21 Awesome Events from 2016 … Number 13 will Amaze You!!

The Family Christmas Letter

Non-objectively speaking (my strength), this was not our planet’s best year.  You’ve probably already heard too much about disasters around the globe—violence and politics and refugees and famous people dying (though that seems to happen every year). And maybe it has you down going in to the Christmas season.  So, we invite you to Evie’s world, where only news directly related to the Campbell family matters.  Because in that world, 2016 was pretty fabulous.

  1. We moved! After 12 long years (or whole lives, for the smaller members of the family) we left DC for a new adventure in North Carolina. So far, it is great. There is no traffic (the locals think there is, but we’re still riding the high where a small flock of cars waiting patiently in a line is actually somehow relaxing). It is warm. There are SO MANY Target stores. Oh, and we live near family for the first time in years, including some amazing babysitting-aged cousins. #happysigh
  2. We went to Disneyworld. The girls’ faces of wonder at meeting real-life Ariel and Belle and Rapunzel made the trip.  James’s face of wonder at meeting Joy and Sadness from Inside Out was a close second.  And we loved having Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Rob as travel buddies.
  3. We went to the beach. Nothing beats relaxing by the ocean, kids playing all day with family, and sand in someone ELSE’s bathtub.
  4. Abigail got sporty. She did martial arts in Virginia, earning her low orange belt before we moved.  She’s also doing jazz and gymnastics this fall.  The true feat is that we almost always know where the respective uniforms are located.
  5. Evie, who likes to do all the things that Abigail can do, also got to do dance and gymnastics. She is spunky and fun and adds an element of leotard fashion that we might not have otherwise.
  6. I had a great time at my DC job through September. I got to be more creative this year than ever before and worked with awesome people. I miss it.
  7. Except that so far, I love being home in NC. I drive the kids around all the time and hang out with the dog and read and work out and fight the urge to make more cookies. It is pretty awesome and makes the whole family happier and more peaceful, which is a daily blessing.
  8. We have a fireplace at our new house. And a mailbox.  And a doorbell.  The girls are beside themselves with the novelty and joy of suburban life in a single-family home. Me too, once the doorbell fascination wore off.
  9. We also have a [redacted] in our new house, which Abigail and Evie turned into a secret play space. They tell visitors it is an [redacted] (giggle giggle) but it is really full of art, books, and tea sets (apparently with hidden candy; I find lots of wrappers).  [Details above have been redacted at Abigail’s request to maintain this important family secret.]
  10. Evie got a Princess Elena backpack—part of being a big girl in transitional img_20161017_141407596kindergarten class. She is learning to read and write letters, has weekly homework, and frequently surprises us at the dinner table with facts she’s learned that can prove other people wrong.
  11. Abigail is a founding member at a new school, which she loves (Go, explorers! Cutest mascot ever.) She seems to pick up a new extra-curricular activity each week. Currently it’s chess. She is better than me already, but this is a very low bar, since I got scolded for calling it the “horse.”
  12. Abigail—history’s most devoted reader—is developing excellent taste in literature. After years devouring anything she could get her hands on, she tackled classic series this year like Nancy Drew and Harry Potter.  Finally, I feel the closing of the Rainbow Magic Fairies  Not that I hate that wretched, formulaic series and cannot wait.
  13. James and the girls made their own root beer for Halloween. It cost $50 and I had to go to four stores to get all the stuff, but it was tasty and hopefully satiated James and Abigail’s desire to carry out semi-dangerous science experiments around the house for at least a while.img_20161031_173431647_burst000_cover_top
  14. Evie made things easy with her extremely clear (if arguably narrow and overly rigid) preferences. For example: every single day for lunch she has a peanut-butter-and-Nutella sandwich on bread with no crust. Once I didn’t have bread and sent it on a hot dog bun, and once we were out of Nutella and I substituted jelly, but I have since learned my lesson.
  15. I ran in several races this year. I just finished my first half marathon this weekend here in North Carolina.  Two amazing friends came from DC to help get me through it. I am still enjoying my post-run high (and the almost-as-important job of post-race eating).
  16. James had some great running, too. He joined me in several races and inspired me to run a bit faster and farther. Except when I was silently cursing him because he runs so much more effortlessly than I do, even when I am training for a half marathon and he has a chest cold. So unfair. Grumble grumble grumble.
  17. We had sooooo many cookies. Evie is a determined and sugar-tastic baker, and she kept us in ample supply of cookies, brownies, and cupcakes all year.  And James kept up the tradition of weekly biscuit-making (BEST. BISCUITS. EVER.)  He also added homemade soft pretzels to his repertoire. Friends are welcome to visit in NC to partake! We have a guest room. J
  18. James really enjoys his new job, working at an analytic sciences laboratory at NC State. He has lots of latitude to choose his own projects, loves being on a college campus, and gets to wear more casual, non-DC attire. Plus, he’s hundreds of miles away from the home office right now…
  19. James’s job came with a professional moving company that even boxed things up. Since I cannot convince James to get rid of his pile of old math books, this is the next best thing.
  20. Maisie has a backyard. It is amazing for fetch and chase and tug-of-war, her best skills.  The backyard did not come with someone to clean up dog poop, though. Alas. 2017?
  21. In the banner year for fake Internet news, the Bow Wow News was created by two intrepid reporters who value truth, humor, and the American way (and who also employed their mom-who-can-type). If you’re looking for news, original poems, and photos of dogs in costumes, you should subscribe.  I think it costs 50 cents.

We hope that despite any sadness or set-backs, you have had joys and triumphs this year.  May you feel our love and the love of the Christmas season, and carry them with you into the New Year.  You are always welcome in Evie’s world, where her birthday—and that of her birthday twin, baby Jesus—are coming soon to fill you with delight and love and peace and cupcakes.

Love of the season from our family to yours!

I am a Superhero

No, not from Halloween (though if there is a way to become a hero by eating fun-size Snickers bars and Kit Kats, that might be a contributing factor). I am for real: my mad parenting skills are not just impressive–they are superhuman. For example:

  1. I can shift time. We’re one week into end-of-daylight-savings-time. Or, as many parents-of-toddlers know it, “[redacted] kids wake up crazy early day.” But I now have seven years’ experience getting children–and now a baby animal–who have no concept of time to adjust their entire lives by an hour, simply by yelling and locking people in their sleeping areas. In just one month’s time, I can get my children entirely recovered from Daylight Savings, waking again at a reasonable hour. Probably. By Christmas, for sure.
  2. I can do things while asleep. While we’re waiting for the full effect of #1 power, I use this: my ability to parent and run a household half asleep. I can ask people to get dressed, authorize extra early morning cartoon screen time, and like photos on Instagram all while mostly still asleep. For example, D2 was a 5:30am riser for a long time. I don’t remember many details, because I think I have PTSD-repressed them, but I do remember the lingering emotion between MI and I about “who’s turn?” and “who’s idea to have another kid…” that added drama to that year. I also remember one morning when she was about 18 months old and loved fruit snacks. She found a new box in the pantry, right across from where I was laying on the couch. She loved them, but she couldn’t open them. She brought them to me, her sleeping guardian, and I gave them to her as a pre-breakfast snack. 7 times, apparently. I woke up in a pile of wrappers. See–I can even feed them while asleep.
  3. I can both clean all the time and have the house be a total disaster. I straighten the house for hours a day. Days a day, even. The kids make so much mess that the only way I’ve found to keep the house neat is to minimize the amount of time we are awake there. Before we had kids, it took me a while to put away the clean dishes because, well, I didn’t feel like doing it. Now putting away dishes is the best because it is easy, I could do it peacefully in the kitchen while listening to a podcast on my headphones, and it is one of those chores that immediately shows results. But, no, it still takes forever in our house to put away the dishes because that is supposed to be a kids’ chore. So even though I’d happily just do it, my chore is to make them do it; SO. MUCH. HARDER. I mean, asking them to pause making messes in the living room so they can come bicker while slowly putting spoons in the fork slot–that is TOUGH. Sometimes it takes two days. Sigh.
  4. Poop does not phase me. I love to tell a good poop story. Kids provide so very many. Even puppies have nothing on toddlers, I’ve found so far. Single friends listen, horrified, and tell me “I just can’t do that.” But when you’re alone for bedtime and your kid poops in the tub, well, you can’t just leave it there. And there is no service call for that. Even if you wanted to just move, you have to clean to show the house. So you deal with it. You wash your hands and get it over with. Now, after 7 years, I am immune to shit and can keep my cool when others lose theirs. For example, a few years ago at a race, one of my friends had a very unfortunate port-a-potty visit. She responded by screaming and texting people about the woeful state of humanity. I was the one who dealt with it–someone else’s poop, someone else’s shorts, public restroom, no big deal. Superhero.
  5. I can make two kinds of dinner in 12 minutes. I am like a short order cook. I really like to cook; I like to play with recipes and cook with vegetables and make things that are healthy and creative. But when we get home from work and school, everyone is starving and I have 15 minutes to get an adult meal and a kid meal on the table. I know that they say not to do that–it should be one meal for the whole family. But I won’t eat quesadillas every day and I cannot figure out how to get the girls to eat food with vegetables or anything red or anything with sauce or anything where multiple ingredients are mixed together. So there are two versions. If you think about it, I cook 14 dinners a week. Unless we order pizza. And go out to eat on Saturday. And eat cereal on Tuesday…

Continue reading “I am a Superhero”

Puppies are Way Easier than Babies

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Adorable puppy. And that foreground pattern is my new gym pants. Also adorable.

Big news in our family this week: we got a dog. Not even a dog, really, but a little, little puppy. And it has been so much poop-filled fun. She’ll appear here in the blog in her true name–Maisie–just like our fish Toothless before her (which reminds me to mention: Toothless died. I gave him a proper burial in the backyard under the Japanese maple tree. MI attended and we both said a few words. The girls didn’t notice for a week.)

Maisie is adorable and small and energetic and tired and hungry and mouthy and definitely not housebroken. And I completely love it! Having small boundless energy and curiosity and enthusiasm over the smallest things is something I needed around again, I think. Sure helps transition from the end of summer. She seems to blend in to our crew right away: she grabbed a piece of bacon her first morning in the house, loves (chewing) legos and My Little Ponies, and is always ready to snuggle (especially if she thinks she is displacing an attention competitor. Poor D2.)

We’re only a week in, so I cannot give an official puppy review yet, but I have been pleasantly surprised so far. Probably because lots of people told me that having a puppy was just like having another baby. Up at night, cleaning all the time, can’t go anywhere. So much work, they said.

She sleeps on one of the nice beach towels. I am a softie.
She sleeps on one of the nice beach towels. I am a softie.

Well, I have decided that either those people have never actually had babies, or they are way more involved dog parents than I am. Both, I think.

Here are the reasons I think having a puppy is SOOOO much easier than having a baby:

  1. She can already walk. There is no crying that she wishes she could roll over, that she could get that toy, that she was near where I am. She can walk–run and hop off of the back two porch steps, even–and so she just does all of those things. So much less movement frustration, so much less crying.
  2. She eats one kind of food, only three times a day, and I don’t have to make it in any way (let alone from scratch using my own body). She eats it in like 3 minutes and then gets herself a drink of water. She never spits it out, she never smears it through her hair, she never throws the bowl violently to the floor. In fact, in her puppy way, she says, “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Man, I am grateful to you.” every time. I give her half of a dog biscuit occasionally, which purportedly tastes like peanut butter and beef hide and is a whopping 2.5 calories, and she is on the moon.
  3. She doesn’t have to come with me. When I want to go to the grocery store and go fast or do my stock up trip, she doesn’t
    IMG_20151009_210920103
    Completely exhausted from a walk around the courtyard.

    come. Then I don’t have to deliberate slowly about fruit snacks, or admire all five types of available character band-aids, or teach the experiential lesson of how you should remove the apple from the top of the pile. She doesn’t need to play all of the musical birthday cards that cost $6 (who buys $6 birthday cards!?) or ask if she can have a mylar balloon shaped like R2D2. Because she doesn’t come–I leave her at home.

  4. I put her in her crate and go downstairs and watch TV. If she’s storming around theIMG_20151007_155514672 house, trying to eat other people’s legos or chewing on the bottom of the wall (yes, this happens. Baffled…) I can just put her in her exercise crate. Boom, I am back to making dinner or talking on the phone or sneaking downstairs to read important stories on Buzzfeed. She doesn’t always love it–she sometimes whines at first–but she has a bed and a bone and toys and it is completely legal. I give her a chew toy, pat her head, and head on down without feeling any terrible guilt. She’s usually asleep within two minutes. Plus, her yips are MUCH quieter than a child meltdown. I can easily block that decimal level out by now, sister.
  5. She loves me already. Maisie clearly recognizes how important I am and that I do everything in her life that she needs done. In as much as she can say thank you and “I love you” with tail wags and licks and lap cuddles, she does it all the time. Baby care was waaaay harder and for six months, I got a whole lotta nothing back about it. Rude.

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    Pet me? Pet me? Pet me?
  6. She will love me in ten years. With the dog, I am not bracing myself for the moment she needs me to drop her off a block away and depart with a firm handshake, like we’ve just completed a professional chauffeur interaction. After all, she licks herself in strange places and enjoys eating plastic, so she is unlikely to ever be embarrassed of me. Unless perhaps she is–but I won’t even have to know so because she can’t say anything about it. Insulted from rejection, loved forever. (I recently got some of the first “worst mom ever”s lately. Can you tell?)IMG_20151006_072329930

I am not trading my kids in to become a puppy lady (in part because I don’t think trade-ins are a thing in parenting) but I just wanted to go on the record as saying ‘Once you have (crazy) kids and learn how to laugh through everything and have fun and soak up only the love,’ a puppy seems to blend right in. Plus, did I mention she is ADORABLE?  And so fun.

Also, does anyone know how to make her pee outside?

–Lauren

Accidental Decapitation and Other Profound Toddler Insights

It was nearly time to leave. Five more minutes, and I was trying to sneak in a few more dishes, clear a few breakfast plates, and speed blow dry my hair for work. Five minutes.

I asked D2 to put on her shoes. I asked her to pick up the toys on the living room floor. I asked her to finish her breakfast. I asked her to brush her hair.

She could not. She was unavailable because the only thing she could do was find Christmas ornament Princess Anna, so that it could accompany small, plastic Queen Elsa, who needed someone similarly sized with whom to play.

I knew where Anna was. I’d seen her in a toy bin earlier that week. We needed to GO. I spent two of the five minutes explaining why we did not have time because WE ONLY HAD FIVE MINUTES, then finally caved when I realized she cared more about finding Anna than I did about my plans at work. I found Anna. Just because toddlers are small and have different values doesn’t mean they are ridiculous, right?

Wrong. They are ridiculous.


I started to go upstairs for the speed hair styling–nope. Called back down to remove a tag that was stuck to Princess Anna, obviously making her impossible to play with. Maybe even impossible to touch, given the freak-out crying that was going on. [Why are we playing with a Christmas ornament in April? Why did it still have the tag on it? Why does Disney even make clay Christmas ornaments in characters that are only going to appeal to small children? What diabolical person first invented glitter?!  I do not know.] But nothing could go on until there was no tag.

As I removed the tag, I took the chance to remind D2 about how this was *not* a plastic Anna.

Magiclip dolls are the perfect solution to toddler dexterity. Sadly, this is not their story.
Magiclip dolls are the perfect solution to toddler dexterity. Sadly, this is not their story.

This was no magiclip. This was BREAKABLE ANNA, and she COULD NOT drop it because it would break. She had to be sooooooo careful. (I knew this was true. Because Anna used to be one of a set; may Christmas ornament Elsa rest in peace.]

As I handed Anna over, tag-free, I asked

“Can you please be so careful? And make sure not to drop her?”

” I will be sooooooooo sooooooo careful.  I will not–” [drops Anna.] “Oh! It is ok, she is okay!  She did not break.”

“Ok. She did not break, but you dropped her right on the rug. If you drop her on the hard floor, she will break.”

Whatever. We both knew. I knew it was Anna’s last day. Anna knew it was her last day. Nothing could stop fate.

What D2 knew, though, was something else entirely: her mom was over-dramatic and clearly dropping the figurine was NBD. Parents.

Moments–seriously MOMENTS later–D2 quietly approached me in the bathroom where I was blow drying my hair any way, even though we were late. Clenched in her right hand, Anna’s body,decapitated anna coated lightly in glitter. In her left, Anna’s severed head, still primed with a white string to hang from the Christmas tree. Decapitated within 2 minutes.

As D2 told me that she was sooooooooo sorry (which is the same as being sooooooo careful, I’ve found, in terms of shaping children’s future behavior), I thought about how children were so hard sometimes because no matter how many times you said something or how seemingly simple the task–‘hold this one small thing that you wanted in your closed hand until we get to the car’–it never worked.  And there was breaking and crying and lateness.

I left decapitated Anna on the bathroom counter–Toddlers, ye be warned!–and we left for school with only plastic Elsa, sad and alone once more.


Throughout the day, though, I realized that as rough as parenting toddlers can be, I am pretty flake-y myself. My follow-through, pretty toddler-like, in fact. The work project that I hadn’t sent out specifics for on which other people were waiting. The appointments I needed to call and set up, the chores I needed to do, the errands I needed to run, the more chores I needed to do. The puppy I decided I wanted yesterday, only to realize that . . we can’t have a puppy, so I had to back out and disappoint people, including myself. Today, even, the hour I should have spent prepping dinner and straightening the living room that I instead spent watching Disney Toy Collector and sneaking chocolate chips out of the pantry. Flakey.


I guess the world is too big and the tasks too many, and we are only really able to focus on the handful of certain things that really matter. And the trick is figuring out what those are and doing them well, rather than scrambling to hold all of them.

When I picked D2 up from school, she was running through the playground with a pack of friends. When she saw me, she ran straight over and, with a huge hug, presented me with “the longest piece of grass ever!” She had found it herself almost an hour ago and had been clutching it for me the whole time so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I added the precious grass to my nature jar, which is full of sticks and pine cones, grass and dry flowers that my girls have given more over the years. There was once a period spanning almost two-months when toddler-aged Ella saved me a handful of grass every day (similarly clutched for hours) so that I could share the best part of her day.

We don’t have a whole Christmas ornament Anna anymore. And I did a pretty mediocre job cleaning and planning my work project. But I have the longest blade of grass ever in my nature jar, which seems like evidence of us holding on to the right things.

My beloved nature jar, with its new blade of grass.
My beloved nature jar, with its new blade of grass.

Hijacking my Soundtrack

Ever since I can remember, I wake up with a song in my head. Sometimes it is a song I heard the evening before. I imagine that it must have been swirling all night through my dreams, waiting for me to wake up and hum along again.

Or the pop song of the moment, which usually is by Taylor Swift or Maroon 5, whether I like it or not. (I like it.) The mind, after all, is a sponge; mine soaks up the most frequently presented pop wisdom of the day–See proof of Taylor’s wisdom–and stores it to be called upon in a time of need.

Every once in a while, the song in my head is something older. Something from my past that I haven’t heard any time recently that I can recall. These songs always seem special, like they were buried deep in my memory and fate surfaced them for some reason it knew before I did. Songs that would be the soundtrack I needed to guide me through that day.

My mantra has long been shaped by my internal, magically selected score.

UNTIL MY CHILDREN HIJACKED MY SOUNDTRACK.

At first, it seemed natural that sometimes the alarm would go off and my first conscious thought of the day was “Rise like the break of dawn! Let it go, let it g….” I mean, I had listened to it the day before (and before and before and before) and it was everywhere, so it was bound to sneak in sometimes. I embraced it. I would belt “Let It Go” out in the car and I didn’t always stop it immediately after daycare drop off. I kinda liked it.

But then the variety stopped. It was Frozen every day. Mostly “Let It Go” in my head all the time. I found myself singing it in the elevator. I whisper hummed it in the hallway at work. I tapped it out absent-mindedly at my desk. Sometimes–don’t tell anyone this–when I was sure I was completely alone in my office hallway, I pretended to be Elsa raising up an ice palace out of nothing to a grand swelling of the orchestra. Acted. it. out.

elsa ice palace stomp

I started wondering if I should talk to other people. I wondered if it was fair to keep showing up for my adult brain–oriented* job. I wondered if I wasn’t maybe a little bit like the deluded, thinks-she’s-cool mom from Mean Girls.
mean girls cool mom

I couldn’t get it to go away, so I decided we had to drill it out. After some (months of) cajoling, we listened to something else. Sofia the First. I liked it. My Little Pony. Really liked it. Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Meh. It was just nice to have variety again. Sometimes I was signing about puny pirates, sometimes I was the Rainbow Dash-half of the My Little Pony duet on the Best Pet contest. (It’s hilarious, for real.) I had new things to think and sing and hum.

But the pop music and the old music and the songs my mom sang to me when I was little, they didn’t come back. I remember the morning my mind arose with “Choo, Choo, Chugga, Chugga, Big Red Car” from the The Wiggles (if you don’t know it, don’t google it!! Keep your innocence and feel pleased with your life choices.), and I knew we had to make deep changes.

I started asserting my rights to sometimes choose the music for the commute again, listening to grown-up stuff on headphones while I did the dishes, and paying close attention to what they were dropping in the grocery store. Didn’t matter. My soundtrack was for the under-12 set.


I read an article on Common Sense Media that made me think my sub-conscious has made this soundtrack adjustment for parenting reasons. Apparently, it’s a good idea to:

1. Model listening to tame music. Check. My new edgy is the Ursula song from the Little Mermaid, since we had to take out most of the bad-guy arias from the other soundtracks because they were too scary.

2. Ask your kids to play their favorite songs for you. Double check. The challenge for me, frankly, is to ask them not to play their favorite songs for me. They both have figured out how to operate my smart phone’s playlists and my portable speaker, so they play their princess favorites for me all the time.

3. Discuss music messages. Like how someone asks me every time “What is happening in this part of the movie?” “Why is Anna sad?” “Is this about when Merida’s mom turns into a bear?” “Why do they say ‘Kill the beast?” We even talk about the messages in the instrumental numbers. We take our music messaging seriously.


IT WILL ALL BE OKAY

In just the past few weeks, the girls have started to request some pop music on their own. Katy Perry, inexplicably, is a favorite. And instead of feeling excited, like I thought I would, I feel a bit sad. I am the person who wants to listen to My Little Pony and sing the different parts.

My new cartoon-ish mental soundtrack reflects that fact that my whole being switched over to being a mom of awesome, smart, small people; kids who are so cool, I want to like what they like. And I want them to stay little so they they can stay mine.

I am going to see if me singing Disney songs all the time can make that happen. Either it will work, or it will make them think I am crazy, kind of embarrassing, rather out-of-date, and secretly cute in my parenting naivete. I think that is the next step, any way. Taylor Swift would definitely appreciate the wisdom of it.


*That’s right. I used an ‘en dash’ for the compound modifier in my blog post. Boom, grammar aficionados; Frozen didn’t take everything in this brain.

Pooping at Dinner: A Loving Tribute

I have been thinking often this past week of a friend–now living far away–who tragically lost her five-year old boy while on a family vacation. The tragedy of it hit me in the way such things do: reminding me of how life can be unfair and uncontrollable and sometimes so very painful.  I have had a bit of an ache in my heart all week, wishing I could do something to soften a blow that will only become bearable with lots of time.

A few nights ago, I found myself feeling particularly nostalgic about the beauty of my children as we flitted past each other, unwinding from work and school, making dinner, setting the table. The common and often chaotic scene that night seemed a beautiful one; I felt surrounded by so much love and light and luck.

I decided a tribute was in order. The girls and I sat down at the dinner table. I lit a candle for prayer so we could be grateful and connected to one another, remembering the wonder and blessing that is every day. Just as we bowed our heads and I began to profess how grateful I was for my wonderful kids–who I would love forever and ever–D2 interrupted, calling my name. We aren’t super formal at our house, so interrupting happens every once in a while (read: it happens always. I have yet to speak two consecutive, uninterrupted sentences in my awake children’s presence since 2009.) And as you may remember from a previous post, we are still very much working on reverence. I asked D2 to be quiet until I finished. She did try, to her credit, but a few seconds later, she stood up on her chair and whisper-yelled: “Mom! I pooped!! Right now. I am so sorry.”

Serene expression of gratitude–paused. We went upstairs [parental edit] and finally came back some time later to an extinguished candle and colder dinner that no longer felt so idyllic.

And yet, somehow, it felt like just the right tribute to a five-year old and his loving family. A midst all of the difficulty of parenting small children–the challenges of which I well know–there is a joy; a freeing silliness; a sense of connection and responsibility and being needed and knowing completely true love that are pretty magical. And I need reminders of that magic to make sure I keep seeing the good things through all of the poop.

Hugs, Krysta.

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