Close or Open the Books, Any Day

Soooo…it’s been 7 months since my last confession. I mean blog post.  Twelve years of Catholic school just makes that confession phrase pop right out.  I wasn’t keeping a tally count of the months of no blogging.  Word Press kindly tells you exactly how long you’ve been slacking when you log back in after a brief hiatus.  Thanks for that, Word Press People.

I wasn’t exactly counting the months of no blogging, but I sure have felt them.  A few of my wonderful friends who so kindly follow my blog and read my writing have asked when I’ll write again.  My writing pal has offered to meet up a bunch of times.  I’ve thought of things I’d like to write about.  But I just haven’t written.  The truth is I’ve kind of been in a bit of a slump for a while with writing. And with a few other things.  And the slump has lasted longer than I’d like to admit, much longer than comfortable. I thought about bringing back my blog lots of times, but I just did not do it. I even taught my first graders how to blog and they do it every week, but still, I did not do it myself.

One time that I thought a lot about getting back to writing was around the new year. (Is March too late for a New Year’s Resolution?) I took a walk back in December, on New Year’s Eve and, looking for a little inspiration with which to start the new year, I listened to an episode of the “Good Life Project” podcast called “Close the Books.”  In that message, Jonathan Fields, the founder of the Good Life Project described a process that business owners would do at the end of each year called “closing the books”. They would note debits and contributions to their financial accounts and try to make sense and balance of their money situation. Where does it make sense to continue spending? What revenue sources filled our accounts? Are we wasting money or resources in any areas? How can we plan to either continue doing what fills the accounts and stop doing what drains the accounts in the year to come? And then, close the old book and open a new one.   Jonathan explained how we might apply the same ideas to our everyday lives – work lives, personal lives, habits, activities, relationships.  He talked of looking back on the year and thinking about things that were deposits in your life. What added to your account, your life?  When I did that, I quickly thought about writing.  When I was writing on a regular basis last year (and the year before that when I first started this blog), I felt this positive addition to my days.  I got a good energy from creating something.  Even if no one else were to ever even read it, I liked the act of creating something.  I also liked how writing changed my outlook on things, my attention to my days.  Because I was looking for something to write about, I often paid attention to what was happening around me in a different way.  If something touched me or was bothering me, I could share it or work it out in my writing.  Sometimes writing helped me find a new perspective on something.  I liked the days when I was writing on a regular basis, so I thought back in December that I would really start writing again.  But I didn’t.

I slumped on through January and February. I mean, who really wants to do anything in January and February?  We’re supposed to be hibernating, right?  Except hibernating and slumping didn’t feel so good for very long and the friends kept asking and I wanted to write and I kept remembering that I told myself I would write again. But I didn’t. And then one day I just said, “Yes.”  I said yes to my writing pal. I said yes, I would do something to try to un-slump myself. I said I would show up and write and so here I am…writing.

I got a new book last week.  I buy a lot of books when I’m in a slump.  Truth be told, I buy a lot of books all the time, but still, this book helped in my un-slumping.  The book is called “The Endless Practice” by Mark Nepo. In the first several pages he tells about how zooplankton make a daily journey from the depths of their water habitat to the surface.  It’s a matter of feeding themselves and protecting themselves, and in the process of this, they also filter the water they inhabit and so contribute to the health of the larger world around them.  Nepo makes the point that in life we humans do something similar as we go back and forth between nourishing ourselves, filling, gaining energy and being drained, or needing to protect ourselves.  It kind of made me feel a little better about drifting away from some things that I know are good for me.  That it’s sort of the natural course of things to go back and forth, to hibernate and then wake up, to be down and then get up. Maybe I could drift and return a bit more frequently, like the zooplankton, but still.

So I might not have made that New Year’s Resolution happen, but any time really can be a time to close or open a new or old book, to swim up to the surface,  I think. My plan is to try to continue to write on a regular basis again, because it’s one of the things that makes me feel good, that fills me up and helps me filter the world.   Here goes again…

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I didn’t make the New Year’s resolution, but I did make it to see the New Year sunrise. “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ready or Not, It’s Summer!

So here I am, at the beginning of summer vacation.  I’ve been waiting and longing for this moment for the past several weeks.  I usually try hard to stay present and not really count down the days, but the ramped-up pace of the last few weeks of school did have me keeping my eye on this prize.  Something caught me a bit off guard over the weekend though.  I was suddenly hit with this feeling of not being ready for summer.  I was pretty much ready for school to be over.  Though it’s always a little tough and bittersweet to say goodbye to my students, that part I don’t really look forward to, most of the time, I was definitely ready for the busy-ness of the busy season to end.  I certainly don’t want to stretch school out any longer, but all of a sudden I had this mixture of sadness and maybe a little worry because I feel like I’m not quite ready for the clock of summer to start ticking away.  I need to make some plans!  I need a new swim suit! Seriously! How can all the swim suits I want be sold out already?!

OK, I really don’t care all that much about the swim suit, but I was having this weird anxious sort of feeling about summer starting. I was expecting to feel all jumping-in-the-air-clicking-my-heels-together excited like I do at the start of most summers, but that kind of wasn’t the case this year.  I’m quite sure it has to do with a whole host of factors.  A few of which I thought might be worth mentioning here.

One thing is that, endings are hard, even when you’re looking forward to what’s on the other side of the end. This year the end of school brought a few more goodbyes than usual as several close colleagues retired.  I’m often asked, as school is about to finish, about how to handle a child’s sadness and tears about the ending.  A few years ago, I started sharing Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto and directing parents to the part about teaching kids to feel their sadness instead of trying to take it away or brush it under the carpet. It’s hard to end something that was good.  It’s hard to adjust to the fact that you won’t be seeing the same people every day who you are used to seeing.  So I tell the kids that it’s ok to be sad about this. I am.  It’s ok to cry about this.  I did.  And then I remind them of an R-word (we’re big on R-words at our school). I tell them that they are resilient.  They will recover from this sadness and fairly quickly too.  I tell them that their heart can be sad and happy all at the same time, even if it feels very weird, it’s ok.  They’ll learn that this is the way of school (and life) and soon, before they know it,  they’ll be focused on pools and popsicles.  And so I’m telling myself the same thing.  (except I might focus on these grown up pops!  Scroll down for the boozy section.)

Another thing about the start of this summer that brought on some weird feelings for me, is the shift in schedule and that I don’t have all my plans all set. I don’t have a giant trip planned. I don’t even know what I’m doing for the rest of today. It feels like a little bit of a transition to go from the super scheduled and jam-packed days of June to the wide open days of summer.  Now, I know this is not an actual problem. There are people who are sick or hurt and there are huge injustices in the world, those are problems. I know plenty of people really deserve the wide-open days of rest and summer and some people never get them. I am so very grateful for mine.  I’m also very positive that I’ll come up with plenty of things to do and those wide-open days will soon be fun-filled.  I’m just saying, I felt a little uneasy about how my time would play out. I want my time to be well spent. I want this to be a really good summer.  But sometimes I fall into that whole trap of thinking that if I’m not being productive, I’m not spending my time well. And sometimes I get too caught up in planning and being “ready.” But only sometimes. I’m reminding myself of what I really know in my heart, that some of my most well-spent time and treasured memories have been those spent doing what seems like nothing with my family and friends, spontaneous happenings, unexpected meetings and unplanned moments.

I’m at that age where time seems to be going a lot faster.  I just kind of want a little buffer zone right now in between when school ends and summer begins.  Like a pre-summer, for deep breathing and dreaming and plan making. But we don’t get that.  So today I’m using a little lesson that my dear friend Regina taught me.  I can’t stop the clock from ticking, but I can notice this moment, this end sliding into this beginning.  And right here, the whole summer is stretched out before me.  Who knows what wonderful things will happen?!  I’m hoping it’s a season full of family and friends, lots of time outside, wonder and big newness.   As much as I can, I’m going to make sure it is.  I’ll keep you posted.

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I really love this line from the book I’m reading right now. It’s called “Phenomenal” and it was written by Leigh Ann Henion about her explorations of some of the world’s most extraordinary natural places. Her life and my life are quite different, but still…I love being wondrously astounded! I hope you also can’t believe your life in a good way this summer and ten years from now. I wish us all many moments of being wondrously astounded. Happy summer!

Just Pretend

I think I may have mentioned once or twice that this is my busy season.  There are so many work things to do before the school year is over! And lots of fun events happening too.  The wonderful thing is that just over the horizon of this busy season is my most restful season–summer!  I am so grateful that not only do I get to do a job that I love, am passionate about and from which I feel overwhelming fulfillment, but I also get the summertime…to rest, to play and to recharge for another school year.

The little problem I’m having right now is that there is so much work to do, but I don’t really want to do very much of it.  I’m pretty sure the kids don’t want to do all that much more work anymore either.  With summer so close, it’s very hard to concentrate on work.  I just want to make a list of a million and five summer fun things to do and then start doing them.  But I can’t.  I have a million and five work tasks that need to happen first. So today I thought I’d share a little trick I pull on myself when I have to do something I don’t want to do.

I play pretend.  I fake it.  Let’s say, for example, that I really don’t feel like teaching spelling.  I might really want to be going for a walk or reading a book or even making a dent in the mountain of paperwork I have to do.  But, I must continue to teach spelling, even if it is June.  So I take a deep breath.  And then maybe a few more.  And then I pretend that I just LOVE spelling!!  (In reality, I do love spelling, but not as much as my usual when it’s warm out and sunny and…June!)  So I smile.  I use my happiest teacher voice.  I take my time.  I don’t skip any of the parts or rush through the lesson.  I pretend that I’m the teacher I always dreamed of being and then… usually, just a few minutes into this little act, something shifts and it’s not an act anymore.  I get in my groove. I’m doing my thing and the thing I didn’t want to do is getting done and I am actually, genuinely, being the teacher I always dreamed of being.

I use this trick for all kinds of things. Often at school. In June.  Did I mention June? When a kid drops his pencil box for the millionth time that day and all the contents splatter across the floor and I do not feel like cleaning up a hundred tiny bits of crayon.  I take a deep breath (try not to let it sound like a sigh) and say, “I’ll help you.”  Then, even though I didn’t feel like it, the mess is soon cleaned up and the child is happy to have had my help.  Or when kids start arguing and maybe I’m pretty sure one of them is lying and another one starts crying and I don’t really feel like being a playground detective and conducting friendship therapy.  I breathe deeply, and say, “I’ll help you.”  I ask a few questions, try to smile with my eyes (not roll them) and soon, the truth is coming out, apologies are being offered and everyone is friends again.

Now, I don’t want this to sound like I don’t like my job and the things I have to do there, like teaching spelling and helping children.  I like my job.  I LOVE my job!  I love my job genuinely and deeply.  It’s just that some days… I don’t feel like it. Some Junes I REALLY don’t feel like it!  And this little trick gives me a jump start when I need it.  I imagine everyone has these days when they don’t feel like it, no matter what their profession, and even in our home lives.  Don’t feel like washing the dishes?  Pretend washing dishes is the best thing ever, then start doing it and next thing you know, they’re done.  Don’t want to workout?  Pretend working out is the most fun ever, then start doing it and soon it’s over.  And usually having these types of things done, gives me an added little boost of happiness.

I tried really hard to find this quote/research about happiness that I read or saw somewhere.  I thought maybe it was by Shawn Achor in his book called, “Before Happiness,”  but I couldn’t find it. And I have too much to do to look anymore.  So I’ll paraphrase as best I can, and if it wasn’t him who wrote this, I’m pretty sure somebody who’s very smart and does research did.  Also, his book is a good read anyway, also his TedTalk. It makes sense to me so…what someone said is, that we often think we act because of how we feel.  Like, I have a case of the blahs, so I can’t go for a run.  But in reality, it more often goes in the reverse order, we actually feel because of how we act.  So I go for a run, and then I don’t feel so blah.  What do you think?  I think it works for me…when I remember to do it.

Only 6 more school days until summer vacation!  I’m gonna pretend I can do it!

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Today’s photo is kind of unrelated, but we had some caterpillars as class pets and then they went and changed into butterflies. Little miracles that they are! This day I wasn’t so good at pretending to be calm when the children were pushing and shoving to get a good look and almost killed our dear pets. It’s ok, though, everyone survived. Aren’t butterflies amazing?!

 

A Hike, A Hang Out and A Full Heart

So my last post was about this busy season I’m in right now, and it seems to be getting busier and busier.  But a sweet and fun part of this full season, is that it’s also my birthday season!  OK, I don’t claim the whole season for birthday celebrating, but maybe I stretched it out for at least the weekend.  And I might extend it even a little more still too.

I know a few other girls who were also born in May, so I took advantage of several reasons to celebrate and planned a little something.  I’d been wanting to host a get together at my house and also to do some hiking, (my spring hopes come true!), so I combined the two and we headed out after school on a Friday to hike and hang out.

IMG_6360We took the Continental Lane.  Washington’s army did a good job of blazing the trail long ago, so it’s a nice easy walk through the woods.  Which was good for us.  We had kind of a larger hiking party and lots to chat about, so we couldn’t really focus on rock climbing  or scaling boulders.

IMG_6364I had a few moments during the hike and at my house afterwards when I saw this group of ladies before me  and my heart was so filled with gratitude for the people in my life. All the people.  I feel truly blessed to have these gals and lots of other good, good souls in my life and many others who aren’t in my daily days, but who have crossed my path and I keep in my heart.  I wish they all could have been there.  I could probably go on for a while about something sappy like how walking this trail in the woods is symbolic of the paths of life we walk with each other, but you probably saw that one coming, right?  I’ll spare you.  Just saying, my heart filled up. And my eyes might have too a few times… and then someone was walking without a shoe (Not naming any names. Or even initials!) and we had to poke in tree holes and we laughed and talked and walked. IMG_6372I took my Ling Bling along and found a good place to leave it for someone else.  Part of me didn’t want to give it up, but I like the idea that someone else might find it, get a smile from it, feel gratitude and pass it on.

IMG_6369After we hiked enough, we went back to my house and some more friends came.  We muddled drinks and cooked on the grill, enjoyed the patio, toasted to birthdays and friendship, ate cake and lingered around the table.

IMG_6359Full heart!  And a happy birthday month to my May girls!

PS – I didn’t draw that heart.  We just found it there on our path.  I hope you find lots of love on your path today!

 

 

Surviving/Thriving Through Busy Season

Several years ago, around this time of year, or maybe it was in June, some friends had invited me to dinner on say, a Wednesday night, I don’t remember specifically which day of the week, but I know it was a weekday.  Anyway, I sadly declined because I had a lot of work to do.  My friends didn’t understand and said something like, “Isn’t school almost over?  Why are you so busy?”  Now, I’m not a big fan of the word busy these days, because I want my life to be full.  And I try to be purposeful about the things I fill it up with.  This springtime season can get very, very full.  It’s my busy season, whether I like that word or not.

It gets really full with extra work obligations like end of year paperwork, cleaning up the classroom, report cards and even already prepping for next year.  There is a lot that has to be done at school before that wonderful time of summer vacation.  Life also gets full of fun family and friend time around about now.  There are holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, a lot of birthdays for my people, retirement parties, promotion dinner, bike rides, 5Ks, and the sunny days are constantly just calling me to be outside.  It’s all, all of it, is good stuff.  But some days my plate overflow-eth with tasks and goodness alike and I question whether I will actually make it to that magical day in June when we get the teacher prize.

I had a morning recently that felt so rushy and overflowing and the bad side of the word busy.  It started out just fine with some relaxing morning time, trying to start the day in a purposeful way, reading and thinking about how I want to be.  Then by the time I was making breakfast and trying to do ten other things at the same time and still get to work early – make my lunch, prep a gift, answer texts, send emails, make a grocery list, etc, etc…I was so rushy. I was cranky and starting to get annoyed at even good stuff.  So I tried to relax myself on the drive in to school – just breathe, focus on the moment, no radio, no peaking at the phone, notice the sunshine and the blue sky.  I was good.  Until I walked into the building.  And then right back to rush mode.  I rushed through a conversation with a friend and felt bad about it. Someone rushed through a conversation with me and I felt bad about it.  I was running in the hallway even though you’re not allowed to run in the hallways!  I tried to pull it together again before the kids got there – deep breaths, look out the classroom windows and notice the green trees, see the birds.  I felt a little better, so I started to set up my desk for the day, pulled out the lesson plans, pulled out my calendar…and that’s when I realized that I totally, completely forgot about a meeting I was supposed to be at and missed it.  Frowny face.  I felt like I was doing it all wrong.  But I had to pull it together yet again, perk up, calm down and be ready to lead those kids, not rush them through the day.  Lucky for me, these kids know some yoga.  So we did some sun salutations together, practiced a few breathing techniques we know and then went outside for five minutes of play and sunshine.  Then someone gave me a weed flower, and I was back again.

Now, I know there are much worser things that happen to people than a busy morning.  And I know there are much busier mornings than mine.  All you mamas out there getting your own kids ready for school days amongst all this same stuff and more, huge props to you!  You’re amazing! I don’t mean to be complaining, even though I’m kind of complaining.  I am so very grateful for my life! But, you’ve had these mornings, right?  Days that just feel too full to focus? What do you do to help it?

When I thought about how many times I had to regroup that morning before 9 am, and all the things I did to try to help it, I thought of a collection of words that I always notice in this little daily devotional book I’ve been reading.  Words and phrases like – again and again, constantly, repeatedly, never-ending, time and again, over and over, daily, so many times, back and forth. Those words are often talking about how we drift away from our goals and then come back, we get stressed out, but can relax, things go bad and then go good.   And I use the words to remind myself that I’m not doing it wrong.  This is just how it is and this is it.  This is how life goes.  I love how Glennon Doyle Melton, an author and blogger has said it, “Life is hard.  Not because we’re doing it wrong, just because it’s hard.”   Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it’s busy season.  Sometimes it’s not.  I’m just gonna try to do the best I can.  And  look for the good parts and focus on them, even when it feels too full to focus.  Over and over.  Again and again.

I hope someone gives you a buttercup to focus on.

I hope someone gives you a buttercup to focus on.

 

Gifts of Gratitude

Last weekend, I spent a lovely afternoon with some good friends enjoying a spring festival at a local winery.  I’m just so happy that it finally feels like spring!  And we can spend afternoons outside in the sunshine!  We chatted and sipped wine and ate good food and shopped a little.  And while shopping, I got an unexpected gift and a little chain of serendipity.

I saw these really cool re-purposed wine bottle lamps, vases and wind chimes.  And I wanted one for my patio.  So I bought this one…

photo 1-1And then I got talking to the artists who make them.  You can find them on Facebook here.  I found out that they host DIY parties and teach people how to cut and create their own bottle artwork.  We chatted for a few minutes while they wrapped up my purchase and then the woman told me that I was their first sale that day, and so she was giving me a special gift…

photo 2-1I got a Ling Bling! The artist, Lori Merck Ingwerson, creates these whimsical charmed sun catchers, calls them Ling Blings and gives them to her friends (and customers!) to remind us to be thankful…for what was, what is and what is yet to come.  She sends them with people when they travel and asks that they leave the bling somewhere for someone else to find or to give it away and then to send her a picture of your bling out in the world.  This kind of thing is totally up my alley!  And that’s exactly what I told her when she gave it to me.

I love the idea of giving thanks, of gratitude, and especially of gratitude in action.  I’ve written here before about one of my favorite authors, Brene’ Brown.  She is also a researcher who studies shame.  Which might sound kind of sad, but in the process of studying shame, she has discovered and taught many ways to live courageously and authentically. One of her findings is that people who practice gratitude often feel a deep sense of joy in their lives.  She writes in her book “Daring Greatly” about practicing gratitude.  She says, “I use the word practicing because the research participants spoke of tangible practices, more than merely an attitude of gratitude or feeling grateful.  In fact, they gave specific examples of gratitude practices that included everything from keeping gratitude journals and gratitude jars to implementing family gratitude rituals.”

When I got my ling bling, I immediately thought of this idea and I love how this artist is doing something to spread the spirit and action of gratitude in others. I’ve kept a gratitude journal (because Oprah said to!)  on and off for years.  During some seasons of life I write in it every night, other times I use it more sporadically, and there have been stretches of time when it’s been almost forgotten.  The practice of writing down things, people or situations for which I’m thankful has pulled me through some tough times and helped me savor the sweet seasons of life.  What I’ve found though is that whether it’s a rough season or smooth sailing, I can always find something to be thankful for, and in addition, perhaps most importantly, the more I notice the good things, the more good things show up in my life.

Perhaps a little example of this is that one day this week, as I often am, I was thinking of what I might like to write about.  This ling bling popped into my mind and I decided I would write about it and thankfulness.  So I was scheming up how I’d compose this post, and on that same day I was to teach a lesson to a girls running group that I coach.  When I flipped to that day’s lesson in my coaching manual, I got another little gift from the universe…the topic I was to teach to my little runner-girls…gratitude!  So we practiced turning our ungrateful thoughts into grateful ones.  And then we ran our hearts out!

So I’m holding on to my ling bling for now.  It’s hanging on a hook, right across from where I eat breakfast each morning and where I finish up this blog each week, and I’m looking at it and I’m looking for a good time to give it away or leave it on my path for someone new to pick up and carry on.

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For each lap the girls ran, we wrote a letter or a heart. These rock stars busted out 16 laps! I’m so grateful for these girls, our whole little running crew and the lessons I teach and learn along with them.

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I’m grateful for these friends! I’m grateful for spring, sunshine, wine, artists who share their work with the world, ling blings, food trucks and all my people (I hope you know who you are! 😉

 

 

What Happens at Starbucks

I didn’t quite know what to write about for this week. So I sat around in the coffee shop, looking for inspiration in my old posts (What were my spring hopes again?) and maybe in the pictures on my phone.  I sat scrolling and sitting and thinking, but still my screen was blank. And then I overheard something beautiful at the table next to mine. It touched my heart, so I thought you might like to hear it.

This is not my story to share so I hope I am forgiven for eavesdropping.  I wasn’t trying.  I just couldn’t help but notice the love.  Really, I couldn’t help but notice the adorable baby first.  She was crying when she arrived with her mom.  So mom walked her outside while they waited for their friend.  When friend came, baby settled happily into friend’s lap and the two women chatted.  I didn’t really notice them for a while as I chatted with my own friend.  It was when it was time for me to write, and I couldn’t, that I turned my head and noticed the mom wiping a tear from her own cheek.  I looked away to give them their privacy, and also because I was supposed to be writing, but then I started to hear the friend’s words.  I glanced back and saw that they were holding hands, their eyes were closed and the friend was praying aloud for the mom.  She was asking God for support for this new mom and her family, to send the right people into their lives to help them, praying for the woman’s husband, the baby and also for herself. She asked God to show her what she could do to help the mom.  It brought tears to my eyes.

This moment struck me as beautiful in so many ways – the friendship, the faith, the connection. The mom was struggling and the friend was sending these beautiful hopes of goodness out into the universe for her.  The mom was struggling and here she had this other woman sitting with her as she cried.  I thought of how we are gifted with friendship and family, with each other to help us through.  I thought of how we are called to show up for each other as we walk through the tough times, how my own people have done this for me and how I try to do it for them.  These women were obviously holding some big pain in their hearts, but at the same time they were literally holding this tiny, adorable, baby-girl-miracle in their laps.  And I thought of how we get the most amazing wonders and beauty even in the midst of our hardest trials.  They prayed.  To God.  They prayed to God in public, out loud, right in the middle of strangers.  And I thought of how amazing it is that people can choose to live by faith. Faith in a higher power or even just the hope of happier times to come. Seeing these women…I felt my heart.

And then they left and two college kids sat down and started loudly talking about Nine Inch Nails. Ya know? The band.  And listen, I have been to a Nine Inch Nails concert.  But something about it rubbed me the wrong way, and I wanted to stop them and I wanted to ask them, “Do you know the sacred thing that just happened at this table?!” How could they just sit down and start talking about rock music when people were just crying there and praying?!  My friend and I rolled our eyes and joked about it.  But then we wondered…are they on a first date?  And so I asked myself, “Do you know what sacred thing could be happening at that table?”  Because before the praying women, a couple was meeting with their wedding photographer, dreaming up what would surely be one of their most sacred days.  And I wondered what else has happened at that table – breakups, job interviews, new friendships, house purchases, business deals, and so many just every day average, sacred cups of coffee…all right there in public, out loud.  This life, you guys!  It’s what happens at Starbucks.  And all the other places too!

I'm praying today for moments of happy, for my people and those women, for the college kids and the engaged people, for the photographer and the baristas.  May there be many moments of happy in your days!

I’m praying today for moments of happy, for my people and those women, for the college kids and the engaged couple, for the photographer and the baristas. May there be many moments of happy in your days!