04/12/16

Too Boring for a Bullet Journal?

Have you seen all the posts and pins about bullet journals? These journals are the newest system for planning and reflecting all in one, and they are everywhere I look on the internet. Some of them are colorful and well-organized, while others are even quite artistic, and I must admit they have caught my eye. For months I have been on the sidelines, merely looking at other people’s journals but not really keeping one of my own. I mean really, do I need a lovely decorated page in a notebook to tell me that on Monday I’m going to roast two chickens, do a load of laundry, and pay the bills? The simple answer is, no I do not. All of these things are foregone conclusions, and I will probably get them done whether I write them down or not. I guess I’m just not much of a planner, and there’s really not that much going on in my life that I need to plan. I think that really, I am just too boring to keep a bullet journal.

I may or may not be boring, but regardless, the siren call of the internet is too hard to resist, and so I have started a new journal.  I don’t think what I have started can truly be called a bullet journal because I am terrible at following anyone else’s directions for doing pretty much anything. (I rarely follow lesson plans when I teach or recipes when I cook.) I prefer to think of my new notebook as “bullet journal inspired.” It’s basically a place to keep anything I need to record, complete with a handy index.

bulletjournal

I’ve been using my journal as a calendar and a place for things like the boys’ spelling lists since January, but this month I’m adding another element that I call my “Daily Pages.”  I have a place to list tasks (like roasting the chickens), a place to keep track of my anxiety triggers, a place to keep track of joys and thanksgivings, and a place for general reflection.  These four items cover a two-page spread each day.  In the end, I don’t think the question will be whether I need to remind myself in writing to roast the chickens, but rather whether writing about my day helps me to be more intentional and fulfilled, or whether it instead makes me hopelessly narcissistic.

It’s too soon to answer that question, but I do know what is helpful: making the “Daily Pages” my habit for April is helping me to actually get them done.  Thomas and Jack are completing the “Daily Pages” habit with me.  This is the second month we have worked on a habit together.  There are numerous books on habit out there, but I read (most of) this short little volume from Charlotte Mason and decided to give it at try.  During the month of March we worked on the habit of cleaning up after ourselves.  Our efforts made me wonder if Charlotte Mason ever encountered boys like mine, but in the end I think we did get a little neater!  The April “Daily Pages” habit has been somewhat easier to enforce.

The boys’ pages are different from mine.  On one side of their two page spread they have a task/assignment list written by me that they need to follow.  On the other side, they are to write a paragraph about the events of their day.   I am hoping this will help us incorporate a little more structure and accountability in our home school days.  My inspiration for their “Daily Pages” came from this post on spiral notebooks, and also from this article about Montessori journals for elementary students.  I have long aspired to follow the Montessori principle of “freedom with responsibility,”  but this is not always easy to do.  We did try to follow the Montessori idea of recording times and activities completed in list fashion, but it did not work for us because our loosely structured home school day does not really have a definite beginning or end.  If my kids are “learning all the time,” it would follow that they would be listing activities all day long, and that gets a bit tedious.  Instead, we’re just catching the highlights with a paragraph at the end of the day.  So far, our combination of task list and summary paragraph seems to be working well.

Flowers from Trader Joe's. Another internet idea I couldn't resist!

Flowers from Trader Joe’s. Another internet idea I couldn’t resist!

We’ll keep up our “Daily Pages” habit for the month of April and see how it goes.  If we really like it, I may report back with an update.  For now, I can check “blog post” off my daily task list.  The next thing on my list is the laundry….

 

 

 

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04/4/16

Easter Celebration

easterboys1This evening as I write, it is snowing outside.  Honestly, I doubt that many of us in Western New York are surprised. We were more surprised, and quite delighted, with the gorgeous warm weather of Easter Sunday.  Our family had planned a nice Easter dinner, but after the events of the morning, we were quite exhausted.  Instead, we scrapped our dinner plans and spent the afternoon napping and then playing outside.  The big boys hid eggs for Walter, and once he figured out there were little cookies inside, he quite enjoyed his first Easter egg hunt!  We discovered that he does not like to walk on the grass because it is too bumpy for him and makes him feel unstable.  We consequently had to move all the eggs to the edge of the sidewalk.  I guess the activity could be more accurately labeled “Easter egg gathering” rather than “Easter egg hunting.”

After gathering eggs and eating cookies, Walter enjoyed a ride in the stroller as we walked around the neighborhood, and Thomas and Jack ran off to play with their friends.  The entire neighborhood was ringing with children’s happy voices.  It was lovely.

And for dinner?  We ordered pizza!  It was one of the best decisions we made the entire day.  We still set the table with nice plates, and even candles.  We traditionally give up lighting candles for Lent.  Back when David and I were young newlyweds we would give up Doritos and Coke.  Now we are a bit more health conscious, and needless to say, there really aren’t any Doritos or Cokes to give up! (Or caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, at least for me. It’s like my whole life is Lent.)  So we give up candles.  It’s kind of like giving up the “Alleluia” in church.  Everything is a bit more somber until Easter Sunday arrives.  Then we light the candles again because Jesus, the Light of the World, has risen from the dead!

We ate our candlelight pizza, and we talked about what it was like for the disciples that first Easter evening.  I don’t have any pictures because we were too busy enjoying one another’s company.  After supper, everyone stayed together in the living room and just played until Walter’s bedtime.  We were not somber.  On the contrary, I’m sure that Walter banged all his lids, and there may have even been a party horn involved.  Throw the balls!  Bang the lids!  Blow your party horn!  Jesus is alive!

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crocus

 

 

 

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04/3/16

Easter Sunday: Resurrection, Music, and Psychology

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.  John 20:11-18

The story of Mary Magdalene is comforting to me.  She was tormented by all those demons, and it must have made her crazy, but Jesus loved her in spite of all that.  He loved her enough to rescue her from the demons, to die for her sins, and then, like icing on the cake, to appear to her personally after His resurrection.  I am tormented sometimes by anxiety and depression, and sometimes it makes me crazy, but Jesus loves me too.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Matthew 5:8

I don’t really think that “crazy” and “pure in heart” are the same thing, but through His death and resurrection, Jesus purifies my heart, and some day I will see Him face to face just like Mary Magdalene.

I’m sure Mary Magdalene was in my subconscious as Easter approached.  She was there along with many other thoughts, some of which make me very anxious each time a holiday approaches.

I attended both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and kept my composure, which I view as a small victory. Easter Sunday arrived, and I was anxious, but still everything was pretty much under control.  Thomas and Jack were playing for the service, and that always makes a mother a little nervous, but they were well prepared, and there was really no reason for concern.

We had prepared two pieces of pre-service music.  Jack was to go first, and Thomas was to follow.  The instruments were all tuned, and the boys were in their places.  About thirty seconds before Jack was to begin, another young boy entered the sanctuary.  He was high on the excitement of life, chocolate, the Easter Bunny, and perhaps even the Tooth Fairy, and he came running across the front of the church smack dab into Jack’s cello.  The cello fell with a clatter onto its bridge.  In an instant, my carefully guarded composure disappeared.

The tension that was simmering under the surface welled up into panic.  I started to scold.  “Jack!  I told you to hold onto your cello!”

“Deborah.”  I turned around, and there was my pastor all in his white alb and chasuble.  He said something to the effect that it wasn’t Jack’s fault.  Thomas re-tuned the cello, and really the worst of the outcome was that we started five minutes late.  Still, I was shaken.  By the time we got home from the service, I was exhausted.

Wednesday afternoon found me in my  therapist’s office for a regularly scheduled appointment.  I recounted the events of Easter Sunday, and I mused that it was really a bit of a relief to panic out in the open.  If the cello had not clattered to the floor, no one would have seen my anxiety simmering below the surface.  I would have been left to wrestle with it alone.  Instead it was witnessed by someone who cared.

I told my therapist how comforting it was to hear my name.  Thinking back on the service I cannot even recall the Gospel account. (It wasn’t from John).  What I remember the most is the sound of my name being spoken.  “It’s really kind of silly,” I admitted.

“No, it’s not silly,” my therapist countered.  He explained that what I had experienced was called anchoring.  When I was upset before church, the sound of my name spoken in a caring manner served to anchor me.

Mary was upset in the garden on that first Easter morning.  Then she heard Jesus speak her name, “Mary.”  In that moment, I think she must have felt anchored.  I know John wrote the account as a witness to the resurrection and not as a psychology lesson, but really, who could anchor someone more than Jesus?

 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

Jesus has redeemed me, and through my baptism, He calls me by name.  I am anchored in my place as a child of God.  It is a true blessing when God sends people to care for me, but even when I am alone and tormented, I can rest secure in the knowledge of my baptism.  As Martin Luther states in his Large Catechism:

When our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.

My pastor is not always standing behind me, and my therapist will soon be retiring, but I am anchored in my baptism.  I have the promise of life and salvation, and that promise is always and forever.


 

 

 

 

 

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03/23/16

Crucified with Christ

My husband, the Biblical scholar, told me that I hate God.

I didn’t want to believe him, but the evidence was quite clear:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45

My words, from the abundance of my heart, had been hateful.  Worry and despair had filled its chambers, leaving little room for hope or gratitude.  I tried to hope.  I prayed, asking for peace, for joy, and for the ability to trust.  I went to Bible study every Tuesday, seeking for solace, for something to slow the panicked rhythm of my heart.  My pastor handed out little prayer cards with a picture of Jesus on the front.  One of the lines of the prayer is, “Thank you for my life.”  I do not pray that line.  I am thankful that I am alive and healthy so that I can take care of my family, but there are many days when depression and anxiety make me wish I had never been born.

prayercard

I may not have said, “I hate God,”  but I have certainly said “I hate myself,” and I also have said, “I wish I were dead.” I have effectively said that I hate what God has made and what He has given me.  And when my rage boils over, I can find hateful words for my family as well.  I cannot be filled with such anger and loathing and think that I don’t hate God, my Creator and the One who sustains my very existence.

Of course, I have always known that I am a sinner.  I could even, if hard pressed, say that I am an “enemy of God.”

 While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. Romans 5:8

For if, when we were God’s enemies……Romans 5:10

It’s just easier to think of these things in the abstract, especially come Good Friday.  Come Good Friday, it’s okay to think of myself as one of the women looking on.  I especially love Mary Magdalene.  Her Lord had saved her from seven demons, and now she is watching, heartbroken, as He dies for her sins.   If not Mary Magdalene,then perhaps one of the disciples.  The disciples fall asleep when they should stay awake, they desert Jesus when they should stick by his side, and deny Him after claiming to be brave.  The disciples are sinful, and Jesus dies for them too.  Yet, somehow their failings seem understandable from my human point of view.  At least they weren’t part of the angry mob, the ones who rage against God, crying “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  But this is exactly where I find myself.  I find myself bloodthirsty and hateful, calling out for the death of God, wishing that I didn’t exist and that He didn’t either.

How can I live with myself, knowing this is where I belong in the story?  How can I come to God in prayer after thirsting for His blood?  My husband tells me that it all for a purpose, not that it is okay, but that it is for a purpose.  But what purpose could be served by my bloodthirsty rage?

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  Galatians 2:20

I don’t have to wish I were dead!  My sinful self with all its worry and despair has already been put to death.  I do not consider myself to be suicidal, but as someone who has at least entertained thoughts of my own death, I find this so comforting.*  When I cry out for the death of God, I also cry out for the death of my own wretchedness, and God, in His mercy, delivers me!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  2 Corinthians 5:17

My worry, my despair, my rage, have all passed away.  It will not be realized in full on this side of heaven, but even here on earth, I am a new creation.

And what of my bloodthirsty cry?  God uses that too.  He gives me the gift of His body and blood, and every time I eat and drink, I know the promise of sins forgiven.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks My blood remains in me, and I in them.  John 6:56

My sins are great.  My mental health is a contributing factor, but it is not an excuse.  I decide to confess.  Private confession is not a common practice at my church, but it is offered, and so I go.  I hear that I am forgiven, and I hear that I am not alone.  I decide I need to write so that perhaps someone else will know she is not alone either.

The days here on earth will always have darkness.  As long as we are here, we will always have one foot in Good Friday.  But we also have a claim on Easter Sunday.  Jesus has already risen.  We cry for His death, but He gives us new life.  We are in Him, and He is in us, and He will help us get through this Good Friday world.   We are already a new creation.  And when we get to heaven, it will always be Easter Sunday.  Our cries will not be of rage and despair, but of love and praise for the One who created and redeemed us, and we will celebrate the new creation in full.

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*Disclaimer:  I am not a mental health professional. I wrote that I did not want others to feel alone.  I also wrote that I do not consider myself suicidal.  If you do feel alone, and if you do feel suicidal, please get help.  Please call your therapist, or your doctor, or a friend, or your pastor, or a crisis hotline.  If need be, go to the emergency room.  You are not alone, and I hope my words give you hope.

 

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12/10/15

Broken for Grace

“How would your life be different without Jesus?”  This was the question put to us at our Tuesday morning Bible study.  I was not in a good mood, feeling anxious and a bit recalcitrant as I thought glumly, if it weren’t for Jesus, I could be a pharmacist and making a lot of money by now.  Such a profane answer was not expected, I was certain, and so I sat quietly, keeping my thoughts to myself.

It made me angry that I would have such an answer.  I was angry at myself for thinking such things in the middle of Bible study.  And I was just a little angry with God for not leading me to choose the path of a well-paid pharmacist in the first place.

Other people had more appropriate answers.  Growing up in Michigan, the person sitting next to me had been a sullen child and a failure in school.  Participation in church was the one bright spot for this troubled child, and it literally became a saving grace.  I may have grown up in Michigan too, but just 100 miles to the north, my childhood and adolescence played out quite differently.  Except for that A- in algebra, I was a straight A student, and I was a good girl, too.  I knew the rules, and I played by them.  I didn’t need the saving grace of the Church.  Of course, I went to church.  (That was one of the rules, after all.)  Of course, I knew that I was a sinner and saved solely by God’s grace and Jesus’ death on the cross.  Beyond that, I was pretty self-sufficient.  I trust in God, but I still need to study.  That was my motto, as I was all about those marks on my report card, and I must say, it seemed to serve me quite well.

I became proud.  I didn’t see it in myself, but my friend did.  She would become so exasperated with me that we wouldn’t speak for months.  Now I understand why.

1988

trophies

Throughout my high school years, I continued to worship at the altar of perfectionism, and when graduation came, I had a variety of options available to me.  My mom wanted me to become a pharmacist.  Perhaps this was a sensible choice, but all of those chapel services during my parochial grade school years had left an impression.  I had become convinced that I needed to tell children about Jesus, and so I became a parochial school teacher.  Not only did I become a parochial teacher, but I also married a seminarian-would-be-pastor.  Surely a good girl like myself would make a fine pastor’s wife.

My husband and I embarked on our journey into adulthood with all the idealism of youth.  I’m pretty sure I felt that I was doing God a favor with the path I had chosen, but that path was not without its challenges.  I found my job as a teacher to be very stressful, but I soldiered on, still relying on my own self-sufficiency.  I had no grace for myself and no grace for my husband.  I was relieved when he took a position at a church and I could become a stay-home mom.

Relief was short-lived.  A life built on perfectionism and self-sufficiency can easily crumble, and that’s exactly what happened.  In 2005, my second son was born with a birth defect.  His tethered spinal cord was surgically corrected, but my emotions had come undone.  During this time, my husband was also struggling in his ministry.  We began to unravel, and I began a steep descent into depression and anxiety.  I felt as though I were drowning.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah 43:2

I was not burned, but I was broken.  My facade of perfectionism and self-sufficiency shattered to pieces.

brokenpieces

 I went to the hospital for a total of four weeks in the course of eight months, and other people took care of my children.  Recovery was not complete, nor was it immediate, but I believe God used those years in the waters and fire to refine me.  He used those years to humble me, and to make me trust in Him for more than an A on a test.

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I come to Tuesday morning Bible study not as one doing God a favor, but as one begging for grace, hoping to learn to better trust in the One who gives it.  How would your life be different without Jesus?  All at once I am thinking back to my days of perfectionism, wishing to be self-sufficient, rather than praying for a posture of humility and trust.

I am still broken.

There is a little more discussion, and then we prepare to take the Lord’s Supper.  The pastor travels around our little circle offering us Christ’s body and blood.  “The body of Christ, broken for you.”  His body, broken for me.  God knew that I was broken, that I would be broken, that I am broken, and He gave his Son to be broken for me.  By His brokenness I am made whole.

cross

Without Jesus, I would still be relying on myself.  With Him, I can rely upon grace.  It is not easy to humbly trust, and I do not do it well, but the grace is there.  God is always there, even in my weakness, ready to bless me with His undeserved love.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

As I am leaving to go home, I am stopped by another member of the group.  She gives me a Christmas card.  Inside there is a check to use for my family just because “God placed me on her heart.”  As if Jesus’ very body and blood were not enough, I am now reminded that God is taking care of my earthly needs as well.  I have more than enough.  I have been given grace upon grace.  I never really wanted to be a pharmacist anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11/20/15

Autumn Again

walterleaves

About this time last year, I wrote a post about autumn in Delaware Park.  Walter was still a newborn; I typed with one hand, and held him with the other.  Several posts were completed in this fashion.  Then the holidays arrived, and with them came the arrival of “real life” once more.  I kept meaning to get back to this page.  Here I am, a year later!

Autumn has been good to us again this year.  Winter was interminable, spring was rather short, summer was just so-so, but autumn has been good.   Think of that statement as a comparison rather than a complaint.  Truthfully, all the seasons have been good and filled with blessing, but autumn seems especially so.

This autumn, Walter turned one.  He is the delight of the family.  He is cruising, but not yet walking; babbling, but not yet saying words; sleeping well, but not yet sleeping through the night; getting bigger, but not really growing hair.  He loves to eat, he loves his brothers, and his newest source of pleasure is flopping down on his tummy to go down the slide at the playground

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tompumpkin

Thomas and Jack have been delightful in their own ways.  They have been busy with music and hockey, and have kept us busy as chauffeurs.  Oddly, I usually don’t mind all the hockey runs.  It takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of food to keep Walter occupied, but it’s nice to get out of the house!

The weather has been beautiful so we try to get out of the house on a regular basis.  We enjoy the once colorful and now fallen leaves, the deep blue skies, and the golden sunlight.  We come in, drink apple cider, and munch on corn chips while feeding Walter his yogurt.  We turn on the white Christmas lights and light a candle as the sun goes down on these ever-shortening days.  The house is cozy, but not quiet.  There is a perpetual undercurrent of activity as the five of us and the cat share our days and nights together.

ivespark

threepumpkins

That is my autumn update.  I feel like I’ve written a Christmas letter!  Perhaps I’ll write again sometime, and perhaps next time I won’t wait an entire year!

 

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11/17/14

Fourteen Days and Delaware Park: 10/31-11/13

underbridge

Thomas:

  • Scored his first hockey goal of the season.
  • Backed-up my old, dying laptop and set up my new one.  Thanks, Thomas!
  • Was not too old to enjoy our afternoon with friends at the park.

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bluecapewillow2

Jack

  • Went trick-or-treating dressed up as “Everything Man.”
  • Finished watching Liberty’s Kids, and immediately incorporated what he learned in his dramatic play.
  • Was the only child at the playground wearing a blue cape.

jackwillow2

boyswillow2

Walter

  • Spent a lot of time hanging out on the kitchen table.
  • Seemed to gain more control of his hands.  His movements may be unconscious, but even so, he bats at his toys and moves his pacifier in the general direction of his mouth.
  • Marked the one month anniversary of his birth.
  • Weighed in at the pediatrician’s office at seven pounds, twelve ounces.
  • Went on his first outing to Delaware Park.

leaves2

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11/8/14

Fourteen Days: 10/17-10/30

tomandwc

Thomas:

  • Managed to get a turn to hold Walter.
  • Used his newly refurbished video camera to capture footage of the partial solar eclipse.
  • Worked with Dad to record some violin and guitar Christmas arrangements.

jackandwcread

Jack:

  • Went to his first BSS Fiddle Club rehearsal and decided that he liked it.
  • Spent time holding, reading to, and playing with Walter.
  • Was very helpful when we took Walter on his first shopping trip to Wegmans.

wchalloween

Walter:

  • Really ramped up his nursing efforts (leaving Mom with significantly less free time).
  • Seemed to be more alert, spending more and longer times awake.
  • Spent time looking in his mirror, lying on his back kicking, and lying on his tummy moving his head from side to side.
  • Marked the four week anniversary of his birth.
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11/2/14

While I Was Nesting

Between David’s work schedule and my late pregnancy doctor’s appointments and nesting tendencies, September was a pretty crazy month for us.  We did not, however, completely neglect our older children.  To prove we were paying attention, allow me to share their September highlights:

jackcandles

Jack turned nine.  This was a two-day event.  On the fifteenth we had friends over for hamburgers and cupcakes.  The sixteenth, Jack’s actual birthday, was just a family affair.  I made Jack pancakes for lunch, and then he waited for Dad to get home from work before opening his cards and gifts.  His main gift was a pair of roller blades because there are a few months of the year here in Western New York when it is not cold enough to ice skate outside.

jackrollerblades

Upon seeing his brother in action, Thomas decided that he needed some roller blades too.  He used some of his saved money and earned the rest by painting the outside trim around our porch.  Now both Jack and Tom can use their roller blades to practice hockey in our driveway.

Aside from painting and buying roller blades, the highlight of Tom’s September was his participation at the Springwater Fiddlers’ Fair.  He attended this with the other members of the BSS Fiddle Club, and he was all smiles when he got home. The BSS group played two sets, and in between I think they ate a lot of sugar and generally had a good time.  This was one of Tom’s first trips without either David or myself, and I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed himself thoroughly.

tomfiddleclub

David may have been busy, and I may have been nesting, but it is evident that, no, we did not forget our older children.  It is also evident that, yes, they really are getting older: having birthdays, earning money, going off without Mom or Dad.  It’s a privilege to observe and enjoy these older years while also cherishing the younger ones.

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