Advent Books: A Holiday Family Tradition

This is the story of how I proudly became a bag lady. It starts off as kind of a downer. You know, losing my job and all, but it has a happy ending. Promise. And it’s an ending I hope you’ll love enough to work into your own holiday celebrating.

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THE STORY OF OUR ADVENT BOOKS TRADITION

Once upon a time, there was a mama who lost her job of 8+ years. This came just before the holidays, adding to the stress and sadness of it all. At home, she had a new(ish) one-year-old baby girl, making the Christmas season more magical than ever. Unfortunately, it also happened to make the layoff that much more stressful. How was Mama Meg going to make Christmas happen when her funds were just cut in a major way?

Okay, we’ll pause the fairytale right here to say I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Mama Meg, your tiny tot couldn’t care less about presents beneath the tree. Hell, Santa could deliver her an empty cereal box and she’d be overjoyed. Yes, I now know this to be true. But, as a relatively new mom, I wanted everything to be perfect and naively thought that meant pretty presents beneath the tree. Soooo… you’ll have to go with me on this one. ;)

Phew! Glad we got that cleared up. Let’s continue.

Suddenly, Mama Meg was without the money to enjoy extra holiday outings and gifts and all of the things. “Whatever will I do for my little princess,” Mama Meg sighed.

Luckily, MM’s current predicament wasn't the worst thing in the world. You see, MM enjoys a challenge and an opportunity to use her creativity to problem solve, and that’s just what she set to do. She would make the holiday season merry and bright one way or another.

One day, while in ye olde Target shop, MM happened upon Christmas books that only cost $1. This was back in the magical days of the DOLLAR Spot, when all items were $1 in this part of the store. No, it’s true. This isn’t lore. Aww… the good old days! ;) Seeing the affordable book, MM had an idea. “I’ll give my princess the gift of books!” One Christmas book each night in December, to be exact. Just like that, the Advent Books tradition was born!

You might be wondering, did MM and Princess M live happily ever after? You bet! They even had a jr. princess join the castle chaos, making the Advent Book tradition all the more magical. Here’s what it’s all about:

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ADVENT BOOK BAGS

You can either create bags from cute Christmas fabric or purchase bags. And that’s if you want bags at all. For the first couple of years, I used old shirt boxes and wrapping paper. I introduced the bags when I had the funds to do so, and I’m so glad I did. They can be used year after year, which makes this project so easy to set up (with far less waste!)

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I did a combo of handmade bags and amazon-bought canvas bags. The fun thing about the handmade is you can make them in any color scheme you want. I went with pastel Christmas to complement the trees in my girls’ rooms.

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To my bags, I added die cut numbers (actually the same numbers I used when I made my monthly onesies). I simply ironed the numbers on by first treating the back of them with a fusible iron-on webbing.

FINDING AFFORDABLE BOOKS

Books can be expensive. I get it if that’s the first concern to jump to mind when reading this. You’re absolutely right! But there are resources for affordable options. Some of my favorites include:

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  • Target. While the “Dollar Spot” may be a thing of the past, they still have the “One Spot,” which often includes $1 board books. These are especially good for younger babes, but even school-aged kids can appreciate them.

  • Dollar Tree (or your version of a dollar store). They have an entire book and coloring book section. Many of our books came from here.

  • FB area yard sale pages. Warning: These can become highly addictive. It’s so much fun finding a person looking to offload their old books. I scored some AWESOME vintage Christmas books this way.

  • Traditional yard sales. These are harder to come by this time of year, at least in these parts, but if you live in warmer waters (lucky!), this is another great place to score stories.

  • Library sales. Once a year, our city library has a massive book sale. They practically give their books away at these, making it a gold mine for this project.

  • Schoolastic book orders. If you have school-age children, the little pamphlets that come home with your kiddos are a honey hole of bargain books. I updated our collection quite a bit when Maggie started kindergarten (and kindermusik).

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Of course, you don’t have to rummage and scrounge as I did to make this fairytale a reality. That’s just the boat I found myself in when I set this tradition up. Anymore, I LOVE to visit local book stores and add a new book or two each year. It helps keep them age appropriate for Maggie, too. One of my favorite spots here in Salt Lake is Storybook Nook at Gardner Village. If you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail, it’s kind of like that. The owner loves books and brings in the cutest stories. There’s always a special seasonal assortment on display just as you enter the store.

A PLAN IN THE BOOKS

Now that you have your books, it’s time for a plan. Ask yourself if there are any other holiday traditions that could impact your book opening order. For example, I always give my girls an ornament on Dec. 1, which just happens to be Book Bag #1, so I put the smaller ornament bags in Book Bag #1.

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Book Bag #1 also contains our Elf on the Shelf book. It’s something we get going at the first of the month, so it makes sense to have it first.

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On Christmas Eve, we read The Night Before Christmas and open new jammies, so that book and the jams can be found in Book Bag #24.

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Occasionally, I work other surprises into the bag, such as little coloring books or a holiday movie. I try to do this rarely so I don’t have to replenish my stock from year to year, but it is a nice change of pace on weekend nights.

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WHERE WE READ

Each of my girls have their own small Christmas trees in their rooms, so we put the books ‘neath their trees. It makes it super easy to open one at bedtime and snuggle in for story time.

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Now that I have two kiddos, I split the books. Half are under one tree and the other half are under the other. We just move from room to room to read. Perhaps I’ll eventually have enough for each kiddo to open a book each night, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Opening and reading together is fun. As Santa would say, sharing is caring!

THE HEALTHY (AND CHEAP!) ADVENT APPROACH

No chocolate or expensive trinkets here. Just books that we can read year after year. Seems like a win to me. Okay, so maybe I also sneak treats in the bags from time to time, but that’s totally optional, you know, if you have self control and all. ;)

I’ve wanted to blog about this tradition for years but never seemed to find the time. Do I have time today? No, not really. But it’s high time I share. I already have my cute neighbor now doing this with her kiddos. Want to join us? We’d love to have you in our Advent Books club. :)

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What are your holiday traditions? I’m a sucka for the tradition and love reading about what others do. Drop me a line here or on IG or FB if you have something fun to share. Not fun? I’ll pass. (I kid. I kid. I’d love to read anything you do that makes the holiday feel like “the holidays” to you.)

Thanks for seeing this story to its end. I hope it leaves you feeling inspired.

Cheers!
Megan

Make a Bitty Haunted House Decoration

Your full-size house isn’t the only one to decorate this season. Create a bitty shadowbox house to display your favorite Halloween photos. Heck! Why not make a house for every holiday? They’re fun and easy to do.

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Embrace the box’s depth by filling the little compartments with layers of detail. In this frame, I used Queen & Co’s Rectangle Shaker Kit to create an interactive shaking element.

Queen & Company Shaker

This window pulls out to reveal an accordion-folded section, made with paper from Echo Park Paper Co. and embellishments from Simple Stories. So cute!

Simple Stories Halloween paper

Surprise! Add journaling/written details behind a little flap. The paper clip helps indicate the lifting mechanism.

Echo Park Paper Company paper

PRODUCT SWAP

If you’re here because you already watched the show and are interested in participating in my planner swap, check out this photo on my Instagram account to sign up. It’s a fun way to get new supplies and enjoy a little snail mail.

planner supplies

THEMED PHOTOS SHOOTS BY JENNIFER LYN LANCE

If you’re here because you want details on the AWESOME Freak Show/Circus photo shoot we participated in, you’ll want to check out Jennifer Lyn Lance on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Lyn Lance

Photo Credit: Jennifer Lyn Lance

She has new themed shoots all the time and also does gorgeous photos for your favorite occasions—newborn, cake smashing, holiday, and more!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Lyn Lance

Photo Credit: Jennifer Lyn Lance

No matter your reason for stopping by, I’m sure glad you did. Many thanks for giving me some of your e-time. XOXO

Cheers!

FORKS!

Forks. It’s not just the home of a dreamy vampire or tools used to wind spaghetti. They’re moments of division along life’s path. I have a feeling we encounter forks in the road more often than we realize—subtle points of decision, where one choice will take us one way and the other another. Once in a while, these splits feel more monumental. Especially, it seems, when an opportunity is missed. We’re left on the other route, wondering what would have been, had we chosen differently. I almost found myself in such a painful place not so long ago…

DATE: December, 2016
PLACE: Trolly Square—a mall we visit 2-3 times a year, as it’s pretty far from our home
SCENE 1: A busy toy store

Standing in line at a toy store during the holidays means a wait. Good thing the store had a play area set up where Mags could keep herself busy. The situation got even better when a cute young girl approached and accepted Maggie’s invitation to “pway wif me.” When the time came for the girl to go, the sweetest words rang out: “Tell her thanks for playing with you.” They came from the little girl’s mom. And they were music to my ears.

I know this will sound… weird? Maybe that’s not the word, but I know my appreciation of manners is a little inflated here. It was just SO refreshing to encounter such a polite mother/daughter duo amidst the holiday chaos. I flashed an appreciative smile in the mannerly mom’s direction just as they went on their way.

These photos were taken just after Mags' encounter with the polite little girl. She was on cloud nine as she danced about the courtyard.

These photos were taken just after Mags' encounter with the polite little girl. She was on cloud nine as she danced about the courtyard.

SCENE 2: The Trolly Square parking garage

As we walked to our car, Mags asked if we could go in the attached grocery store. Being so far from home, this didn’t make the most sense, but I did need a few things, so the idea of not having to make a second stop was all the persuasion I needed. As we waited for the elevator to take us to the store, I saw my new mom crush again. She and her children appeared to have just gotten off the elevator we were waiting to get on. Through the crowd of people also waiting for their lift, I found myself shouting at the woman. It happened before I had much time to think about what I was doing…

“Hey! It’s you!” I hollered, almost too excitedly.

“Hi, again,” the kind stranger said. “It looks like our girls are all about the same ages. That’s fun! Do you live around here?”

“No. We actually live about 30 min. south of here,” I replied.

“Oh… Do you come here often?”

Never has this cliche pickup line sounded so sweet. Though, you wouldn’t know it by my reply. I scoffed a “No!” just as our elevator door opened. Why I suddenly turned into a smartass, I’ll never know. I sure didn’t mean for my reply to come out in that way with that tone, but before I could correct the situation, it was time to go. The open doors forced us into rushed farewells, and we went our separate ways. Again.

FORKS!


As the elevator door closed, the split in my life path became painfully clear. I was presented with a fork in my road… and I made the wrong choice. Ouch! I’m often saying I want more friends for my little girls. And for myself, frankly. Here was the perfect opportunity to make such friends and I let them slip through my fingers. :(

As the elevator opened again, I couldn’t bring myself to get off. As Maggie began to exit, I pulled her back and told her we needed to go back. We had some new friends to find!

I know. This probably sounds kind of nuts, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted a FORKS do-over. Sadly, we walked and walked through that cold parking garage, and they were nowhere to be found. Opportunity: missed!

SCENE 3: The grocery store

As we were wandering the aisles, dinnertime crept upon us and my girls were hungry, so we made our way to the store’s deli. That’s when Maggie pointed and squealed with delight, “Look, Mom! My friend!” Sure enough, there was my mom crush and her two sweet girls. Only this time they were joined by a dude. Papa Bear, I assumed. Again, we exchanged hellos. I then went on to confess my failed attempt to find them in the parking garage. Turns out they weren’t leaving the store at all, only going to put a few bags in their car before grocery shopping. They too were sitting down for a deli dinner and asked if we wanted to sit with them. Yes! Yes we did!

FORKS!

It took three times to happen, but we finally touched down. I feel like the universe continued to throw these delightful people in my path for a reason. The first time around, I was smitten but not in the best place to act. The second time was blown by an unintentionally smarty reply and an open elevator. “Okay, fine,” the universe said. “Let’s give this a third go!” Good thing the third time was our charm. We had a great meal and made plans to get together after the holidays.

Since then, we’ve had two play dates. Our first was at our messy, crowded home. Here are a couple of shots from that visit.

The next was in their clean and open home. 

Judging by our homes alone, Mom Crush seems the yin to my yang. She wants to decorate her home with more wall art and personal touches but isn’t sure where to begin, so her walls remain bare. I, on the other hand, am on a serious Quest for Less and need help minimizing my life. She’s all about the minimalism and happens to be a clean freak. Looks like we balance each other well.

Actually, it’s becoming more and more clear we need each other for reasons far bigger than home design. We need each other because being a mom is H-A-R-D. Having others who get that and can make it a bit easier is everything. As my new friend so aptly put it, parenting takes a village.

As we discussed this, she touched on how it used to be easier when we could just send our kids outside to play the days away, but we no longer have that option, at least not in the heart of the city. I love what she said next: “Chasing the ‘American Dream,’ we’ve dreamed ourselves right into lonely boxes!”

It’s true. Home can be quite lonely for a stay-at-home parent. Sure, you’re surrounded by your children all the time, but that’s the great irony of it all—you’re NEVER alone but can feel SO lonely. It’s why having friends with children the same age(s) as yours can be a life saver. I’m SO thankful we happened upon these delightful souls, even if it did take a few tries to get us there.

As an interesting coincidence, we also have a crazy amount in common. We’re the same age. Our husbands are the same age. Our daughters are the same ages. Finding older parents with younger kids in Utah isn’t always easy. Not that you have to be the same ages to align, but it was an odd thing to have in common—especially since Cory and I are six years apart. Also, Cory and their Papa Bear are both musicians. How ‘bout that?

Today brought another opportunity to see our new friends. My mom crush and I made this wall hanging. This was her first time making a craft at home. Can you believe it? I love that I got to be the one to experience it with her. She was a fast learner with awesome ideas and plenty of creative vision. The project turned out far cuter than it would have had I made it on my own. And it already hangs proudly on her wall—bringing her one step closer to her decorating goals.

FORKS!

You simply never know when you’ll happen upon such life divides. Because of this, I’m going to do all I can to be more mindful of my surroundings and experiences. Sometimes the briefest encounters can have the most lasting, loving impacts!

 

My Quest for Less Continues with a BIG Move

If you follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you know I’ve been on a Quest for Less this year, with “Less” being my One Little Word for 2017.

It’s not that I don’t love and appreciate all I have. I do! And I realize it feels almost… ungrateful to want less when my life is filled with love, good people, work I enjoy, pretty possessions, and hobbies that make me happy.

The truth is, however, that having my dear Lauri Grace has tipped my scales in a major way. I had no idea how difficult it would be to go from one child to two. People had warned me, sure, but I don’t think it’s something one fully understands until it’s experienced.

WORD OF WARNING
I see my neurologist for a narcolepsy check-in once a year. The latest visit went a little something like this:

Doc: How have you been?
Me: Fine. You know, same ole, same ole.
Doc: What is your schedule like now?
Me: I usually wake up around 6 or 7 AM and work for a few hours before my children get up. I then get them ready for the day, work again at nap time, back to kiddos until my husband is home, and then back to work until midnight or later.
Doc: *wide eyed and upset
Doc: So, how many hours of sleep would you say you get a night?
Me: Probably an average of 3-6, depending on my work requirements.
Doc: Megan, I know no other way of putting this—Short sleep, short life!

Ouch! His words hit me like a ton of bricks. He looked me square in the eye with a level of seriousness I’ve never seen from him in the 11 years I’ve been seeing him. He then went on to say that it’s not a matter of if but when, as he discussed MAJOR health concerns such as heart disease and cancer. It was at that point I knew something had to give. But what?

I have been SO blessed since being unexpectedly laid off at Creating Keepsakes magazine. All of the work I do is work that has found me. And it’s all work I can do from home, on my schedule. AND it’s all FUN work that I sometimes have to pinch myself as I’m doing to see if it’s really “work.”

It started with Scrapbook & Cards Today magazine, first as a copy editor and then as the editor-in-chief! I was then asked to be a blogger/writer/photographer for Gardner Village, a local shopping center. They do so many fun things and often let me involve my sweet family and friends for free, which is SO nice! Most recently, I added writing and marketing work for Brick Canvas at Thanksgiving Point—a beautiful wellness destination owned by Shelli Gardner, who also owns Stampin’ Up!, where I got my crafting career start.

How could I possibly give any of this up? Do I get a nanny instead? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of wanting work that allows me to be home with my children?

IDENTITY CRISIS
I love my career. I’ve worked HARD for my career for years! I love my children. I worked HARD to have my children. (Making Lulu nearly killed me.) Being an older mother who has chosen to focus on career first leads to a difficult fork in the road. A tough decision inevitably has to be made. Do I:

1. Quit my work and focus on being a mom?
2. Continue to work and find childcare options?
3. Find employment I can do from home so I can also raise my children?

For me, three seemed the ideal option. I’m sure many would agree. But I soon learned it wasn’t always easy. I’m an extreme extrovert. I love people. I NEED interaction and brainstorming and collaboration. I’m also quick to succumb to guilt. I’ll be feeding my babies and thinking about how I should be working. Or I’ll be working while Lulu is crying from her crib for 30 minutes and Maggie is begging me to play with her. “Just five more minutes.” became a term I was using FAR too often at home. Followed by “Sorry I’m late in responding,” being the lead to far too many work emails. It was killing me. And I was losing my sense of direction and purpose. I wanted to be a strong, valuable contributor to a team. Or, in my case, several teams. But I obviously had my first calling and purpose sitting right in front of my face in the form of two gorgeous sets of fresh, expectant eyes. And I’m sure anyone can understand why my heart was drawn to those eyes in every way. I wanted to work, but I NEEDED to mother. My babies are my soul, and I don’t want to miss a thing!

THE QUEST CONTINUES

It was time to face reality and accept the fact that I’m not Superwoman and can not do it all. If I truly want the quality of my life to improve, I have to realize when I’ve maxed out and make the difficult decision to adjust for LESS. That’s when I called Catherine.

Catherine came to me just as I hit a low point in my career. It was the CHA following my CK position ending. I was asked to go to do freelance work for My Craft Channel. Feeling blue (and embarrassed!) about my 8-year job ending, I didn’t want to go to this show, but Kristine’s offer was generous and I love on-camera work, so I went. And boy am I glad that I did. It opened a few big doors for me, including introducing me to Catherine. It started with a simple “How would you like to do a blog post for me, reporting on what you’ve seen at CHA?” And that lead to “How would you like to be my copy editor?” And that ultimately lead to the EIC position. I was back in my element, doing magazine work I loved—a job where I could craft and also write about crafting. A job where I could work with amazing companies I’ve watched grow over the years. A job where I could support tremendously talented crafters and collaborate with the extremely gifted Cathy Zielske and Brandy Jesperson again. It felt like home!

As much as I love publishing and all of the wonderful benefits of working for a gorgeous crafting magazine, I slowly started to realize the position needed more than I was able to give. Between two autoimmune illness, two growing babies, and two aging parents, I was feeling so stretched and felt the impact it was having all around—both on my family/home and on my magazine family. It wasn’t fair to anyone involved. Soooo… I had to make that difficult phone call to Catherine, letting her know I was throwing in the towel. :( She, of course, understood. Being a mom of two herself and one who has also had to walk away from work in the past so she could raise her babes, she supported me and quickly went into transition mode. But not before offering me options. She suggested a hybrid position, where I could do some of my job and share some of it with another. I thought that was SO nice! It’s not every day you find someone who will make that kind of offer! In the end, however, I felt it would still be too much. But the idea of leaving the magazine fully didn’t feel right either. That’s when we discussed my having a column. Coincidentally, I had just wrapped our “Pic Tips” column for our Spring ’17 issue. The plan wasn’t for me to write it indefinitely. I had just stepped in as a guest columnist on this one. But I loved working on it. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and one I could teach on for days and days. So it was a natural transition, and I’m proud to now be the column’s full-time owner!!

I’m also proud to welcome Susan Opel to the seat of EIC. Our careers have been oddly paralleled over the years. When I left my position at Paper Crafts magazine to work for Simple Scrapbooks magazine, she was hired to replace me. And we’re two of the few from the CK empire of magazines who’ve remained actively involved in the crafting industry since departing our editorial positions when their magazines ceased. So when I thought about stepping down at SCT, she seemed an obvious choice. I was thrilled when Catherine interviewed her and ended up giving her the job. I think she is everything the position needs. She’s highly organized, she’s creative, she’s gifted in writing and editing, and she’s tremendously upbeat. She’ll be the cheerleader Catherine and the SCT team deserve! And she couldn’t be happier to have landed where she has, which is all the better.

Photo Cred: Susan Opel

Photo Cred: Susan Opel

As hard as it was to accept defeat and step down, I do so feeling SO confident and happy. I’m confident the magazine is in good hands, and I’m happy that I’ve already felt a tremendous shift in my work/life balance. I play with Maggie every day. Sure, that seems a small enough thing, but it isn’t. It’s huge! And we’re loving it. I’m cleaning my house and further pursuing my Quest for Less with a massive home clean-out/purge, which is about 10 years overdue. I even managed to prepare some meals. You’ll notice I said “prepare,” as a stove was in no way involved. I’ll work up to that. (BTW, who knew salads were so HARD to make?! Wow! I’ve got my work cut out for me!) ;)

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR WORK
I will keep my positions at Gardner Village and Brick Canvas. They’re smaller jobs that require far less of my time. Financially, SCT was the bulk of my income, so there is a noticeable and scary gap there, but, you know what? It’s okay. I feel oddly at peace in that regard. I know some of the money will come in through new freelance opportunities that require less time (it already has some, which is a blessing!), and if it doesn’t for whatever reason, we will be okay. I don’t know why I’m so sure of this, but I am, which has been the greatest comfort.

While all feels right with the world, I do have one big regret. I wish I would have said a more proper goodbye to the SCT readers. I was going to do so in my editor’s note for our Spring issue, but there were reasons why that didn’t seem the best decision. In the chance you happen upon this post, my friends, please know how much I’ve loved being a part of your lives over the years. You’re a kind, loving community, and you’ve done so much to make me feel right at home and supported. Thank you for that. I’m glad we’ll still connect through my “Pic Tips” column. Remaining a member of the SCT team in this way is a wonderful treat! It means I don’t have to say goodbye. Instead, I’ll see you soon!

CLOSURE

I realize I’ve shared FAR more than you likely care to know—1,872 words and climbing, to be exact. Good grief! I guess this post is as much for me as it is for anyone else. It’s a way of achieving some closure. I now officially pass the baton to Susan. Together with Brandy Jesperson, Cathy Zielske, and Catherine Tachdjian, I know she’ll do awesome things! Thanks to each of you for making this one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I told Cory, it’s the first time I’ve actively decided to leave a job without another one to go to, which is terrifying. But I now realize that isn’t entirely true. I leave it to go to my most important job of all—the job of mom, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Thank you for supporting me so completely! That goes to the full SCT team. Your kindness has made a hard thing a bit easier. I adore you for that!

A second thanks to Catherine for making all of this possible in the first place. You picked me up and dusted me off when I was at a low point in my career. You’ve supported me and extended friendship and kindness even to my family (Cafwin, the chocolate lady! LOL). You have so many ideas and will continue to take SCT far. We can’t wait to see what happens next!

Mags, smiling over my last issue as EIC of SCT. What can I say? We're fans!

Mags, smiling over my last issue as EIC of SCT. What can I say? We're fans!

And now… here’s to continuing on my Quest for Less. I still have much work to do and hard decisions yet to be made, but I’m proud of myself for accepting my limits (not the least bit easy!) and doing what I can to make my situation better. I suppose that’s all we can do in life, right? After all, we get one chance to do things right. That’s a big deal and not something to be taken lightly.

Love & light to you, sweet friends!