Decorating the darkness

It’s Christmas day.  Here in the Northeast there is a soft blanket of snow which arrived last evening, just enough to cover the ground, just in time for a white Christmas.  The sun, which we rarely see here from November through April, is out and blinds me every time I look through the window.

My kids have finally settled down after the morning excitement, and I am resting in the quiet, thinking of this day and all that it is, or at least all we say it is supposed to be.  So many expectations for one little day.  What a burden to place on twenty-four hours.

And yet those twenty-four hours have so much power.  A day when we feel all the feels.  We are told that it is a day to feel merry and bright, happy and grateful and blessed, joyous and reflective.  There are no Christmas songs that talk about how hard the holidays can be sometimes, how there are seasons in everyone’s lives where we’re just not feeling it for one reason or another.  During time of loss, fatigue, illness, divorce, unemployment, depression, or whatever your struggle, there doesn’t seem to be much room under the tree for the human condition.

I was listening to Rob Bell’s podcast last week.  His guest on the show was Alexander Shaia, who spoke about how many of our Christmas traditions, things we typically consider as uniquely Christian, actually have roots in pagan Celtic rituals*.   He went on to describe how during the months of November and December, as the days got shorter, the Celts would celebrate the coming winter solstice.  As the darkness bled slowly into the days, they honored and celebrated the natural rhythm of nature.  They felt the slowing of their bodies, the desire to do less, to rest, and to settle down.   They observed their forest friends preparing to hibernate, and prepared the land to lie fallow over the winter.  And as they succumbed to this rhythm, they waited in anticipation of the winter solstice, when the light would slowly return to them at the end of December.  In celebration, they would adorn the bare branches of oak trees, and decorate their homes with lights.  The lights that they used not only symbolized the expectation and hope of the coming light, but also were meant to decorate the darkness.  There is a difference between using light to drive out the darkness–like when we flip a switch to light up a whole room–and using lights to decorate the darkness.  Think of how you sit in front of your Christmas tree, admiring the soft glow of the lights.  The corners of the room are still dark, and it’s not enough light to read a book or complete a task, but that’s not really the point of your Christmas lights.  The Celts weren’t afraid of the darkness leading up to the solstice.  They recognized that the darkness itself was as sacred as the coming light.  As they surrendered to it, they honored it.  They didn’t chase it away.  They decorated it, until such time that the light slowly came back to them, days still gray but slowly, quietly, and sometimes imperceptibly lengthening.

Later, Christians adapted some of these traditions to symbolize their belief of the incarnation–light entering into the world in the form of Jesus.

While I found this history lesson captivating, I can’t stop thinking about that phrase, “decorating the darkness”.  Christmas is not easy for many.  There are memories and grief triggers, difficult relationships, and loss.  Some are going through the motions, wanting it to be over.  Wishes of “Merry Christmas” are, to some, salt rubbed in wounds that feel so wide open and raw this time of year.  While gratitude for what is here now is always in order, urging someone with  an amputated arm to just be grateful that they at least have another arm is neither sensitive nor effective.

In the times that my world has been dark, it is rare to find someone who will sit there in the darkness with me.  Usually people want to pull you out of it–to flip the lights on, so to speak.  Perhaps there is a time and place for that.  But I think there is also a time to sit quietly in another’s darkness, to honor its sanctity and keep vigil, the soft light of the candle in your hand lighting things up just enough to decorate the darkness.

Though the solstice has passed and Christmas morning has turned to afternoon, consider honoring the darkness, either in your own life or someone else’s.  It’s not so scary to sit there if you know that someone else is with you, holding a candle and keeping vigil for as long as necessary.  Some darkness comes and goes, some passes more quickly than others, and some darkness shows up predictably at a certain time or place.  You can honor it as a natural rhythm and hold it sacred, but you can’t force the solstice.


*I am not certain regarding the accuracy of the Celtic traditions that Mr. Shaia mentioned, as this is not something I have researched.  So if you are a Celtic tradition expert, please accept my apologies for any inaccuracies, and take it up with Alexander Shaia, not with me.


Another holiday gift guide (almost as cool as Oprah’s)

The holidays are upon us!  Which means it’s time to increase your dose of Wellbutrin!  Kidding not kidding.  Aside from taking all major psychiatric precautions to steel yourself for the all awkward office cocktail parties, family togetherness, and billions of festive activities your kids simply must attend, we need to get our shopping done.   For just as the three wise men got some amazing doorbuster deals and then went to the manger bearing lavish gifts, so must we celebrate one another by trying to surprise our loved ones with something special and unique and then giving up and just getting them a candle or a picture frame.  Yankee candles if you’re fancy.

In this spirit, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite things.  I am not giving away any free gifts, because I am not Oprah (though there is some resemblance around the eyes, don’t you think?)  My blog is not sponsored so I do not get any kind of financial kick back.  I share this with you out of pure love.  Consider it frankincense.

The Ridge wallet

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I do not take any credit for finding this sleek little wallet.  My brother in law had one, and I liked it so much I got one for my husband last year, who HATES carrying a wallet due to the bulk.  This one is definitely the most compact wallet you can get, especially considering how many cards you can get in there.  You can get ones with a money clip on one side, if you’re the kind of person that carries cash.  Priced from $72- $115, depending on style and metal.

A mug for your favorite feminist

If you have never visited Emily McDowell’s website, I highly recommend that you do!  You will find all kinds of fun, giftable items and cards.  All made with a little dash of snark.  My favorite!  Though I am generally against gifting mugs, this one is perfect for your office.  Be sure to bring to your next male dominated staff meeting and position yourself strategically.  $15.

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Wrist inspiration

I got one of these for myself last year, and I wear it almost every day.  I think it makes a thoughtful and very affordable gift.  Some of them are a little cheesy, so be mindful of your recipient’s cheese tolerance.  Mine says “warrior”, if you’re wondering.  From $25- $35, depending on which metal you choose.

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My favorite dainty necklace

Noonday Collection is a really awesome socially conscious fashion brand that partners with artisans around the world, providing dignified work and creating a marketplace for artisans to sell their goods.  They create fair-trade, living wage jobs in vulnerable communities, and the results are a beautiful collection of handmade items.  I love all of the jewelry from Noonday Collection, but this one is the piece that I wear the most.  It is light, pretty, and goes with everything.  It is made in Ethiopia from upcycled metal and artillery.  Can you believe?  They collect artillery shells from the ugliness of war and violence, and use it to make something so beautiful.  Each piece of jewelry has a story.  You can even shop by country or origin.

Socially conscious accessories

Leather and Inner tube Messenger Bag, Asphalt

These are some items from another socially conscious fashion brand, Deux Mains, located in Haiti.   These sandals (currently on sale for $31.50), are so unique, because the soles are made from upcycled tires!  I had the privilege of visiting the factory and store front when I visited Haiti, and can attest to the beauty and craftsmanship of their pieces.  The sandals are super comfortable too (I have a pair of flip flops with a gorgeous cobalt blue leather upper).  Deux mains empowers people in Haiti by creating jobs that pay a living wage, with the mission of breaking the poverty cycle.  That means every purchase promotes economic growth in addition to creating local jobs.  The use of upcycled tires in all of their shoes and many of their other pieces also means that their products are environmentally friendly.  Every item is made in Haiti, but they do have a warehouse in Miami, making shipping within the US affordable.  If you are looking to spend a little more,  this messenger bag (on sale for $122.50) made from locally sourced leather and inner tubes is a unique and useful piece for the laptop carrier in your life.

Snarky little sticky notes

These hilarious sticky notes make awesome stocking stuffers or a little something fun for your colleagues.  They are sold separately or in bundles, and many of them are available on Amazon if you want to take advantage of your Prime shipping.  There is something for everyone–from your industrious friend who makes a ton of lists, to your potty mouth family member who likes their sticky notes a little swear-y.

A Classic Clutch

Not every girl is the type to carry a clutch, but it is such a nice classic thing to have in your wardrobe for a night out.  This one is simple, inexpensive, and will go with most everything.  $39.95 with free shipping.

Marlena Faux Leather Foldover Clutch, Main, color, JET BLACK

The most comfortable pants on the continent

Perhaps you are shopping for someone who would appreciate a pair of comfy pants more than a handbag (raises hand).  I just bought these for myself and I wish I never ever ever had to take them off.  Also this site almost always has a sale, so wait for one instead of paying full price ($69.50, but there is usually some kind of sale going on where you can save 25-40%).  If you need some guidance regarding how and when to wear your comfy pants, see my previous post about this important matter.

For someone you won’t offend by pointing out their seasonal affective mood changes

Winter is long here in the northeast.  Some of us work long days under fluorescent lights with no windows, which doesn’t help.  This little light looks like a tablet and is supposed to help ward off the winter blues.  The “personal light therapy” claims to help regulate mood and sleep patterns, and improve energy and focus.  I bought one two weeks ago and have been using it at my desk for 15-20 minutes after I arrive at work.  It creates quite a spectacle for people passing by my office.  So, look out world!  I’m going to be sooooo perky this winter, you won’t even recognize me!  I figure if it doesn’t work, I’m only out $44.95.

Verilux HappyLight Lucent 10,000 Lux LED Bright White Light Therapy Lamp

For people who like to stay organized

Oh man, could I every use one of these!  Every time we go on a trip as a family, everyone has charging cords EVERYWHERE.    Brilliant.  And very affordable at $20.Travel Cord Roll

In addition to holiday consumerism, you may wish to give to some charitable causes.  There are so many out there.  But here are a few that I love:

Heartline Ministries Haiti – A fantastic organization in Haiti committed to supporting Haitian families.  They have a birth center in Port-au-Prince where women can enter their maternity program, which gives them prenatal care, a safe place to give birth, and parenting support to help prevent economic orphans and decrease maternal-infant mortality.  They also have some wonderful educational programs that empower women, teaching them English and valuable job skills so that they can help support their families.

International Child Care Ministries  – You can sponsor a child for as little as $30 per month, which helps support that child’s education, among other things.  We have one child in India and one in Rwanda, and oh, how I love to watch them grow.

Together Rising – This is a wonderful organization that sponsors various causes as a community– each person giving a small gift to make big beautiful things happen.  The general rule is that people give no more than $25 toward a cause,  “small things with great love”.  This ensures that everyone feels included, and that everyone can know that they can make a huge difference, even if they can only give a little.  The love flash mobs are the BEST.  The call for help toward a cause will come, and the “flash mob” tries to raise as much as they can in a 24 hour period, with the $25 rule.   Watching millions of dollars come in from Love Warriors around the world in that short time is totally awesome and restores your faith in humanity.

The Ugandan Water Project – This is an organization based close to where I live.  I actually went to college with one of the guys who founded it, so that’s pretty cool.  The UWP works in partnership with different communities in Uganda to help provide safe water, hygiene, and sanitation solutions.  They do excellent work.

If you have a charitable cause that you love, tell me about it!



I have a few goals for the summer.  I tried not to make too many, so as not to set myself up for failure.  My main goal this summer is to be more present.  Everyone seems to talk about the joy, peace, and fulfillment that comes from being present–my yoga teacher, the Dalai Lama, Oprah.  It sounded like a noble goal.  So I said to myself, “Self, let’s spend less time on the smartphone, and less with the obsessive email and Facebook checking.  Let us notice our surroundings.  Let us be in the moment.  Let us soak up this beautiful summer with our beautiful family.”  Apparently when I talk to myself it is in the first person plural.

Being present in the moment is not natural for me.  I live in this whole other world in my head.  Unfortunately it is not a lively, creative, inner world.  I am not like Anne of Green Gables.  I have heard the description of a woman’s mind being like a browser with  dozens of tabs open, and this is exactly how I would describe it.  An endless stream of consciousness that would bore the average person to tears.  A rushing river of pragmatic thoughts.  Picture with me, if you will, me in my pajamas this morning with a thought bubble reflecting my current inner dialogue:

My head hurts.  Why do I always get so many headaches?  Maybe it’s a brain tumor.  No, I had an MRI two years ago, they would have seen it.  I’ll just go grab some ibuprofen.  Do I have to take chicken out of the freezer for dinner?  Where’s Leah?  Has she gone over her screen time limit?  When was the last time she pooped?  Should I send that medicine to overnight camp with her so she doesn’t get backed up?  I would have to get the doctor to sign the stupid form–I don’t have time for that.  Why can’t I sign the form, for heaven’s sake?  Crap, we’re out of trash bags.  I was just at the store yesterday.  Why do I always forget one thing?  Wait–did we miss garbage day?  Oh, we’re ok, it’s delayed a day because of the holiday.  Maybe we should hire an exterminator to spray for bees.  There have been so many wasps around the pool this year.  I bet that’s not cheap.  We have to have the driveway sealed too.  Maybe I should go to yoga today to see if that helps my headache.  Wait, wasn’t I going to go grab some ibuprofen?   

You get the idea.

So being present means what, exactly?  That I flick some kind of inner switch that turns off the cacophony in my brain?   Where is that switch located?  My yoga teacher suggested that I take notice of each thought as it comes, without judgement, and just let it float away like a bubble.  So now I have this internal bubble machine cranking out rapid fire bubbles, which doesn’t really help me be to be present, but instead gives me the vague impression of a bathtub overflowing after your toddler empties out an entire bottle of Mr. Bubble.

So, here are a few real life examples of what being present looks like in my life. A few weeks ago I took the kids to church in the morning.  The hubby was out of town so it was just the three of us on a rainy, dreary Sunday morning.  When we were leaving the kids asked me to pull up the car, since it was raining and we only had one umbrella.  So I walked out to the car, plugged in my phone, quickly checked my email and messages, fired up the windshield wipers, and buckled my seat belt.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot onto the street, I thought, “Wow, the kids are pretty quiet this morning,” and stole a glance in the rearview mirror.  And…. I had forgotten my children.  Apparently I had driven right past them, while they watched in confusion as their mother abandoned them at a house of worship.  It’s OK though, because I turned around and got them.  They won’t need therapy for that, right?  It will probably help them to straighten up and fly right.

Then last week I went to yoga on the lake with my friend Mary.  She just finished yoga instructor school, so she is extremely present.  I felt the sunshine on my downward dog, and listened to the waves as they lapped gently against the dock.  I set my drishti on a beautiful, majestic tree as my bubble machine released all thoughts of trash bags and driveway sealing.  After we finished, Mary and I agreed to meet at a little cafe for an iced tea so we could catch up.  I got in my car and, lo and behold, my gas light was on.  Why don’t I ever notice that I’m low on gas until my gas light comes on?  I don’t know why.  Because I’m an oblivious airhead, apparently.  So my gas light is on, and I’m in an unfamiliar part of town, and, oh–look at that, I forgot my wallet.  Hmmm.  What a pickle I have gotten myself into, once again.  So I find a gas station nearby, hoping I can pay wth the app on my phone, but no, the gas station I found doesn’t do that.  There’s another gas station several miles away, but at this point the gas light has been on for a while and I don’t know how far I can make it.  So I drive toward the next gas station in a panicky state (which really killed my yoga buzz, by the way), praying that they will let me pay with my phone and that I won’t run out of gas on the way there.  (Don’t worry, mom, I made it and I was able to pay with my phone!). Mary sat in the cafe, patiently waiting for me, probably being extremely present as she received my anxious texts about my latest predicament.  She was not surprised, I am sure.  And after I got there, she bought me an iced tea.  Because I forgot my wallet.

So in regard to my goal of being more present, it’s going pretty well, as you can see.  Today I said to myself, “Self, perhaps we should lower our expectations about being present, and work on just keeping the car filled with gas.”

My new summer goal is to keep the car filled with gas.

P.S.-I wrote this post this morning, and then this afternoon I went to the library, and instead of discarding my snack wrapper I threw my keys in the trash. Then of course I couldn’t find my keys, so my daughter and I, along with three concerned librarians, searched high and low until I remembered that there was a big garbage can at the entrance to the library and that sometimes I throw important things away by accident.

God our Mother

I wanted to share something with you, my readers, that is a little more serious than my usual posts.  It is a tender topic, and though I may ruffle some feathers, I ask that you be tender in your comments.

I am in a complicated relationship right now.  With God.  I have been taking some things apart, deconstructing if you will, for the past few years.  Some of the things that I have been taught about God my whole life just aren’t making sense anymore.  Things like substitutionary atonement.  How the Bible was written and put together, and how do we know that something really important wasn’t left out?  Or that something is in there that shouldn’t be?  And why did people stop writing the Bible?  Did God say he was done writing Scripture? The way that the church approaches many present-day issues, particularly inclusion of LGBTQ in our faith communities. The fact that Jesus continually criticized the legalism of the Pharisees, and yet as evangelical Christians we have a specific prayer to pray and a way to behave in order to “go to heaven”.  And if praying that prayer–the one where we “believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths” (John 3:16) is what is required, what about all of the people that walked the earth before Jesus? This carrot on a stick theology–it just doesn’t resonate anymore.  I believe that this God I believe in is bigger than that, but right now all the puzzle pieces of my faith are scattered on the floor, and I am turning them all right-side up, looking for edges and corners to get my bearings.

I have been thinking a lot about being made in God’s image.  We throw that phrase around a lot in Christianity, don’t we?  I am made in the image of God.  So are you.  We are his image bearers, all.  And yet–God is always spoken of as a Father.  Jesus was a man.  I sometimes have thoughts that, though Jesus walked the earth for three decades, lowering himself to walk among humanity, what does he really know of being a woman, or a girl?  What does he know of all of the complicated issues that women face?  Of growing into a body that is objectified, oppressed, and sexualized; of periods and pregnancy and giving birth; of miscarriage and mothering, breastfeeding and potty training.  I secretly felt like God was probably limited in this area.

But wait–if I’m a woman, and I am God’s image-bearer, doesn’t God have just as many characteristics of the female sex?  Perhaps he is not as I, as many of us, have conjured him up to be in our minds–a Gandolf-like man, on a throne, sitting in an exclusive country club we call heaven.  Perhaps God is just as much woman as he is man.  Perhaps She is just as much a mother, as He is a Father.  Not 50% male and 50% female, not either/or.  God is and/both.

I heard a poem on a podcast recently that immediately made my eyes well up.  The kind of tears that come when you know you are hearing something profoundly true.  I really can’t stop thinking about it.  It is slowly changing the way I think of God, I think for the better.  I thought maybe you would like to read it also.

God Our Mother

To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.

To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”

To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
Railed against,
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
Life giver,
Life shaper,
Original Love.

~Allison Woodard
Printed with permission

Happy Mother’s Day, friends.  We are loved by our Mother.


Mommy needs a moment

I’ve noticed something about my kids.  It is definitely a pattern.  Perhaps you have noticed a similar pattern in your own life.

My children–they are always around me.  I mean always.  There.  Right there.  All the time.  If not both, at least one.  Sometimes one of them will go to a friend’s house to play or sleep over or something, and I’m all “woo-hoo!”, and then the other one is there.  Right there.  Saying things to me like, “Can we go to [insert germ-ridden and overpriced place where kids like to go]?  And go shopping? And make cookies?  OOOOOH, I know, let’s make slime!”  And I patiently smile at my little one and say, “why don’t we play the pajama game.  We will both get in our jammies, and lay on the couch with books, and see who can be the quietest.”  No one ever wants to play the pajama game with me.

Sometimes while I’m taking a shower, I get to listen to stories about Minecraft.  And when I sit on the toilet, people want me to make them pancakes.  Seriously, I could be in the kitchen for an hour doing dishes and such, but the moment I step into the bathroom, someone wants pancakes.

Most of the time I enjoy having them around during the day, but I long for days past when they went to bed at 7:00 pm.  That was really awesome, does anyone remember that?  That lovely middle part where your kids were fully sleeping through the night, but still young enough that you could put them to bed before Jeopardy came on.  I kind of turn into a pumpkin or something right around that time, so it worked well for me.  I tried to keep this going as long as possible, but my son was all, “MOM, I can’t go to bed at 7:30!  I’M ELEVEN!”  Whatever.  In that case, can I go to bed at 7:30??

Now I know that you moms who have already launched your kids out into the world of college and first apartments and fiancés and weddings are going to say something like, “Enjoy it!  Pretty soon they won’t want to be around you!  They’ll be all grown up and move away, and they will only come around when they need money, and you’ll be so lonely and purposeless and empty and wishing they would call!”  This is most likely correct.

But two things can be true at the same time, you know?  And acknowledging that the one thing is true does not make the other thing less true.   For instance, I can be reasonably smart and well educated with a Master’s degree and yet be completely unable to help my 6th grader with his math homework.  So yes, I will be very sad when they grow up and fly the nest.  But ALSO—mama’s so tired.  Not in a “I need sleep” kind of way, like when they were babies.  I am tired in the overworked and underpaid (make that unpaid) kind of way.  I’m tired in the stretched thin and pulled in too many directions kind of way.  In the eating 50% of my meals in the car while commuting or driving people to dance class kind of way.  I’m tired in the 3 loads of laundry a day kind of way.  I am tired in the get up at 5 am and pour all of my energy into the people at work and then my people at home, after which I get a whole 30 minutes to myself at the end of the day before I collapse into bed kind of way.   And I only have two kids.  Apparently there are people out there brave enough to have more than that, and honestly, I don’t know how you do it.  Or when you had the free time to keep making all the babies.

These days, most of the alone time that I get happens in the car.  Commuting is kind of like my “me time”, except that it’s stressful and there are lots of people cutting each other off and making rude hand gestures and my armpits get sweaty.  Oh, and last year I had to have an MRI, so I got to be alone in that machine for a good 45 minutes.  Little loud though.  I go to yoga once a week and that is kind of like being alone.  At least I’m on my mat all by myself and just breathing, and it’s quiet.  Except for when that nose-whistling girl is in my class, then I get all angry while I am yoga-ing.

Where I really want to be alone is in my house.  All of my mom fantasies begin and end in my clean, quiet house.  I mean, sometimes I get to be alone, and I get to be in the house, but I rarely get to be alone in the house.  A few years ago, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  I told him they could take me out to dinner.  Oh, and–could you take the kids away for a few days so I can be alone in my house?  You could see the confusion in his face, maybe a little trepidation.  I’m sure it is a little disarming to hear your wife say that she wants you to pack up the kids and leave town.  And honestly, it took me a long time to work up the courage to ask for that, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or make anyone feel unloved.  But after some explanation, he seemed to get it.  And guess what?  On the weekend that we set aside to execute this plan, ONE OF THE KIDS STARTED VOMITING.  Naturally.  It took until February of the following year for us to find another weekend that fit the bill.

And what did I do on my mommy mental health weekend, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  I made sure my house was all clean on Thursday–dusting, vacuuming, bathrooms all done.  I went out with a friend Friday night and stayed out as long as I wanted.  Which was 9:45 pm.  Then I stayed in my pajamas all weekend, watched whatever I wanted on Netflix, made food that nobody complained about, took a nap, and read books.  And my house stayed clean all weekend.  It was awesome.  All moms need to be able to do this on the regular.

And then my family came home.  And they messed up the house.  And wanted pancakes.  And complained about the food.  And put clean clothes down the laundry chute because that’s easier than folding them and putting them away. And told me stories about Minecraft.  And gave me huge hugs, because they missed me.

And I missed them too.