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Goodness

Like a lot of families, we try to incorporate volunteering into our lives--to support our community and to teach our kids by example. As a family we have done countless school fundraisers and charity races. We’ve collected blankets for animals and coats for kids. We've hosted bake sales for needy families and planted trees for needy parks. Every one of those projects was worthwhile and engaging, but this year we decided to switch things up. Instead of one-time projects we wanted to offer a steady stream of goodwill. We wanted an ongoing commitment that our family could do together and feel a real sense of investment.

It sounded simple enough because of course a city the size of Austin has plenty of needs. Then we factored in our kids’ age range and our busy family life and it wasn’t so easy after all.

So we started researching and began with this wish list:

1. Something meaningful to us.

2. Something that works with our family schedule.

3. Something that lets us work with friends.

Y’all, I’m happy to say we found a match!

It’s only been a couple months, but it already feels so great. Once a month we meet some friends (another family of 5) at Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We make sandwiches for the homeless and load up one of the trucks that goes out for delivery 365 days a year. When our schedules allow, we hope to make some of the delivery runs, too. A few incredible stats: Mobile Loaves & Fishes has 16 trucks and more than 18,000 volunteers in 5 cities and 4 states. They have served nearly 3.9 million meals to the homeless. That’s too many sandwiches to count!

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The organization has also created a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive environment for the chronically homeless. We have worked out at the Community First Village and, like the truck ministry, it is full of family-friendly volunteer opportunities. In fact, one of MLF’s greatest strengths as an organization is how systematic and accessible they are. It’s so easy to volunteer that it takes away any obstacles or excuses.

Working with friends has been a huge perk. Our kids love seeing their friends in this type of setting. Sure, they joke around some, but they also take their jobs very seriously and try to out-awesome each other with their volunteer skills. As a bonus, with two families we have more flexibility if a kid gets sick or someone has a conflict.

And is the project meaningful for our family? Yes. Unfortunately, homelessness is a part of our daily landscape. We live in the middle of the city, a few blocks from an intersection that has at least one guy standing on the corner at all times of the day.

We use this intersection several times a day and for the past couple of years, a man named Eddie has been there almost every day. Eddie is there when we drive to ballet, to soccer, to art class. He’s there when we go to the grocery store, when we go for a run, when we go eat at a restaurant. Our kids see him when he’s cheerfully waving to all the drivers, when he’s yelling at a bystander’s dog, and when he’s stumbling up and down the curb with a bottle in his hand.

Countless times the kids have asked why nobody is helping Eddie. I’m usually at a loss for words. “Maybe people are trying...maybe he has a hard time accepting help...maybe he’s fighting some demons we don’t know about.”

Since we started helping Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the kids have a new question: “Do you think Eddie will get this sandwich tonight?” Maybe. I hope so. And if not this Eddie, then it will certainly help another Eddie we haven’t met.

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The holiday season is a great time of year to support your community, but it’s also a great time to commit to supporting it year-round. I hope you find something valuable that works for you and your family!

Other Austin organizations we love and support:

The Trail Foundation Austin Parks Foundation Little Helping Hands Austin Pets Alive

Throwback Thursday: 5 years

Phew...I'm back! Life got crazy for a variety of reasons, and my blog got the short end of the deal, but I'm happy to be here now! Today, in honor of Throwback Thursday AND my 5-year blogiversary, I'm looking through my old posts with fresh eyes. I'm discovering and rediscovering all kinds of treasures...

I'm finding that of course some things change and others stay the exact same. Siblinghood continues to be equal parts harmony, chaos, discord and joy. That's why we call it Sibling Revelry, right?

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I'm finding excellent and timely reminders about parenting and forgotten photos that need no caption.

I'm finding that I hardly recognize the faces in my early blog days.

And I'm finding that some things really never get old. No wonder these are my kids' favorite three posts: Next lesson: What is lame? See also: "Totally bogus" I mean, seriously

I'm finding that I STILL get traffic on this post and frequent requests for the bumper stickers. (I've still got them if you want. Long live Tami Taylor!)

But mostly I'm finding that I'm grateful to have this blog and people who cheer it on. I've always been happiest at the place where stories, family and art intersect. Thanks for sharing that space with me!

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The Club pt. 2

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 9.35.16 AM A few months ago I wrote about the book club I share with my 11-year-old daughter and the countless gifts it has given back to both of us. The club keeps my daughter connected to friends who share her passion for stories, and it keeps me connected to my child and a wonderful group of tweens.

Since the essay ran, I was thrilled to see The Huffington Post pick up the story and even more flattered to receive emails from readers looking for suggestions on starting a club of their own. I’m happy to share what we have learned! Just as with any endeavor, there are a million ways to organize it, but the following path has worked for our club.

STARTING OUT Enlist a few leaders. We have three Book Moms who are the primary organizers. We rotate houses each month and share responsibilities for reading the books, planning discussion questions and bringing snacks. We also pick the books (more to come on that). Even though we welcome any of the moms to join us at meetings, typically it’s just the three of us. I’ve heard of other book clubs that are true mother-daughter activities (with every mom and daughter attending together), but our goal from the beginning was to focus on the girls and their relationships. As a result, it’s the girls’ book club, but we three leaders happen to reap some pretty great mother-daughter rewards with our own girls. We also decided that a full mother-daughter club would change the vibe significantly. It would be easy for the meeting to turn into a social hour with so many adult friends. We also know that some of our girls specifically request that their moms do not crash book club. It's their club, thankyouverymuch.

As for the club size, we try to keep the group no larger than about 12 girls. Any more and it gets unwieldy.

Our group began when the girls were in 2nd grade. I love that we started so early because it gave them a common thread of friends throughout their years at our large elementary school. At this age, you typically have a wide variety of readers (reading levels, stamina, attention span.) To address that, we picked two books a month: one easy and one challenge book. Everyone read at least one book; some read both. By 4th grade, we cut back to reading only one (longer) book each month.

Every August we set up the schedule and then meet monthly from September to May, usually making the December and May meetings half meeting and half party.

PICKING BOOKS The first year we asked the girls to vote each month on a new book, but we quickly found it hard for families to plan on such short notice. Now the three Book Moms decide the list for the entire year so families have time to borrow/buy the books and the girls have time to finish them.

We get our books ideas from all over: We take suggestions from the girls, poll our favorite librarians and booksellers, look at the Texas Bluebonnet Award list (an annual list of recommended books for Texas grade schoolers), scroll through Amazon and see what comes up as “related books,” browse sites like Goodreads, and visit Facebook groups devoted to reading recommendations.

We are fortunate that the moms in our club are wonderful and trusting of our book decisions. It helps that we are all friends, so there is a certain ease when talking about which books are appropriate for the club. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but as our girls enter middle school we know that the books will only get more mature and complex. For now, we have kept the controversial books out of the mix. (For example, we didn’t read The Hunger Games or the Divergent series for the club, although many of the girls read them on their own. Now some girls are stretching into true YA territory with books like The Fault in Our Stars, and we need to adapt our approach accordingly.)

STRUCTURING MEETINGS Usually all the Book Moms read the book, but the host is the one who also prepares the discussion questions. The discussion questions don’t need to be highbrow, academic efforts. In general, you can’t go wrong with: What did you like/dislike, what did you learn, what did you relate to? And this site is a great place to start for questions that fit almost any novel.

I also love to ask questions that tie back to the author. Questions that help the girls think like writers. What questions do you have for the author? Why did the author write it this way? What did the writer have to research before writing this book?

As a mother, you may need to learn to bite your tongue during some of the discussions. Of course the girls get off track, sometimes have lame answers, or maybe don’t get excited about a book. Follow their lead...Some books encourage lively conversation and some are a total bust. Don’t be afraid to say, “Wow, nobody LOVED this book. Why is that? How does it compare to others you loved? What would you have done differently if you were the author?

Our goal is to keep the vibe upbeat and casual, but still focused. This translates into a 90-minute meeting on a Sunday afternoon, with 30 minutes of book discussion and an hour of snack and backyard play.

We don’t keep a log or notes during the meetings, but at the end of the year we take a poll to ask which books they liked best and why.

At the close of every meeting we leave time for the girls to recommend any other books they are reading. This has turned into a favorite part of the meeting because the girls, avid readers every one of them, share books they adore. They gush. They try to summarize without spoiling. They draw comparisons to other books and try to wow the other girls with their descriptions. Basically they have time to geek out about something they really love. Can you ask for anything better in a club?

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If your daughter is in a book club now, or you start one with her, I would love to hear from you! What works for y'all? What books have you loved? Share any and all of it here!

P.S. Since writing this post, I added a boy-specific list here. Enjoy!

BOOK SUGGESTIONS As an inspiration or jumping off point, I've included our club's reading list from the past four years. Happy reading!

2nd Grade At this age, the girls read two books a month (one easy, one challenge book). Sometimes the parents read the challenge books to the girls.

Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Bloom Judy Moody (series) Megan McDonald The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo Happy New Year's Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney Matilda by Roald Dahl Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye Black Beauty by Anna Sewell Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder Charlotte's Web by E.B. White A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis Ramona (series) by Beverly Cleary The Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborne

3rd Grade Again, we paired shorter books with longer books. Several of these books were on their school Bluebonnet list so they wanted to read them to earn the award.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg Christopher Mouse by William Wise 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit by Joan Carris Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Smarter Than Squirrels (Down Girl and Sit) by Lucy Nolan and Mike Reed The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Curtis The Book Store Mouse by Peggy Christian Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park Squirrels World by Lisa Moser Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer Love From Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

4th Grade Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume

5th Grade The Rising Star of Rusty Nail by Lesley M.M. Blume Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass Wildwood by Colin Meloy Red Thread Sisters by Carol Peacock Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes by Katherine Rue The Egypt Game by Zilpha Snyder The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Other 4th/5th Grade suggestions from the girls (so many good books, so little time) Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Anderson Holes by Louis Sachar The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Cold Cereal by Adam Rex Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf The Changeling by Jenkins and Fabry Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary The Grace Mysteries by Lady Grace Cavendish Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm

Singing the blues

Sometimes you just need to put your truest feelings into song... [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/49523330 w=500&h=281]

If you can't see this video, click here.

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In other exciting video news...the videos from Austin's Listen to Your Mother show are now online, along with the nine other U.S. cities. There is so much talent and goodness here! Pour yourself a cup of whatever, dive in and enjoy!

Elbow room

Visual proof that the road trip temporarily known as Hell on Wheels was well worth the effort once we arrived. All we had to do was give each kid his/her very own mountain. (Click collage to enlarge.)

Happy End of Summer, y'all!!

Voices

I'm no public speaking pro. In fact, up until recently I would have preferred to get a colonoscopy in front of 3,000 people rather than speak in front of them. But sometimes life surprises you and you get to surprise it right back.

In May, one of my essays was selected as a Voice of the Year for the BlogHer 2012 conference, and I was asked to read it during the Community Keynote along with 14 other bloggers. What a thrill! The chosen essay, On Being Nine, is a mother-daughter story about harnessing the power of being nine. It's one of my favorites, so the honor was especially sweet.

Leading up to the event, I told people that the piece was a gift to my daughter and my mother. This is very much true. But what I didn't realize until afterward is that the Voices of the Year experience--sharing my story and voice with thousands of people--was also a gift to myself. And it was absolutely a gift I'll never forget. I owe many people thanks.

Thank you to BlogHer for the opportunity and the virtual coaching. Thank you to my friends and family who cheered me on from near and far. Thank you to everyone who shared their own mother-daughter stories with me. (It's pretty fantastic how many former 9-year-olds had grandiose nicknames like mine!) Thank you to the ENT doctor who tried his best to heal my laryngitis when I went completely mute two days before the conference. Thank you to everyone who said my extremely husky voice sounded cool. And finally, thank you to whoever was in charge of the Voices of the Year music. I absolutely LOVED walking out on stage to Johnny Cash! I fell into a burning ring of fire... I'm happy to report nobody went down in flames. 

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Update: The videos are now online! You can view mine here. I was honored to share the stage with such incredible talent. All of the readers brought unforgettable stories, so I encourage you to spend some time watching their videos. I especially loved the hilarious pieces by Shari Simpson of Dusty Earth Mother and Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month, plus the touching ones by Vikki Reich of Up Popped a Fox and Dresden Shumaker of Creating Motherhood.

Diving deep

If summer were one long road trip, we would have now reached the point when the kids start singing 999 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and I consider if we have enough bungie cords to hold them on the roof for at least a few minutes. It's really just too hot for us to be in the car all together, you know? Plenty of parents reach this point and hit the wall. They frantically start calling day camps in search of anything, anything new and fresh to entertain the troops. (Remember how you always wanted to learn more about sheep farming?)

They bribe babysitters to come home early from their exotic vacations. (Seriously, how much Europe can a 20-year-old really appreciate?)

Others join the exodus to higher ground in search of cooler weather, all the while praying that higher altitude means less oxygen, which means less insanity.

As the temperature rises and the calendar stands suspiciously still, others watch their convictions warp and melt like a CD left on the dashboard during a blistering afternoon. I am vulnerable to all these coping strategies, but this week I let my standards take the hit.

As a result, we have ruined countless meals with emergency snow cones. We have skipped the library and hit the bookstore because they have better air conditioning. We have watched a ridiculous amount of TV. We have purchased overpriced "indoor" toy weapons even though I banned these months ago. We have even considered amending the family rule that dictates No Naked Butts on the Couch because honestly, how can you argue when told it is too hot for underwear?

We are hanging in there. We will make our escape soon enough. Higher ground awaits! But for now, we are simply diving in, holding our breath and trying to keep our cool.

Sibling Revelry

[slideshow] I never wanted a child. I always wanted children.

Siblings, confidantes, compadres, chums. Tattlers, teachers, accomplices, antagonists. Rivals, secret-keepers, scapegoats and partners-in-crime. Mentors and tormentors.

I wanted wagon pullers, swing pushers, fort builders and sand-castle destroyers. I wanted a full table, too many backpacks, and commas on our Christmas card.

I wanted a firstborn, a middle, a baby. I wanted to marvel at both the reliable and the shattered stereotypes. I wanted shifting alliances and third wheels. Teamwork and the circling of wagons.

For better or worse, I wanted individual players in the ultimate team sport. Sharing the same space, fighting for the same oxygen. Believe it or not, I wanted splash fights, inane arguments, thrown elbows in the hallway, imaginary Do Not Cross or Else! lines.

I wanted Your fault! Get out of my room! Gimme that back! No fair!  Because I knew, if thoughtfully tended, these battles could give birth to the flip side: The impromptu hugs. The late night whispers. The collaborations and negotiations. The I’m sorry. That's OK. Sure you can come inside my hideout.

I never anticipated how immense the task would be, but I even wanted the challenge of finding energy for each unique personality. I wanted to stretch and defy my expectations, again and again and again, about what children (my children) are supposedly like. I wanted to learn to see, truly see, the individual before me. To make every child feel heard though their hearts speak entirely different languages.

There are countless moments--flash floods of drama and aggravation--when I forget how much I longed for this gift of siblinghood. But desires this deep are not easily dismissed.

And it often takes just one sidelong look, one inside joke, one tender gesture, to bring me back to my dreams and watch them come alive right before my eyes.

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If you liked this post, consider giving me a vote in BlogHer's Voices of the Year. Sibling Revelry is nominated in the Visuals category. My mother-daughter story, On Being Nine, is nominated in the Heart category. Thanks, y'all!

WWTTD, y'all?

Hey y’all. How are ya? Raise your hand if you know who Tami Taylor is. Oh good. And if you know her, you love her, right? There’s really no other way.

When I meet women who don’t know Tami Taylor, I feel for them. I’m not sure how they are getting by in this world without her wisdom and grace. Hell, I can barely fathom what kind of wife and mother I will become now that I won't see her every Friday night. Because y’all? Tami Taylor calls it like she sees it. She knows when to be tough and when to be tender. She welcomes people into her world even when it’s not convenient. She knows how to be heard without saying a word. And hello? She’s gorgeous, y'all.

Remember the episode where Coach caught Julie and Matt in bed together? Holy crap, right? The resulting conversation between Tami and Julie is permanently DVR’d on my brain for the day (Lord help me) when I might be in a similar situation with my kids.

And y’all, that was just one brilliant moment of hundreds, right?

So to help me channel Tami’s impeccable judgment during my personal moments of doubt, I’ve adopted a new mantra: WWTTD?

What do y’all think? Well I think the first thing Tami would do, y’all, is share the love. So, I have bumper stickers to share!

If you email me your address, I will happily send you a WWTTD? bumper sticker like the one on the back of my car. Why? Because Tami would, y’all. And all I ask in exchange is that you share the love, too...Leave me a comment or subscribe to my site or send my blog to a friend or follow me on Twitter.  Pretty easy, right? Tami would do it.

And one more treat: Check out this link of Tami uttering one of her favorite words, again and again. Y’all, it’s awesome!

(Also, don’t worry for a second that I’m going to send you any junk mail or sell this list to those annoying door-to-door magazine guys. I swear I don’t have time for any of that nonsense. Neither does Tami.)

Unplugged

It’s that time of year—time for the PeaceLoveGuac crew to unplug and unwind. Don’t worry, we will return soon with windblown hair and sandy suitcases. And just as I did during our winter break, I’m leaving you with a few suggested nuggets from the archives to keep you company while I’m gone.

Considering everything that has happened in my life over the last several months, the highlights I’m leaving here aren’t exactly bubbling over with joy…but they do give you an honest glimpse into where my head has been since December of last year.

Because I’m more of a glass-half-full kind of girl, I’ll start off with one of the most inspiring memories of springtime.

And here’s one of the brighter moments in a very dark winter that I'm still processing the best I can.

This piece of healing was inspired by a good sweat and an even better soundtrack. I’m happy to report that I’m still running strong despite the heat, and I’ve still got this album in heavy rotation. (I even got to see the awesomeness live in one of the best concerts of the decade. Aw yeah!)

The 504 words of this post were some of the hardest I’ve ever eeked out. And they attracted the most traffic I’ve seen in my 18 months of blogging.

I still can’t visit this post without crying, yet I find myself seeking it out about once a month.

One of my favorite photos of the year? It’s gotta be this one of my very first girl.

I like this shot too, but what I really want you to know is that its caption is more than just a catchy phrase to me. It’s a motto I try to live by every single day. It's both an anchor and an inspiration. Because here’s the deal: The big picture is so powerful in helping us enjoy the small moments of our lives. And funny enough, the small moments are just as powerful in helping us see the big, big picture.

Chew on that for a while, drop me a note, and we’ll talk about it when I return.

Cheers, Liz

Sorting

The delicately beaded mother-of-the-bride dress, worn especially for me, stays.

The two others, still dangling tags and dashed hopes, stay as well. The hand-sewn rainbow sundress, thin and frayed from years on the beach, and the red and green zippered housecoat worn every Christmas morning, must remain too--though none of these will ever be worn again.

My mother’s shoes, sharing space with thousands of dollars worth of life-sustaining medical supplies, will be passed along with little nostalgia.

I will keep the once-purple college sweatshirt, now paint-splattered and faded to an almost gray. I will save an embroidered suede bag that looks carefree, even though that’s not a word I would have ever used to describe her.

Most everything else I pull from the racks and stack atop an old sheet spread across her bedroom floor. I gather the corners and knot them into a bundle as I did every year as a nomad college student. I repeat this for the skirts, the blouses, the sweaters, the dresses, the coats. My father retrieves bundle after bundle, beating a path from bedroom to garage until his truckbed is full.

The volume is staggering. I can tell that my mother stopped cleaning out her closet when she got sick, all those 30 years ago. Perhaps holding onto everything offered some normalcy as her world shifted so dramatically. If these items gave comfort then, they give only stinging sadness today.

I have done this final clean-out before. Years ago, on a tearful autumn weekend, I gave away every onesie and every burp cloth. I tossed all but one pair of tiny leather booties. I kept the homecoming outfit, the mini college jersey, the First Birthday attire. I shipped off every last bottle, blanket and board book with resignation.

There were to be no more babies. But then, a year and a half later, there was.

And from the moment his heart beat across the flickering screen, he was stunning and redemptive and completed our family in a way I had not dared to imagine.

But that memory is hardly like today. Today I sit in my mother’s mostly empty closet and realize that there will be no new memories, no surprises, no redemption. I realize that the only possible life coming from this closure will be my own rebirth as a daughter and mother.

I inhale deeply and exhale with slow and measured intention. This is women’s work, I know.

Even in a haze of grief, we mothers and daughters can steady ourselves. We approach these watershed tasks knowing full well that something, anything, can bring us to our knees in pain. We may ache longingly or regretfully. We may feel cheated and furious. We may feel utterly alone in the heaviness of the moment.

But then, we gather ourselves up. We quiet our minds and whisper gently to our hearts. We continue with the sifting, the deciding, the separating. Because despite the ache, we trust no one else to do this sorting for us.

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On holiday

Happy Holidays from Peace, Love and Guacamole (and those who inspire it)!

We are settling in this week, taking things slower than normal...sleeping in a little later, drinking a little more coffee and making some magic happen.

As I'm sure you know, the magic part takes a lot of focus and mental energy, so PL&G is taking a little vacay so as to be in top magic-making form. We won't be gone long. In the meantime, may I suggest a few must-reads from the archives?

This post is one of my all-time favorites. This one shows up in the search terms most often. And this one, thanks to Scary Mommy, garnered the most page views.

This story about Rascal makes me cry, this photo of Smiley makes me laugh, and this shot of Doodlebug makes me smile. I am especially proud of how this photo turned out.

Here is a scene I am hoping, but unlikely, to avoid during the school winter break. Oh, and for the love of Pete, this one too.

When I browse through the archives, my favorite category is Living the Dream, because it reminds me to step back and count everything wonderful in my life. And tallying up that long list makes me hope that anything magical that happens this week will feel like icing. Chocolate fudge icing, please.

Cheers to you and your loved ones! Liz

Rhetorical questions?

Wait, don't answer that.

Who is in charge of this toddler?

Who happily agreed to make 100 dozen (!!) treats while Hubby was out of town?

Where is Piggy?

Can someone convince him that apple slices are waaaay more efficient?

Is there anything funnier than animal hats?

Why am I wearing this exact same outfit in every photo from Nov. and Dec.?

Why is my Christmas wreath flipping me off?

What is it about being near a giant tree that makes all the daily crap seem smaller and more manageable?

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