who in your circle of friends is going to drain your energy and who is going to lift you up.  Avoid the first group as much as possible and hold tightly to the second.  And, while you’re at it, try to include a fellow struggler in your circle.  You’ll be grateful for the relief you find in not having to explain yourself, but just being understood.

6.  Steer the conversation

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When word gets out that you are trying to have a baby, it is time to brace yourself for well-meaning friends and family members who would like to hear the gory details of your struggle.  What type of test did you have yesterday?  What’s wrong with you?  Is it him or you?  How many times do you have to do it in a week?  How are the little fellas swimming?  Are you pregnant yet?  What are you going to try next? Very much akin to this line of questioners is the advice givers ready with a long list of ideas and procedures you should try.  Many of these may have experienced a period of waiting (a few months up to a year) before blissfully achieving pregnancy and they are nearly certain that their chosen methods will work for you!

The best strategy for dealing with this line of questioning and advice is to very simply change the subject.  Ask the person about what is going on with her or bring up one of the many other aspects of your life for a topic of discussion.  Perhaps you are up for a promotion at work or you’ve recently discovered a new hobby/exercise plan/TV series/recipe.   Most people are genuinely trying to help and will get your not-so-subtle hint.  If not, refer to #6.

7. Hand over the balloons

As cliche’ as it may sound, God is in control and he knows what he’s doing.  We like to think that we are the captain of this thing called life until we hit a brick wall like infertility that makes us painfully aware of our own helplessness.  You cannot handle this alone and worrying over it for every moment of your journey will steal your joy and your peace of mind.  Picture your infertility worries as a bouquet of  colorful balloons with names: unforeseen test results, miscarriage, negative pregnancy test, upcoming procedure, financing treatment, uncertain future.  Then, picture yourself handing over every single one to God.  He does not expect you to carry this burden alone and is just waiting for you to willingly give him the pain, bitterness, and loss.  From time to time, you’ll find that you’ve taken back one or more of the balloons, thinking they are your responsibility.  When this happens, simply hand them back over to God, who will lovingly care for them and keep your heart and mind filled with peace as you continue to walk through the day to day, eventually arriving at a new – and more hopeful place.

8. Envision the future

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One of the most comforting and helpful  ideas I contemplated in therapy is that, although I had stopped being able to imagine my babies after years of failed treatment, God already held my little ones in his arms.  He knew exactly what they looked like. The texture of his hair and the color of her eyes.  The dimples of her cheeks and the sound of his cry.  The thought that my babies were already in existence in God’s mind comforted me and helped to bridge the gap until they would be placed in my aching arms, finally an affirmative answer to so many years of earnest and desperate prayers.  Have no doubt.  Whether your baby is birthed from your womb or yours through the gift of surrogacy or adoption, God already knows her this very second that you are reading these words.  He knows the exact moment when your prayers will be answered no longer “wait”, but “yes”.  And he holds both you and your baby in the palm of his hand.  Rest in the knowledge that the timing will be exactly as it should be and that – believe it or not – your infertility struggle will seem like a blip once you face the day to day blessings and challenges that come with being a parent.

Open

Open (verb used with object)

Open (as verb)                                                                       to move (a door, window sash, etc.) from a shut or closed position so as to admit of passage

I am so often closed to new possibilities, a slave to my own preconceived ideas and prejudices.  My view is obstructed by so many closed doors that I have shut before taking in the the panorama before me.  I wonder sometimes if I would notice Jesus if he was standing right in front of me as I push my shopping cart hurriedly through the grocery store or walk from point A to point B with blinders on, set on my goal and nothing else.  I forget that Jesus stopped frequently on his long walks to consider and fill the needs around him.  That he loved people not by adhering to a to-do list nor by writing people off because they didn’t fit into a certain mold (Jewish, pious, perfect), but by being open to the Father’s leading.

Lord, give me the desire to tap into that awesome God spirit.  To open my heart and my mind to all the possibilities you have set before me.

 

Life!

This little guy turned 8 just a couple days ago.  I’m not sure which is my son, but one of these pulsing, dividing zygotes most certainly is. He would not have come into this world without the help of many medically gifted hands, 21st century technology, and one very willing volunteer womb.  He was every bit alive at just 48 hours gestation and miraculously moving toward a life outside of the petri dish where he got his start.  I marvel every time I look at this photo. That we are even able to peek into God’s handiwork at this early stage takes my breath away.

Because of the orchestrated nature of my son’s conception, we caught another ultrasound glimpse of him about four weeks later, solidly implanted in my dear friend Johnna’s uterus, beating heart the music we had waited 10 years to hear.

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And then again at 6 weeks gestation, our little turtle — a champ at growing his arm buds and leg buds, ears, eyes, and nose, and on his way to a beautiful, functioning brain.

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Life!  A bundle of cells transforming itself into arms and legs and thought and feeling and possibility.  Dictionary.com defines life as “the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.”

It is a powerful force that pushes its way through, reaching purposefully toward its potential. Namely, a fully formed human being, made in God’s own image.

Now, flash forward – or rather outward – from this small protected place to the larger world in which we all live and move and have our being.  This outside place is not so friendly to the intricate processes going on inside, unseen but for the occasional and fleeting ultrasound glimpse.  Rest assured, we are safe.  We are already on the outside.  But this growing, metabolizing dynamo, not so much. Those of us who have colonized the outside feel it our duty to protect our property rights.  There can’t possibly be a place for one who is not yet here.  Too inconvenient, too demanding, too untimely, too expensive, too unplanned, too imperfect.  This budding human being is over entitled from the beginning, demanding too much of us.  We, after all, were here first and we don’t take kindly to sharing.

So much of the rhetoric out there glosses over the reality that – when we make a choice – it is really no choice at all for the tiny human in his earliest stages of development.  Do we really believe that our actions are somehow justified simply because they are undercover and obstructed from plain view?  That ending the life of a tiny human being growing inside us will leave us unscarred?

Regardless of circumstance (except mortal risk to the mother), there is room in our world for every  single human being conceived.   There is help for the single mother and the families that can’t afford another mouth to feed.  There is help for the scared teenage girl and even the victim of rape.  We cannot make our compassion contingent upon our circumstances.   We cannot so easily forget our own humanness and the fact that we were all once a dividing bundle of cells, fully dependent on the selfless gift of another to give us life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Frugal (& Sane!) Spa

 

So I threw a spa party for Faithy’s 10th birthday.  This was her request after we did a mini relaxation session with the family in our new great room.  Initially, Faith thought I could be the spa worker and attend to all of the girls’ needs – massage, manicure, foot treatment, etc.  Yeah, as much as I love taking care of the needs of my family, I wasn’t so thrilled about the idea of washing the feet of a bunch of 4th grade girls (clearly I am not up for this, Jesus).

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Spa Party!

So, I convinced Faith that the girls could attend to each other for the spa party and I would provide the materials.  Soft music, candles, nail polish, lotion, foot baths, etc.

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Manicure & Facial Mask Station

 

As much as I love throwing theme birthday parties for my kids, I do not relish the idea of spending a fortune on something that will be over in a few hours and most likely end up in the landfill before the week is out.  My goal is to keep the party simple enough for me to deal with without feeling angry afterwards (yep, I’ve got a healthy  smidge of martyr in me) yet capture the meat of the theme in a minimalist yet magical way for the kids.

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This is what we landed on:

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Who’s up for a little pampering? 

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1. Cucumber eye pads (which, seriously, have been sitting in my bathroom closet for the last 7-10 years), with aromatherapy neck & foot wraps (again, closet), tingler scalp massage, hand & foot rub (with lotion from the closet).  I had all of this stuff on hand, but the girls do not need to be let in on that little secret.

2. Soothing Aroma Foot Baths (Framing ideas and naming them is everything.  Notice I did not say Cheap Epsom salts from Dollar Tree ) – With dish tubs and one package of lavender bath salts from.  I did help the girls with these by changing the water for each girl and adding warm water.

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Foot Baths

3. Manicure station – I just threw my older daughter’s nail polish (she got about 30 bottles for her last birthday!) in a clear glass apothecary jar from my kitchen and – wa lah! – instant glamour.

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4. Facial Mask Station – Banana, honey, and yogurt face mask recipe

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Battery-powered candles keep your spa clients safe.

5. Goody bags (which I normally hate for the aforementioned reasons) contained items the girls could actually use and consume.  Manicure sets, face wipes, lavender bath salts, mirrors, body lotion, and lip gloss (all from Dollar Tree)

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These goody bags and their contents aren’t plastic toys that will end up in the landfill before you can say “Spaaaaa!”

6. I cannot stress this enough for the busy moms out there.  Do not mess with food for kids’ parties!  This is no time to worry about organic finger sandwiches with imported goat cheese and whole grain bread.  We eat healthy 99% of the time in this house, but for parties tis better to buy some pizza rolls that will be devoured than to throw away what your current magazine promises to be “the quinoa salad that every kid will love!”  At our party, we had grapes, strawberries, blueberries, cheese puffs and pizza rolls.  There were no complaints!

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The muffin liners did not work for this. Next time, I’ll use bowls.

And look how fancy and pretty this “sparkling seltzer” looks in a pretty glass pitcher.

Enjoy your frugal and pampering spa party without breaking the bank or your back.

P.S.  I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like cherry 7-up (yep, red dye is magically delicious!).

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50 Shades of Great

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“My girlfriend and I are going to see that movie this weekend.”  This from one of my high school students before class started one day this week.  Of course he could only mean one movie, THE movie that everyone has been talking about.  This date was to be a part of the young couple’s Valentine’s Day celebration.  I cannot overstate the heaviness of heart when I considered how many of my students — and teens around the country — will be viewing this movie without even thinking twice about it.  It seems that what’s down is up and what’s up is down in our world of relativism.

But rather than curse the darkness, maybe we need to light a few candles.  Maybe we are spending a bit too much time walking around proclaiming the power of darkness when all along we’ve got the secret weapon in our back pocket.

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“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  Phillppians 4:8

So the real questions is: What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?

That we are masterpieces, made in God’s image and by his handiwork.  Our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps most importantly, that we belong to Him and are not to be used or abused by another for self gratification, nor to share our thought life with snapshots and moving images from someone else’s bedroom.  Can we boldly share this truth with the people in our lives who desperately need it?

The truth is that God is GREAT.  Way too great, in fact, for substitutes to intimidate us so much.  Way more than 50 shades of great, but let’s at least count that many and revel in our great God.

50 Shades of God’s greatness

1. He is not just loving, but love itself

2. He is all-powerful

3. He is all-knowing

4. He has a plan for us

5. He bestows his grace freely upon us

6.  He chose us to be His people

7. He works all things for our good

8. He gave us the right to become children of God

9. He gave us His spirit in our hearts as a pledge

10.  He has no condemnation for those who are in Christ

11.  He rescued us from darkness

12. He is trustworthy

13. He gives us eternal life

14. He forgives us

15. He blesses us

16. He created us in His image

17. He give us hope

18. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies (can’t wait!)

19. He supplies all our needs

20. He gives us strength

21. He makes us conquerers

22. He gave us His word

23. He gives us spiritual blessings

24. He delights in us

25. He bears our burdens

26. He puts gladness in our hearts

27. He makes us dwell in safety

28. He gives us peace that passes all understanding

29. He crushes satan

30.  He increases our power

31. He heals us

32.  He is a strong tower

33. He is our light

34. He is our salvation

35. He is our refuge

36. He is our strength against the enemy

37.  He created the Earth

38. He created the seas

39. He created the universe

40. He sent His one and only son for us

41. He allows us to experience freedom

42. He created the heavens and established a place for us there

43. He is mighty

44.  He calls us His children

45. He is the beginning and the end

46. He is good

47.  He is just

48. He is kind

49. He is awesome

50. He is God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter of Discontent

 

“It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.” Psalm 74:17 NIV

Ah, winter…my nemesis.  I have long deplored this cold and bleak season.  Nearly every February, I dream of moving south to more moderate climates and have even gone so far as to start searching out real estate.  Winter makes me grumpy and edgy.  It stirs up feelings that I am able to ignore most other seasons because of sunshine and green grass and colored leaves and the ability to come and go as I please.  Winter stops the mindless busyness and brings all of my “stuff” front and center.  It speaks truth:  You are not in control.  The world can be very cold sometimes.

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I am stripped down without all of the artificial happiness that exists during other times of the year: celebrations and shopping and running from here to there and the warmth of the sun on my face.2015-01-17 010 2015-01-17 011

But I have realized the truth about winter.  It forces me to acknowledge my total reliance on God for my daily needs.  I cannot pretend that all is well if, indeed, it is not.  And if I experience deep abiding joy in the dead of winter, it can only be attributed to my great God.2015-01-17 012 2015-01-17 013

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Hazel hangs out with the wet snow gear in our mudroom,. Like me, she is waiting for spring.

So I say, “bring on the winter!” And I thank Him for this season of discontent, when I am reminded of His great love for me and that is enough.2015-01-17 014

Perfection Paralysis

Is it as hard for you as it is for me to set realistic goals?  I tend to either set them “pie-in-the-sky” or none at all.  Well, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s blog, The Thing About Being More Awesome, I was inspired to write some of my own goals and to go easy on myself if I fall a little short.  After all, a goal is “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.”  Thanks Dictionary.com!  Notice that nowhere in this definition is there anything about great bodily harm to the goal setter if said goal is not achieved.  A goal is merely a target that we can keep working toward indefinitely without any sort of reprimand or guilt.  Dear readers, please repeat the last line to yourself.

And so, to report on one of my goals for the year:  Monthly “dates” with each of my kids individually and my husband.   I’m going to be completely honest and say that I’m choosing to report on this goal because it is one of the only ones (out of 8) that I can check of my list for January.  This is what we did:

Hubby – dinner out and ice skating – 3 hours – $40

Lainey – hot chocolate and great conversation at local coffee shop – 1 hour – $5

Faith – Hot chocolate, checking out books, and reading at our local library – 1 hour – $1

West – Sledding and froyo at Peachwave – $7 – 1 1/2 hours

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As you can see, none of my kid dates cost a lot of money or a lot time, but they were well worth it to my kids and gave me a brief respite from the mommy guilt that I carry around most of the time.  Even after a quick devotional every morning, dinner together most evenings, and reading together and tuck-ins most nights, I never feel like I’ve done quite enough. That is when I rely on my heavenly Father to fill in the gaps and to remind me that all of our goals will never quite be reached this side of heaven.

A Beautiful Choice

I received an email from Focus on the Family today that describes the story of Susan, a woman whose life and the life of her baby were changed after she watched last year’s Tim Tebow Super Bowl commercial.  You can watch Susan’s story here.

As a mother of 3, my 2 adopted daughters and son that we had through a gestational carrier, I know how this story could have turned out differently. My girls’ birth mothers could have made a different choice.  Instead, they chose adoption.   A forever family for their babies and for two parents-to-be desperately desiring that blessing.

I also know what my son looked like at just a few days old.  A tiny bundle of dividing cells, very much alive and thriving, placed inside another woman’s womb to carry and care for for the 10 month journey.  Within 6 weeks he went from pencil point to beating heart — a tiny human no less person because of his early stage of development and even more miraculous because of the 10-year journey that led to this.

If people would step back from their rhetoric for just a moment and consider the miracle that is life, how different our world could be.

The Gift of a Snow Day

 

As a teacher, I am blessed to experience what many only experience as children:  the snow day.  Let me tell you, I think I appreciate this surprise gift of time even more now than I did when I was a kid.  It is an opportunity to clean house, do laundry, and (yes!) even grocery shop so that the weekend is deliciously free of these tedious tasks and I am free to enjoy my family and maybe even some “me” time.

Once I showered and dressed, I spent 15 minutes in front of my “happy light” (which ironically is actually a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) light eating my morning bowl of cereal and perusing BH & G.  Vitamin D is a rare commodity here in the Michigan winters and this light gets me through the long, gray days.SAD light

 

My 4th grader, Faithy, spent time creating her mobile about the capuchin monkey.  Even though we do not share the same genes, we very easily could considering how alike we are.  Totally type-A, we both have a hard time relaxing, feeling our best when we are working toward an end goal.

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How about you?  How would you spend a surprise gift of one day – a snow day just for you?