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Cookies for Breakfast!

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This morning in Tennessee we woke up to snow.  Soon began the squeals of delight and hounding “snowman” requests from my five year old, Timothy.  Snow is somewhat rare here.  There is a lot of rush-to-the-grocery store and stay-home-if-you-can type hype, but rarely enough snow to make a good snowman.

I recently left my day job to be a full time mom, so I am now able to stop and breathe and  enjoy mornings like this.  We are on Spring Break this week, so we sat at the table and watched the beautiful snow out the window, and we had chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.  We are health conscious and take good care of ourselves (especially with health plans not being what they used to be) but sometimes a little treat is just in order.  Trust me, everybody was happy!


So far during this bad weather Spring Break, we have made cookies, had a “trying on clothes” party to clean out Timothy’s closet, danced in the kitchen and have written books.  Our books consist of several pages of drawn dragons, dinosaurs and sounded-out words written on printer paper, and taped together on the side with tape.  I couldn’t be more proud!


It makes financial sense for me to work and I don’t fault anyone that chooses to do so.  When deciding whether or not to go back to work, I often wondered if being a mommy would be enough of a sense of accomplishment for me.  It is a lot of repetitive work, with the “thanks” coming much later that I would like, and it can sometimes get lonely when you’re surrounded by little people.

But then I get to have conversations about all of the crazy, outlandish things that Timothy is passionate about.  I know about every possible species of dragons and dinosaurs there are.  I know who the characters are that he talks about on his favorite tv shows, and his little friends at school.  I hope that by listening to ALL of the little things, that it gives me credit for the future when he needs to talk about the big things.

And I get to take in all of the delightful baby laughs and smiles from my 3 month old son William as he watches us.

Stay at home mom is rarely a glamorous job title when meeting people.  It may not be forever, but my being home is definitely for now, and though every day certainly isn’t watching a beautiful snow out the window, I will at least be here to experience it all.  And enjoy fabulous cookies! I highly recommend the jumbo chocolate chips.


There Goes My Life

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At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I had Kenny Chesney’s song “There Goes My Life” in the back of my mind for weeks as we made preps to send our son Timothy to kindergarten.  I kept telling myself ‘It’s only kindergarten, for pete’s sake, you’re not sending him to college, Afghanistan, or Mars or anything’, but the anxiety was still there.

In the weeks before school, I had plenty to keep me busy.  We went to several doctor appointments, and a pool party for incoming kindergarten students so he could meet the other kids.   We went shopping for school clothes and went on a tour of the school, and even did a trial run on the school bus.  We went to student and parent orientations and met all of the teachers.  I was fine through all of that, until my mind rehashed all of the news stories that week about young students in another school district getting off at the wrong bus stops and being missing for a few hours until their parents could locate them.  And then I realized I was at the mercy of a network of school professionals to take over the care of my child.  It was up to them to care every single minute of the school day about him and his whereabouts, and I wept uncontrollably for about 20 minutes.  My being 6 months pregnant likely contributed to some of that, but it is a legit concern nonetheless.

We are in a great school district and I talked to parents that have older children that attend his school, and was reassured that he is in great hands, and that the bus drivers and teachers keep an extra close eye on the youngest ones to make sure they are delivered safe and sound where they need to be.

On day one, we got his backpack ready and took his ‘first day of school’ pics after breakfast, and and loaded up in the car.  He was a chatterbox all the way to the school parking lot.  We got out of the car and held hands, walking up to the school.  We wound up being extra early, and they told us to go to the gym, where he would wait with the other students until the bell rings.   We went by his classroom first so he could remember where it was, and then we walked back to the gym.

He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw all of the kids in the gym.  He was used to being one of the oldest kids at his daycare, and now as a kindergartner he was one of the youngest.   He shrunk down and said “I don’t want to go in there, mama”, and he held my hand tighter.  “I don’t want you to leave”.

… And my heart cried out, I don’t want to leave either.  I want to explain all of the new things to you, and be there to help you if you make a mistake.  I want to hug and comfort you if you are scared to try something new or if you have a hard first day.  I want to help you make friends and make sure you remember where your lunch money is.  I want to help you pick up your food if you drop your lunch tray.  I want to help you remember the difference between M and N.  I want to be there if anyone teases you and help shield you from the mean kid.  I hardly slept at all last night, worrying that you would be okay on your own in a big school, and I prayed over you at the breakfast table this morning for extra protection.

I crouched down and gave him a big long hug, and told him “I am so proud of you, this is your first day of kindergarten!  You are a big boy now and that means that you’ll get to do a lot of new things, and even though they might be scary, you have to try.  And that means walking into the gym right now.  See if you can find out what those boys’ names are that are sitting over there.”

“Okay” he said slowly, his big brown eyes full of doubt.  He gave me another hug and slowly walked in.  A teacher waved and smiled, and pointed to the Kindergarten area where the boys were.  He sat down, took off his backpack and nervously looked around.

I turned and walked back to my car, with anvils in my shoes.  I hated that I made him go in there on his own.  I barely made it to my car, I closed the door and just let the tears flow.  Amidst the sea of other parents taking their ‘first day of school pics’, I sat there in my car and cried and thought to myself, there goes my life.

But a flower won’t bloom under constant shelter.  It has to have to have room to grow.

And it turns out, the boys in the gym all like Spiderman.

“She’s Gone.”

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Thursday 4/22/11  9:24 p.m.

Danny and I were working out, as we usually do after our son goes to bed.  We have had a lot of success with the P90X workout program and like to work out together.  Sunny always staked out a spot on the floor next to us and watched us work out.  I’m sure it was very entertaining to watch, come to think of it.

Sunny got up to move, and fell down on her side.  She was trying to get up, but was unable to support her weight with her hind legs.  She kept trying , but it was as if both of her hind legs were paralyzed.   She couldn’t bend them, so we tried to help her stand.  She kept stumbling.  I gave her another dose of insulin and a small bit of sugar, thinking that her blood sugar was just too low.  She has been insulin dependent for some time now as a result of canine diabetes.   After several minutes, her condition worsened so Danny called an Emergency Vet clinic and they said to bring her in.   I started to sob.  I knew this was it.  I helped Danny carry her to the car.

The prognosis was not good.  The vet suspected nerve damage in her hind legs from elevated glucose levels.  This meant that the insulin was no longer working to control her diabetes.  She was also completely blind at this point.  Cataracts are a side effect of diabetes.    We had to decide whether to hospitalize her overnight so they could watch and transfer her to our regular vets office in the morning, or we could take her home and bring her in ourselves.   Sunny was already whining because she didn’t know where she was, and we couldn’t bear to leave her alone.  And I knew that our regular Vets office would likely not give us better news in the morning.  We elected to take her home.  We carried her back in the house and made her a bed on the living room floor.  I got her a bowl of water, and we put an absorbent pad on top of her blankets because she would not be able to get up and relieve herself.   We also made ourselves a bed on the floor, and spent the night next to her.  I kept one hand on her the whole time, and didn’t sleep a wink.  She pulled herself closer to me using her front legs, and laid her head down.  She slept well.

The next morning came early and we brought her in to our regular vets office.  The prognosis was the same, and then got worse.  They noticed that she had developed small black specks on her belly as well, which was indicative of other serious internal health complications.  He said that her organs were shutting down.  We knew what we had to do.

The doctor was very supportive and gentle and explained what would happen.  She would be given a shot to numb her, and then given a final shot a few minutes later.   We were able to spend a lot of time alone with her, and we held her and caressed the length of her body over and over.  She was very calm.  I wish I could’ve said the same about us.

He gave her the first shot and said she would become very woozy but would not feel pain.  He left the room to give us more time with her. She looked around a few times and then took a deep breath and then laid her head down.  I felt her relax.  She was no longer aware of her surroundings.

I thought of Sunny when she was young and rambunctious.  I remembered how excited and strong she was, she was super fit.  I remembered how fast and determined she was as she ran the length of a football field to fetch a simple tennis ball.  I remembered the number of tennis balls we had to keep in constant supply, as no ball was a match for her strong jaws for very long.   I remembered what a big dumb oaf she was in the obedience class we took when she was a puppy.  I remembered that gross tomato juice bath we had to give her when she got sprayed by a skunk.  I remembered that plate of freshly cooked hamburgers she stole off of the counter.  I remembered taking long walks together with her at Cane Ridge Park when I was lonely and pregnant.  I remembered her always perched underneath my son’s high chair in the kitchen, waiting for food to drop.  I remembered the day she unknowingly walked around the house with corn on top of her head as a result of her dinnertime stance.   I remembered trying to wrestle covers from underneath the 90 lb dog that would make her way between us in bed at night.  I remembered her perking up immediately at the sight of a squirrel or cat, giving chase.  I remembered her sticking her nose out the window in the car, taking in all the wind and snorting it back out.   I remembered her big dog nose up against my dinner plate, and puppy dog eyes looking longingly at me while I ate.  I remembered her proudly walking with us on family walks after dinner time, head and tail held high.   I remembered her as my favorite pair of night time slippers as she slept at my feet at night.

I knew that at present day I was holding a very different dog as I heard the door behind me open again.  I glanced down at the syringe that carried the pink solution and knew it was time.   I could not stop the tears.  I held her head and kissed her, and we continued to pet her.  I saw him find her vein and start to inject her, and I laid my head on hers.  We tried to remain calm and we were doing a good job with that until several seconds later when the doctor took out his stethoscope and listened for her heartbeat.  He gently said to us:  “She’s Gone.”

For the life of me, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to live with being able to load the dishwasher without a big dog nose in there trying to lick all the dirty plates.  I will no longer have a dozen wet dog nose marks on my legs as I walk down the hallway.   I will no longer hear her enormous tail beating against the wall in excitement when I get home.  When I sit out on the deck to relax, she won’t be by my side, and I will forever miss my “built-in psychiatrist” walking companion.

We are going to spread her ashes at Cane Ridge Park.  We spent a lot of time with her there when she was in her prime and we want to return her there.  She was an incredible dog, and our lives are so much better because she was in it.  As we left the vets office that day holding only her collar, I remember thinking that even though she had a lot of health problems in the end that were shutting down her organs, there is no doubt in my mind that her heart was by far the strongest one.

The Box That Built Me

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Boy, do I regret randomly throwing together the last several boxes that were left for us to pack on moving day. A lot of it was odds and ends and miscellaneous stuff so I just started throwing it all together in the closest box. I’m normally very organized but I was out of vacation days, and I had a huge dog, a toddler and a 2200 sq ft house to pack up while working full time, so sue me. We had one day to get everything moved, and even after having 2 big garage sales and throwing out a ton of stuff, we still had to get a storage unit and fill our bedroom closet full of moving boxes to hold all of our stuff.

Now a year later, I was on the hunt to find the box of arts and crafts materials to  donate to my son’s school. I started plowing through the boxes in our bedroom closet, and came across a memory box.

I’m all about throwing things out and reducing clutter, but in 1997 I started to save each and every card and letter I received since the day I left for college. It’s probably a big fire hazard, but I move the memory boxes with me everytime I move, and I can’t bring myself to throw them out. And I’m so glad I didn’t. I ended up sitting on the floor for hours reading a lot of that old stuff, and going through old pictures. You know, back before the mouse replaced the pencil, people used to sit down and write letters to eachother all the time. I found postcards from the ladies that worked in my mom’s office the year I left for school. I found old car repair bills and speeding tickets (for those of you that know me well, this shouldn’t surprise you). I found hilarious party pics. And old family pics. I found cards from countless family members for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I found the grocery store name tag I used to wear at a job I hated while working in college, and it made me smile. I found letters from old boyfriends, and foreign currency from Spring Break trips.  I found old check stubs that I chuckled at.  I found letters that maybe didn’t seem to stand out at the time, but were from dear people that are no longer with us. 

I honestly don’t know how I crammed that much fun and comraderie into a seemingly short amount of time.  I hope I realized back then just how incredibly blessed I was to have all of those people in my life.  I don’t remember ever feeling scared or alone, because I don’t think there was a time when I ever was.  I also observed how easily relationships can change.  I had several pieces of mail from people that are no longer in my life, whether by force, choice or simply by losing touch.

One constant throughout that box was my mom’s handwriting.  And to this day, I don’t think she misses anyone’s birthday.  In a fast paced world when you’re lucky to get an e-card, I think that’s great.  There’s just something about opening the mail and seeing your name hand written on an envelope.  And mom is still pretty big on stickers.  My son’s eyes lit up to see Tow Mater and McQueen stickers all over his birthday envelope. 

I think one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard is ‘The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert.  I think it fits because I had that song in the back of my mind the whole time I was going through the box that built me.  I am so thankful that I have these memories to go through.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I had to stop and think for a second about who the sender was a few times, but I could always remember, and I had a fond memory of each person that I could easily recall.  I’m so glad I have something that I can spend time looking at to remind me of all of the people that have touched my life.   It truly takes a village.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I still plan on sitting down and writing out my Christmas cards this year.  And I’m hoping that before our kids ditch laptops and start writing out their homework in the air, that I can fill up a few more memory boxes.  🙂

Working In Local News Is Like Being In an Abusive Relationship You Can’t Get Out Of

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It’s sad but true. Maybe it’s a bad analogy, but there are days I feel like a battered wife, married to local news. You can’t deny it. If you work in news, you have two families. Your news family, and your biological family, and you probably spend more time with your news family. It takes a special breed to be able to do this job. You have to be able to sacrifice family time at any point of the day, and accept the fact that your entire day is a dry erase board. If a tornado strikes and wipes out an entire town, you aren’t making it to grandma’s for dinner.

An outstanding example of this was when the floods hit Nashville. It was devastating, and it happened on a weekend. My chief photographer was standing in water in his own basement, and had to break it to his wife that he had to go. Our station was even flooding while we were on the air in continuous coverage. I can’t explain the drive you feel to come in and feed the news beast, but it’s what we do, and we all worked side by side for hours in smelly, flooding conditions, both inside and outside. Nearly the whole staff was in, wearing flood gear. We never missed a beat on the air, and we all pretty much cleared our schedules, because there was no question what we would be doing for the next few months.

Why do we do this? Believe me, we ask ourselves the same question. We do a lot of stories on negative events. We stand out in the freezing ice and rain and tell you not to come out in the freezing ice and rain. We make big deals out of seemingly nothing. But we also made a big deal of the weather just before the floods hit. There is a reason we do this. And yes, toothless Billy Bob always gets on tv when a tornado takes his trailer, but that was Billy Bob’s home, and he matters just as much as anyone else.

We sit through countless hours of city council meetings. We’re there for school board meetings, it’s not always fun. Especially when we have to go and knock on the door of the parents whose child was just run over by a car. I will always feel like a scumbag for that, but when it comes to the latest property tax increase coverage, or the grueling raw emotions those parents are feeling, which story are you going to watch? It’s about people. It’s always been about people. I have never worked in a job before that puts me so front and center in my community. I used to be a very shy small town kid that didn’t say much, but now I’m comfortable approaching just about anyone. I have had the opportunity to meet very prominent celebrities, and I’ve worked with homeless people living in tents under a bridge. I would dare to say that working with the homeless was the most rewarding. I might throw up a picture or two of a celebrity on Facebook, but I will remember that homeless camp in my heart forever.

In the words of Steve Hartman, everybody truly has a story. It’s just a matter of finding that person and getting them to tell that story. I was welcomed into the living room of a family whose son was just killed while serving in Afghanistan. I have sat in Brad Paisley’s living room. I have worked amidst crowds of passionate Tea Party demonstrators. I have been to an inmate graduation ceremony at a maximum security men’s prison. I have been backstage at the Opry. I have been in the pits at a Nascar race. I sat on the floor with students in a pre-Kindergarten class. I stood in the Otero house in Wichita, where an entire family was murdered by the BTK serial killer. I got to interview country music legend George Jones. I got to do all of this, and get paid to experience it. I have worked in a standard 9 to 5 office job, and for me there is just no comparison.

After my son was born, I struggled for a long time with the decision on whether or not to go back to work. I wanted to stay at home, but I knew that I would greatly miss the news world. I was down to my last week of maternity leave and still couldn’t make up my mind. I decided to go back and give it a try for a week or two, and if it was too hard to be away from my son, I would quit. My first week back, I covered Hillary Clinton campaigning in Nashville. It wasn’t the fact that it was Hillary Clinton, it was the fact that I knew I would be giving up a front seat to what was going on in my world. And I couldn’t do it.

To be honest, I think that working in news makes me a better mother. Seeing kids with cancer makes me incredibly grateful for my son’s health. Interviewing homeless people makes me appreciate all of my blessings in the way of basic needs. Talking to parents that are mourning the deaths of their children make me truly appreciate and cherish my son. At the end of the day, my feet might be throbbing but I learn something new every day, and I get to meet really memorable people that I otherwise wouldn’t get to.

Every year when I have to stand outside in the snow for eight days, I tend to start thinking about getting a nice indoor, family-friendly job where I get to gossip and eat cake, but in the end I know I’ll just end up watching the clock and the severe weather out the window, longing to complain about having to work in it. No matter how often I try to leave it, it just keeps sucking me back in. I love it.

And I say all this after I’ve just come off of working a 12 hour shift on overnights. What can I say, my name is Audra and I’m a helpless news junkie. Call me with any story ideas 🙂

If You Go in There and Go Potty, I’ll Give You Some Money

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Ah, parenting. What a quandry. My husband actually said these words, but if he hadn’t, I probably would have, as we were deep into potty training frustration. The sticker charts we were using finally lost their luster, and we were trying to create a little added enthusiasm for going potty. And in my husband’s defense, he was referring to a few coins that he was already going to give to Timothy to put into a savings jar. It is also a change counter, and Timothy likes to watch the readout as they put the money in. So to clarify: the money was for savings, not for going potty.

We are taking a parenting class at our church, and we were talking about discovering your child’s gifts. They said to really pay attention when your child is being annoying, because they are acting out their gifts in an amplified manner. That’s pretty funny to think about. Apparently, my son has a bright future in talking and acrobatics. The possibilities are endless! 🙂

In the class, they asked us to think back about what our early gifts were and what we said we wanted to be when we grew up. For the life of me, I don’t remember anything I said I wanted to be. Once I hit junior high, I remember thinking it would be cool to go to Hollywood and work on movie sets “behind the scenes”. I remember acting like radio dj’s with my friends and recording our radio shows onto cassette tapes, complete with commercials. It took forever for little Erica Blake to correctly pronounce “Conklin Cars”! Also, over the summer I would spend a few weeks with my cousins Cory and Donna, and we would write up little news stories on notebook paper. We drew pictures to hold over our shoulders while we sat at our makeshift anchor desk and read the “newscast” for my aunt and uncle. I guess I’m not too far off the mark now, since I work in local news. Not exactly the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but hey, I’m closer to home this way. And I’m happy with what I’m doing.

I was at a high school the other day shooting video of high school athletes signing letters of intent to area colleges. I was especially moved by a young man that was signing to play football. He looked a lot like what I think Timothy might look like when he’s that age. I got very emotional, as I imagined being a proud parent in the stands. Thinking back to the day they were born, their 3rd birthday, exciting Christmas mornings, driving lessons, and prom- and sadly wondering where all the time went.

I think another reason ‘signing day’ hit me is because I know that day for us is coming soon. I truly try to cherish him every day, but it can be tough. It’s easy to tell them you’ll “play later” after the dishes are done, or that they’re getting “too big to hold” for very long. My house is a mess and my back hurts, but I don’t regret any of it! I also try to be very careful about being on my phone too much, because I know it’s just a matter of time before the tables will turn.

I don’t yet know what my son’s gifts are, but I am having fun guessing. When the time comes, I hope I will have the wisdom to recognize what they are, even if they don’t align with what I want them to be. I am guessing that even if he turns out wearing trendy flannel and skinny jeans with Justin Bieber hair at Starbucks, that I’ll be just as proud of him, whether he’s playing Parchesi or cracking skulls on a football field.

It would be nice if kids came with instruction manuals, but I’m pretty sure I’m on my own here. I think the best you can do is keep your eyes peeled and listen to them. A fair amount of discipline and guidance is in order as well. I think I would be happy with whatever he wants to do, as long as he’s happy and good to people.

The kid’s got an outstanding chance of going a little wild at some point, he has 100% crazy-farm-kid blood running through his veins. I figure I can adopt my mom’s tried and true techniques, and since I have a decent background on what he’ll likely end up doing, I am hoping I can keep him on the right path, or at least keep him between the ditches.

Ugly Santa, Hanging By a String

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I hate shopping. I hate crowds, and I hate malls.  So naturally my work assignments over the holidays were to cover holiday shopping.  Stores were open Thanksgiving Day, and of course there’s always Whack Friday, Cyber Monday, endless store flyers in the mail, toys for sale at Exxon, yada yada yada.  I am a ‘jammies and couch’ shopper myself, but I got to thinking about how Christmas has become such an overpriced, gaudy monstrocity.

I love to see the joy on my sons face as he opens a present just like anyone else, but I am hoping at 3 years old, he’s still young enough to learn the true meaning of Christmas. No matter how much money we have in our lifetime, I hope that Christmas to him will never mean a gift wrapped car in the driveway.

I’m pretty sure the reason we are supposed to give eachother meaningful gifts has to do with the arrival of Mary and Joseph’s bundle of joy. The wise men brought gifts to Jesus in Bethlehem to celebrate his birth.  The gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh.  These were gifts fit for a King for that time. The gold was a gift for royalty, symbolizing his future as a King. The frankincense was an incense, valued for its soothing properties and symbolized his role as a Priest. The Myrrh was a mysterious gift. It was used in ancient times as an embalming ointment, and allegedly represents how he was born to Die for the world. But I think the gifts are a sidebar to the story.

The wise men, along with Joseph and Mary, lovingly gathered to celebrate his birth. I think that bears repeating, they LOVINGLY GATHERED TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTH. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “they mowed eachother over to get a good deal to charge to their Gold card”. I don’t remember very many of the toys I got as a child, but I certainly remember large family gatherings. I remember rooms full of cousins and babies and laughter. We lovingly gathered. This year I truly want to celebrate what Christmas is all about. The birth of Jesus, and warm fuzzy family feelings.

I have efforted a list of things that I think make up Christmas for me, not just on December 25th, but all throughout the year. Some memories are old, some are new. The point is, every day can be Christmas if you want it to be. And it won’t cost you a thing.

*I remember my mom used to make us hot cocoa, after we came inside from playing out in the snow, with GOOD marshmallows.
*I hear Christmas in my son’s big laugh, I see Christmas in his eyes, and I feel Christmas in his smile
*Upon knowing months ahead of time that my mom was coming to visit, getting to finally see her come down the escalator felt like Christmas
*Getting to give your son a prize after several consecutive “poo-poo’s” in the potty is a lot like Christmas
*Petting your aging dog as she takes a peaceful snooze on your feet feels a lot like Christmas
*Snuggling with a big strong man on the couch while watching a dumb slapstick humor movie is a lot like Christmas
*Watching your big strong man read “The Spiffiest Giant in Town” to his little boy before bedtime IS Christmas
*Meeting unforgettable people like Jared Estes through your job in news, when you normally never would have met them, is a lot like Christmas
*Seeing a rainbow after the rain, both literally and figuratively, is a lot like Christmas
*Going home to a stocked fridge and a messy, but full closet after volunteering in a homeless shelter, is a lot like Christmas
*Finding time to reconnect with your sister while you are both managing very busy lives, is a lot like Christmas.
*Getting a phone call from a loved one unexpectedly just to shoot the breeze (especially from your cousin Teresa), is a lot like Christmas
*Feeling calm, peace, and love in your heart after accepting Jesus in it, is a lot like Christmas

And last, but certainly not least:
*Knowing that EVERY SINGLE YEAR, without fail, your mom still proudly displays an ugly Santa Christmas project that you made in your first years of school, definitely feels like Christmas!

(There are also a host of mis-shapen clay angels created by all of us in elementary school to complete the project)

On Christmas Day, my son will be delighted to open his presents, and I will be sipping coffee on the couch in my jammies. He will open a big Buzz Lightyear toy, a big Woody toy, and some other boring, practical things like clothes. We will give gifts in moderation, but give hugs and kisses on a much more grand scale. I have a feeling he won’t be disappointed with Christmas. I will remember his smiles, and I pray he remembers the hugs and kisses above all else.