Catching Up – 2015 Operation Christmas Child Shoe Boxes: 602, Whoo-Whoo! had some technical hiccups last year, so I created a temporary blog to capture 2015 Operation Christmas Child joy.  But now is back in business – and my game room is piling up with donations (yeah!) so I’m transferring the blog over.

Here we go:

My regular blog “This Reminds Me” is down for a bit of maintenance.  I wanted to recount the joy and wonder of this year’s Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child journey, so this temporary outbuilding will have to suffice for awhile.

There’s no way to thank everyone involved.  You know who you are, and you know why you do what you do.  Some of the most generous people do not want to be mentioned.  Again, you know who you are.

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My friend Paula came over mid-year to help make sense out of the boxes and bags piling up in the game room.  She and her daughter Kelley do 99% of the dirt-work cloth bagging (T-shirts, wash rags, etc.) so she took a lot home when she left.   Many friends and I buy all year long (Hello Target Dollar Spot 70% off!), and dear friend Lisa in Houston is the Queen of Online Bargain Hunting, so it just piles up.  BTW – Lisa has already purchased 5,650 ziplock bags for next year!  Yes, she’s amazing.

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When Paula returns the material – miraculously, it’s all bagged and tagged by item description, age and gender – truly a godsend.

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Paula’s daughter Kelley works all year melting and re-forming crayons into beautiful new crayons and small toys for the children receiving boxes.  She’s also our #1 candy bagger.  If you have broken crayons, we’d love to have them! 

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The saint that is Amy H came over to help organize.  There are few people I would allow into our game room when it’s in this shape.  Takes experience (and a strong stomach.)  Really, it’s a horror.  Amy also cut labels, brought over other kids from church to help, stopped by with lunch and…..

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….led the charge in her Sunday School class to buy 30 deflated soccer balls and pumps for boys ages 10 – 14.  We’ve never had soccer balls before.  So cool!  You know the boys are going to love them.

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Her kiddos stuffed 300 bears into baggies one Sunday afternoon as we waded through the piles.  Lois’ and Julia’s rooms turn into staging/stuffing/holding areas.  They’re good-natured until they literally can’t walk among the clutter, but by then – we’re ready to pack.

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Toothpaste, anyone?  We try to take all of it out of packaging so save room.  Julia and Mabry filled an entire black trash bag with empty boxes.

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Eventually, we get items organized by age and gender to make packing easier.  I try to throw away all excess packaging and boxing all the way because we literally run out of trash space.

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Lots of Boy 5 – 9 clothes this year, plus some interesting puzzles for older kids.

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We had a wide variety of water bottles and small Tupperware-type containers this year, plus a few small novelty lunch boxes, each of which we filled with candy before packing in shoe box.  At $7@box shipping – nothing goes empty! 

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Sippy cups for toddlers, all candy-stuffed.  So cute!

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Hats off to Lisa, who knitted (and bagged!) hundreds of beautiful caps, and Sue, who donated many more.

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Samaritan’s Purse has told of many children able to go or return to school because they got a pencil in their shoe box.  Each of our shoe boxes had at least two or three pencils, plus a sharpener.  Many of the older kids’ boxes had mechanical pencils. 

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300 pairs of sunglasses!

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400+ individually, doubled-bagged (to keep the soap smell away from the candy) washrags and soap.  If you travel, we’d love to have your unused hotel soaps.  In their Facebook feed this year, a now-adopted Russian orphan talked about the washrag he got in a shoe box one year, “When I got a washcloth in my shoebox I actually thought it was my own personal towel! It was very special because I was the only one who could use it. It was my own personal thing — something that I didn’t have before.”  Really – if you can save some hotel soap, we can use it.

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Toy cars!  Wow, these are wonderful.  Boys of all ages love them, and they fit so nicely.  Plus toys are always our sticking point.  Whenever anyone asks, “What do you need,” my answer is very often “toys,” plus “money for candy and shipping.”  Well, if you ask – I’m going to tell you!

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Tables up, stuff under them, stuff downstairs, stuff in the hallway, pre-labeled boxes in Julia’s and Lois’ rooms (thanks to friends who came over and did nothing but label boxes) – ready to pack.

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Among our first packers – Dawn and Jill, two of Julia’s elementary school teachers (and some of the nicest people you’d ever meet.)

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The awesome “Women on Wednesday” class of which I’ve been a part for years packed 120 boxes.  Special kudos to Sharon (left) who came back Saturday and worked feverishly for five hours on her very tired feet.

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You have to love people like Sue that find stuff for the boxes all year long, then come over to pack after a very long day at work.

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Huge thanks to friend Amy K for dinner Wednesday night, and breakfast Saturday morning.  Just not having to worry with that was a much-appreciated help.

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Once the boxes were packed upstairs, young legs brought them downstairs for fit’n’finish.  Julia’s joy at one more interruption to homework was often evident.

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We piled packed – but unfinished – boxes in the dining room.

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The fit’n’finish (dining room) table – critical!  Just because a box is packed doesn’t mean it’s ready to go.  It needs little things inserted into it – a comb, a pack or two of Kelley’s crayons, maybe beads or small toys, definitely two or more small bags of candy. Plus it has to be rubber-banded, and stroke-tallied. 

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With so many people doing fit’n’finish at different times, it was just easier to write down the instructions.

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Johnnie – a fit’n’finsh master….

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Travis with dad Jay – a fit’n’finish novice.

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I took four days of vacation so folks could come over during the day.  Phyllis came over mid-day Thursday and finished dozens of boxes, plus took a huge load for later delivery to church.

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This year – knowing we were going to have an unusual number of boxes and Keith was out of town – I really had to worry about transport logistics.  I asked friends from church who helped pack to please take boxes with them.  The very first boxes to leave the house went with friend Jenae on Wednesday night.  She moved items to the back seat so we could efficiently stuff her trunk.

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Good-natured Sandra also filled her trunk and back seat, even though she was going out of town soon.

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Saturday morning crunch time.  More than 300 boxes had left the house, but we had more than 100 awaiting fit’n’finsh, plus many more to pack.  (l-r) Kelley, Angela and Paula – first on the scene, and bagging more candy.  We used $300+ worth of half-price, post-Halloween candy.

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Bart-man to the rescue for final candy packing!  He’s the Tootsie Roll King!

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The wonderful young legs carrying out boxes to cars.  Julia’s friend Emily has helped in years past, too. 

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Jim and Sherry responded to my plea to come get boxes.  It helps to have no pride (and have really good friends.)

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Done!  Friend Amy K and her daughter Heidi were incredible Saturday morning.  Amy came to help pack – took an entire carload of boxes to church – then returned with Heidi to finish, and take another carload.  Unbelievable.  No glamour here, just plain hard work.  And how many boxes did we finish?  Their hands tell the story – 6-0-2.  

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Hannah’s stroke sheet gives a little more detail.  We had more stuff for toddlers this year than in all other years combined.  We packed their boxes – and the older kids’ boxes – first so we could then make room for ages 5 – 9.    

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The funny thing was – friends took all our boxes,  We took none to church on Sunday morning!  So we just helped unload people’s cars.

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All 602 boxes are either in or one their way to processing in Dallas.  And from there -God knows.  Literally.  He knows. 

Thank you to everyone who shopped and stuffed, carried and counted, donated and delivered.


Posted in Samaritan's Purse | 5 Comments

Informe de Progresso 2015

We got our summer vacation in early – a weekend in Nueva Progresso, Mexico, where we’ve gone several times before.  Yes, we know about all the travel warnings, but (1) we’ve never had a problem there and (2) we cross early and leave by 4 p.m.  We are not looking for trouble and blessedly, it has not found us.  We had a muy bueno time!
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On the way to Progresso – I think this is the single most (or perhaps doubly most) puzzling/interesting convenience store bathroom I’ve ever visited.  Enter as strangers – leave as the most intimate of friends.

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The girls and I share a Vera Bradley obsession, as proven by our weekender bags.

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The Rio Grande river was “up,” thanks to the recent Texas rains. 

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“Mom’s taken this same picture of us forever.  Just humor her and get it over with.”  True.

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Entering Progresso – The “Arizona Restaurant Bar” always makes me think of my strict teetotaler Aunt Zum, whose given name was Arizona. 

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We saw even more dental office signs than in years past, if that’s possible.  Keith talked to a snow bird whose wife was getting $2,000 worth of dental work done.  It was priced at $20,000 in Michigan.

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We always pick up a few Z-packs as souvenirs.  For the first time – Border agents opened our bags on re-entry to the states.  And somebody behind us set off the radiation detector, so out came an agent with a portable Geiger counter.  Turns out my formerly-broken left wrist is still carrying a bit of x-ray residue.

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“Real” Ray-bans for $5?!  Si!

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Lots of pretty ceramics – wouldn’t this look beautiful in a nursery?

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Glassware styles change frequently in Progresso, but this colored bubble pattern has been out several years.  Every year, I pick up a glass, then put it back.  I would so, so love to have a set of glasses, but have nowhere to put them.  Good thing there are no colored bubble plates, because I’m not sure I could resist.  There is no such thing as too many plates.

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Solid assortment of pewter this year, and no real weirdness – no horse heads, golf clubs or Greek god profiles. 

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An 10-piece $100 pewter wedding gift like nothing you could get in San Antonio for that amount.

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I fell in love with these metallic gift bags.  I stood drooling at them until I thought of two “girl gifts” I knew I’d be buying. 

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One of our favorite stores – the Crystal Shop – will transform any of their rocks or fossils into jewelry or a paperweight. 

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Most of the knock-off purses were “MK” (Michael Kors) this year, plus the eternal Coach.  The girls really aren’t into knock-offs any longer.  They carry more Vera and Mexican craft purses….


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….like this pretty pastel number Hannah snapped up.

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Lois and I decided we must have this small, jewel tone pop-up Day of the Dead decoration.

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Lots more pastels in the decorative crosses.  Loved this one, but couldn’t justify buying.

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Julia and Hannah adore Kinder eggs, and they’re banned here because people don’t have the common sense not to give a toddler candy with a swallow-size toy inside.  Each bought a box of 12, and Julia’s were gone in two days.

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No adult beverages sold during election weekend.  Sigh.  So….

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……that explains our drink choices at our very favorite restaurant – Angel’s.  Every family should have a restaurant that is “theirs.”  For us, it’s Angel’s.  And we don’t have to skimp.  Prices are very reasonable – no shooting dirty looks at the girls if they order soft drinks  instead of water.  And the food – awesome!

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Queso Fundido – One of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever put in my mouth.  Bits of tender steak, peppers, onions and seasonings swimming in a wonderful cheesy broth cooked and served in a heated stone bowl.  Scoop some into a tortilla and go ahhhhhhh.   Super picky Julia discovered she liked it, and even asked for seconds.  That n-e-v-e-r happens. 

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Quite possibly the best tacos I have ever devoured.  Five tacos stuffed with bits of braised beef, avocado and white cheese with onions (grilled and chopped) and cilantro on the side, plus charro beans and Spanish rice – $8.  Hannah got a chicken dish lathered in guacamole that I “helped” her with.

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 Pedicures for everyone – but no polish for Keith.  He’s just not in touch with his feminine side.  Sorry, Caitlyn.  We’ve tried a few different places at $10@, but this place – Erica’s – was $12@, and worth every converted peso.  I kept their card because we want to make sure we come here again.  If I were rich, I’d have a pedicure every week.  A pedicure and a good book is the world’s best therapy.

Now we settle in for the long, hot summer after one really cool trip.

Posted in Away from Home, Family | 2 Comments

Sister’s Day – Part 9

Last weekend, we celebrated our ninth annual “Sister’s Day,” our version of “Gotcha Day” – the anniversary of Julia coming home from Russia.   The Friday and Saturday of Easter weekend may not seem the ideal time to do so, especially since Julia came home in May.  But it was the weekend we could get everyone together and with five jobs and four school schedules – necessary.

Within reason, the girls decide what we’re doing, and they choose a jaunt to Austin.  So many things to do!

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(l-r) Julia in front of Rachel, Lois and Hannah who were (almost) 15, 12 and 10 when Julia (then 6) came home from Russia.  Bluebonnet pictures are required when driving Texas highways in the spring.  I am not a fan of LBJ, but I very much admire Lady Bird’s tireless efforts to beautify highways.  I’d vote for wild flowers over billboards every time.

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Thug life while visiting some of the shops on South Congress.   $30 for a baseball cap?  Mean mom didn’t think so.

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Love this mural on South Congress.  It’s fun just to watch the constant stream of interesting people pose for photos.  Disappointingly, I can’t say much good about the food trucks near South Congress.  The worst was Thai Crepes, where I literally spit my first bite back into the paper tray.  The best was Fry Cactus Navajo Fry Breads, which Keith and I liked well enough, but the girls gave it eight thumbs down.

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No spitting issue at Galaxy Cupcakes, which are the only cupcakes Keith will eat.   Everyone got to pick two.

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Lois’ long-time best friend Jamie attends nearby Southwestern, so she popped into Galaxy for a quick visit.  We met Jamie’s family our first month in San Antonio, when I had swung the girls through Wendy’s for one of our “picnic dinners,” a.k.a., Mom has worked all day, Dad is out of town and we’re eating in the park and throwing all this mess away here. 

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Rachel, Lois and Hannah love Book People, the largest independent book store in Texas.  I could spend days in there.  Everybody got to pick out one book.   Lois – “After The People Lights Have Gone Off,” which I want to read later.  Hannah – The Wizard of Oz – a surprising choice.   Rachel – Room, another I may want to read later.  Me – A Sniper in the Tower, which I am reading now and is excellent.  If we’re friends on Facebook, expect a review soon.  Julia chose not to select a book.  Sigh.  She reads under duress which causes me stress I must confess.

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The girls really wanted to try In-N-Out Burger, so we did.   Very good!  A lot like Five Guys, but way less expensive.  They’ve built one in San Antonio very recently.  Seems like a lot of  little white cups but remember – fries are just a delivery device for ketchup.

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We had to hit the outlet mall in Georgetown.  “Sale” is Hannah’s favorite four-letter word.

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Outlet Mall Babes

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And because the outlet mall didn’t provide enough shopping – the wonder that is Sam Moon.  Omigosh.   The girls had been here before, but I hadn’t.  Sensory overload.  Does it zip, flip or sparkle?  They’ve got it.  That place is insane. 

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Far and away the favorite part of our trip – Puzzle Room Austin.  Kudos to Keith for finding something really fun and different to end our visit.  It’s a major, mentally-taxing hoot!   Our whole family loves puzzles – jigsaw, word games, Sudoku, you name it. So the Puzzle Room…..basically, a team of 10 players (though we had only nine – us, and a family of three plus a no-show) are locked in room and must solve a mystery within an hour to get out.  It’s not for small children, or the disabled – the space is small for 10 ambulatory people to move around in, and kids would not be helpful with clues involving classic comics, Morse code, time sequencing, etc.  Alas, we solved the mystery, but in an hour and 30 seconds.  Thirty miserable seconds too long.  About 30% of the teams successfully complete in an hour.  Wish we’d been among them, but….

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.…they’ll have a new puzzle in a few months, and I’m betting we’re back then. 

This sounds trite, but it really doesn’t seem like nine years since Julia came home.  It’s gone so fast.  It’s hard to recall life before her.  Rachel says that sometimes, she mentally paints Julia into memories from Houston, from which we moved a month before Julia was born.   Next year will be our “Big 10,” and the girls want to do something special.  We’ll see what presents itself.  The older I get, the more I believe that if you leave yourself open to possibilities – good or bad – they’re likely to happen.  I’m glad the original five of us left ourselves open to the possibility of a sixth, because a lot of good has come out of that addition.


Posted in Adoption, Away from Home, Celebrate, Family | 8 Comments

A-Wristed Development

I broke my left wrist November 3 and recently got the waterproof cast off.   I am (blessedly) right-handed, and hey, I could shower – but still not an experience I would recommend.

I discovered that Satan created many of our household items.

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Child-proof pill bottles are impossible to open one-handed.  Keith and the girls were good about opening them for me, but when I was alone one evening with a screaming bone, I admit to clamping this bottle in my mouth to open it.  Note the tooth mark-torn label.  Not my proudest moment.  Still can’t open them.  Doctor said it would be a few months before my hand strength was fully back.

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Zippers?  Straight from the bowels of hell.  Can’t be done, even if your fingers are semi-free.  Hurts too much to pull.  Ditto for back-hooking bras.  Pierced earrings?  Nope.  Rachel got me a small, cheap pair I just left in all the time.  I’ve been wearing pull-on pants to church – the thought of pantyhose makes my eyes cross.  Buttons…hahahahah.

Other toughies:  Pulling the driver’s side door closed.  Hanging or folding anything heavier than a T-shirt.  Cutting meat – really, cutting anything.  Ziplock bags – crazy talk, I know, but you have to hold a Ziplock bag to slide it open.  Opening cans.  Pulling the top off a Chapstick.  Typing.  Emptying the dishwasher one plate at a time.  Putting on a jacket.  Sleeping with my left arm propped up.

Shaving my right armpit was a day of joyous victory.  No photos, though.

I discovered a few helpful things, too.

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Chacos!  When I realized I couldn’t tie shoes (I basically live in New Balance sneakers), Rachel suggested Chacos.  At first I scoffed.  I have lousy arches and was terrified of tripping again and further injuring my wrist.  I need arch support, darn it.  But Rachel insisted, and she was right.  These sports sandals were godsends.  With the toe strap and the slightly built-up arch, my feet were not “wobbly.”  Naturally, a sparkly pedicure or two was required since I couldn’t cut my own nails and my toes were always visible.  Chacos were the only shoes I wore until last week, when cold weather forced me to try tying shoes again.  These will replace Crocs as my go-to summer footwear, I’m sure. 

Other helpful items:  A wonderful husband.  Four daughters completing the Christmas decorating.  A good friend to help with all the preparatory dirt work of Thanksgiving.   A jar opener, assuming the jar was good in my armpit.  Learning to take Ibuprofen before it was needed.  And a Vadilia Chop Wizard.  My brilliant niece Sarah – who cooked most of our Thanksgiving dinner – has had one for years.  And it’s awesome, whether your wrist is broken, whole or somewhere in between.   Absolutely love it.

I’m looking forward to wearing a watch again, plus wearing my new wedding ring.  Keith and I bought new rings for our 25th anniversary in November.  They’re waiting patiently in the closet for the swelling to go down.

Finally – a parting word of advice from Hannah-the-Compassionate:  “Mom, I know it hurts.  So don’t do it again.”

Posted in Family, Serendipity, Tasty Eats | 5 Comments