Moments of inspiration interspringled between ice

What a season! Dangerous cold, snow, sleet, freezing rain, graupel, wintery mix – we’ve lived through it all this winter in mid-Missouri. Every day our pipes don’t freeze in our trailer is another victory.

Interspringle

I made up a word this morning and you are welcome to use it. The word is interspringle. It’s a mix of intersperse and intermingle. “My purple and grey yarns were interspringled.” This is what happens when I am not paying attention. New words and yarn snaggles.

Recent activities

A highlight of this winter was my church’s annual women’s retreat. I was lucky enough to be a keynoter and I got to talk about yarn. Special thanks to Pat Klein for her inspiration and support. Warm thanks to Genevieve Perso for being my impromtu yarn prop manager. Big thanks to Audrey Spieler for these great photos of my talk.

A blessing during silent time was seeing a rainbow. Although it was silent time, my cabin neighbor said, “Amen!” She couldn’t have said it better. Thank you to all the women who were there in person – or in spirit. I felt loved. I felt like I belonged. I appreciated hearing so many stories. It strengthened me.

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Ripple success

The positive side of being indoors, for months, is a lot of time to knit and crochet. My constant kitty crochet companion, Freyja, appreciates that.

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When you last heard from your blogging heroine, I was starting a ripple blanket. I am pleased to announce that I have it almost done. By almost done, I mean I have to sew in my ends. So that will only take me a year or two and then I will have a nice blanket! (Sewing in ends is a chore and I would rather muck out Miko’s pen than do it.)

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Tea cozy success…and disaster

Sometimes you have to fail spectacularly before you can succeed. I made this lumpy mess first.

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Wow, it made an attractive English teapot look awful. That is almost impressive. I was sad to waste that yarn and time. Then I decided I would try again.

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Better, right? More like a tea cozy and less like something one of our cats spit up.

Where there is more yarn, there is always hope.

Lent

Today begins Lent, the season we shed old habits like selfishness and judgement.

For Lent, I will not buy yarn. I’m a little nervous that I will run out before Easter but I have already had generous friends offer to give me some if I need it. Isn’t that what friendship is, knowing what matters to each other and being willing to give it?

Now we turn back toward God with clean and ready hearts. May this new season bless you with health, wholeness, happiness and a sense of what you truly need for the road ahead.

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My 2018 reviewed: A year of chickens, more or less

When I look back at 2018, I see how my theme for the year, Prepare, made sense. In January, I thought of it as using 2018 to prepare for entering my 50s in 2019. In June, after I lost my dad, I thought of it as preparing myself for whatever may come: loss or acquisition, joy or pain, health or sickness.

Here’s a quick overview of what my year looked like.

Animal Math

We increased our animal count to 15 with an impulse buy of spring chickens. “Peep peep peep,” they said. We brought them home in a box and built them a house with scrap wood, horse jump standards, an old storm door and creativity.

Little did I know we would have a Problem with Roosters. Of our seven chicks, we ended up with three roosters. Maybe they will get along because they were raised together, I thought, hopeful after reading online articles about roosters that got along. Maybe they will be like brothers.

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They grew big and strong with bright red combs and critical eyes. They began to crow. They were like brothers…Cain and Abel-type brothers. Now we had three roosters that wanted to start a death match daily, and one chicken house.

A good side of social media is it allows you to find people with more chicken-raising experience who are willing to take your roosters. We found a new home for the roosters without blood loss in our own personal poultry Sparta.

We are back to 11 animals. A critter?/dog?/coyote?/hawk?/owl? ate two of our hens. A neighbor gave a sweet white chicken to us named Leah.

If you doing my animal math for 2018 it went like this:

1 pony +
1 horse +
3 cats +
2 dogs +
1 fish +
7 chicks –
3 roosters +
1 neighbor chick –
2 hens =
11 animals

Work

Work is great. Logan and I both still work at Mizzou. We enjoy our coworkers and feel lucky to have good jobs with good benefits, which brings us to…

Money

We started an aggressive debt payment plan in 2017 through a program as part of my work’s Wellness Incentive. We worked with Tina, who has since started her own business of Widow’s Wallet. We put one quarter of our income to our student loans and mortgage. We hope to be debt-free by the end of 2019! Stay tuned!

Part of what made this possible was shopping at Aldi’s. I love Aldi’s! It’s small, it’s simple, it’s cheap. Even when I go wild with the European chocolates, English cheddar cheese and German spice cookies, I don’t devastate our budget. So many treasures at Aldi’s—just love that place!

Another part of our plan was Uber Frugal Month, guided by the Frugalwoods. We did Uber Frugal Month in July, where we lived on $4 day each for food and didn’t buy any non-essentials.

I used this cookbook, Cheap and Good by Leanne Brown (the PDF is available free!), which has a lot of delicious ideas! If you want or need some tasty, cheap eats, it’s a good way to go.

We plan to do another Uber Frugal Month in January to recover from the spending binge of December (a winter’s worth of hay, property taxes, Christmas shopping and general winter-blah-motivated overspending).

I also read the writings from Trent Hamm on the Simple Dollar blog for inspiration on being more financially responsible, a constant effort for me.

Family

It broke my heart to lose my dad. I was touched by my stepmom’s loyalty and love. There’s nothing I can do to speed up the grieving process. It’s my first holiday season without either of my parents alive. I take the moments as they come and look for the happy ones, more on that later.

We enjoyed time with my son and his girlfriend at their house. My son is quite the good griller and they’re both good cooks. We had some good meals at their place. I think I am finally content with being an empty-nester.

I loved having my in-laws visit in the fall and we got to be tourists together in Rocheport, Missouri. It’s a cute town with shops, bike rental for the Katy trail and little cafes.

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Logan and I are having a honeymoon period with our time together. We like to go on day hikes and trips to little towns together. Nothing like a road trip! During our trips and commutes, we enjoy listening to podcasts such as:

Creativity

I love reading! Some of my favorites from my local library were:

Food-related fiction for fun

  • The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Non-fiction for decluttering

  • Remodelista: The Organized Home: Simple, Stylish Storage Ideas for All Over the House by Julie Carlson
  • The Clutter Cure: Three Steps to Letting Go of Stuff, Organizing your Space, & Creating the Home of your Dreams by Judi Culbertson
  • The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay

I wrote every day this year. I made a book for one person. I continued to work on my public speaking skills in my Downtown Toastmasters club (come visit us!).

I crocheted every day. Some of my creations included

Movies

We are movie people and we saw some fun ones this year. We are looking forward to the fabulous Christmas movie season!

Thank you, random people in movie theaters, for indulging our movie poster model fantasies, and taking photos of us.

Spirituality

I am still active in my church and invite you to attend with me if you are curious about the church experience or need a new church home. (Warning: My heart is in the songs, but I’m a terrible singer. Fortunately we have a strong ensemble that is much louder than me and more inspiring!)

One of the highlights of my year was a spiritual retreat on a lake with two friends. It revealed to me how much I need to simplify my life. I came home and began a home reorganization project. I tend to hold onto every little thing, but I don’t need to. I can trust that a good future awaits me.

I have to keep reminding myself that my true self is a beloved child of God.

My job is to love everyone, rejoice and pray constantly. Simple and hard, as all good things are.

End of year wishes

I have three wishes for you: hope, awareness and happy moments.

My first wish for you is that you have hope. Hope is powerful. Hope is energizing. If you have hope, you will keep your heart full. I know there is a lot of pain in the world. For every celebration, another person mourns. For each promotion, there is someone dealing with a job loss. As one person wins a race, someone faces failing health. If you have hope, you can see beyond the pain of the moment.

My second wish is awareness. No matter where you are in life, there is good. It might be unexpected kindness, a glimpse of a beautiful sky or a hot drink to warm you up. I heard that our mind’s nature is to live in the past or the future while focusing on the negative. It takes conscious effort to be present and find the good. Be aware of the freedom you have to move around and experience life.

My last wish for you is happy moments. Even in the midst of tough circumstances, you can find happy moments. Hold them close. What will 2019 bring us? I imagine it will be a mix. Some things will try our patience and just wear us slick (a Missouri saying that I appreciate). Other things will make us laugh and dance and sing (badly? but joyfully! Yes! No matter what, let’s sing joyfully in 2019).

God love and bless you,
Gen

Season of hope: another run at the hill

A few years ago, a friend gave me a bag she got from an estate sale.

Inside was the beginning of a crochet project and four skeins of yarn in mustard, rust, khaki and coffee brown. Yes, it was yarn from the 1970s.

The project was a ripple afghan, the kind that were ubiquitous on the back of every couch in every house I visited as a kid. Sometimes I would see a granny square afghan but the ripple afghans were the most common.

The afghan was about one-tenth done, six inches wide and 48 inches across.

I felt the maker’s pain immediately. I could imagine her thoughts (because I thought of this partial-afghan maker as a woman), The project looks so great in the picture! How exciting! How nice it will look on the back of the couch in my glass and metal 1970s modern house!

Then the slog. Stitch by stitch. Slow climb up the hill and slow climb down into the valley.

Will this afghan ever be finished?

Apparently not. I took out the skeins of yarn and the faded, ripped directions.

I too know what it is to be stumped by a ripple afghan.

Then

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About four years ago, I saw a photo on Ravelry (the social network for knitters and crocheters) that was identical to an afghan I knew growing up. I asked where it had come from. She told me the pattern was from a modern book of vintage patterns. I ordered the book. I needed to order the yarn online because the beautiful 1970s colorway isn’t available in stores.

My book arrived and my yarn arrived. I decided it would be my recovery project while I was home recovering from a surgery.

With boldness and a sense of adventure, I started the 141 stitches that would make my glorious earth and sky ripple afghan, thinking, How exciting! How nice it will looking on the back of the couch in my 1990s trailer home!

Then disaster.

With a fuzzy mind and an exhausted body, I couldn’t consistently count to 12. When my count was off by one stitch, the entire afghan failed. The problem was that I didn’t see my mistake until many stitches later. Sometimes, many rows later.

Who wants to undo hours of work?

Not me. I abandoned my ripple afghan and called it a failure. I decided ripple afghans were too hard for me.

Now

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Fast forward three years. I am stronger, better and willing to try again.

That afghan isn’t going to get the best of me! I ordered the yarn again. I pulled the book off the shelf and studied the pattern.

After all, it’s only an afghan. Try, try again!

I want success because I want to show myself I can do it. I am competent, diligent and determined. I can count to 12. I can make it happen.

I want a little piece of my childhood memory. I want to feel the ridges of the yarn under my fingers like I did as a child, seeing it on the back of the couch. I want my whole life to be accessible to me. I want to hold onto what was mine before, even if it was only an experience of sitting on a couch, brown and turquoise yarn under my hand, the memory of some unknown woman’s work done successfully.

This time will be different.

This time, I will use stitch markers, to help support my creative process.

This time, if it doesn’t work out, I won’t feel bad about myself.

This time, I have a plan.

I currently use the tiny mustard, rust, khaki and coffee brown afghan made by some unknown woman in the 1970s as a little draft protector in the sill for one of my windows. If my own ripple afghan doesn’t work out, then I will turn mine into another one.

There is no failure! I am either making an afghan…or a window sill draft protector.

The yarn came yesterday and I started my project. I saw from the label that the yarn was made in 2006. I worry that it might not be manufactured anymore. Maybe I ordered from some stack in a warehouse that won’t be replenished.

This might be the last chance to make this exact color of afghan, this replica of a memory from decades ago.

Prayerful work

As I started to work, I prayed as I often do when I crochet. Lighten my heart and make nimble my fingers.

I prayed for those affected by fires in California.

I prayed for those in nursing homes.

I prayed for everyone on hospice, those who are aware of how their time is limited.

All our time is limited, truly. It is just a matter of awareness. 12 months, 12 stitches. Up the hill, down into the valley. Even though I am going down into the valley, I am not afraid. Christ, my love and my Lord, will meet me there.

I prayed for the lonely and cold, those who feel forgotten in this season of sparkling snow and family gatherings.

I prayed for the strength to take a run at the hill again, a brown and turquoise hill, the same hill I remember from my childhood decades ago.

I prayed we would all feel hope, enough hope to become our true selves and live with grateful hearts, even as we fail.

Look away from the invisible dog

What is your invisible dog?

You might be asking, “What do you mean my invisible dog?”

I’ll tell you a story.

When I was growing up in Illinois, we had an amusement park not far from my house. I used to have a summer pass. In the 1980s when I was a girl from age 10 to 13 or so, my parents used to drop off me and a friend at the park and we spent the day wandering around. We didn’t have cell phones. We had quarters that we used to call from a pay phone when we wanted to go home.

One night my dad came to pick me up. It was always a little miserable for whatever friend was with me when he came because he drove a Camaro. Camaros are many things. They are powerful. They are fast. They are not made for anyone to ride in the back seat. It’s an exercise in folding your body.

At the park, I saw people walking invisible dogs: empty harnesses with a stiff leash. They held the leashes out in front of them as if an invisible dog was pulling them along.

It was the most amazing thing I had seen. It was funny. It was attention getting. I loved dogs! This one was invisible! And you could walk it in the park! What could be better?

I told my dad all about the invisible dog and how cool they were. I expressed how much I wanted one.

I couldn’t wait for my life to change with the fame and fun of the invisible dog.

My dad was a smart man. So smart that he invented medical devices and toys and got patents for them. He made good money in the 1980s, which he spent on shiny things like new Camaros and gold necklaces.

How could he refuse his beautiful blond daughter? Of course, he said to me, “No. That is stupid.”

I sulked. He didn’t notice. I went on with my 11-year-old life.

At some point, my mom picked me up from a day at the amusement park. She had no problem buying junk so she got me the invisible dog on our way out. I brought it home.

It was really stupid. My dad was right.

It sat in the basement for a few years and then my dad threw it away.

What is your invisible dog?

We chase things that seem to offer what we want. These new clothes will make us feel professional and in control, or sexy and young. Can fabric give you confidence?

If we buy this toy for our kid, we’ll be good parents and our kids will turn out smart.

We see shiny cars in the commercials: people going fast on empty, curving roads, having adventures. This new car will give us a sense of freedom! Except we only drive it back and forth in traffic to work.

  • A big diamond ring
  • A fabulous wedding
  • Luxury makeup
  • Gourmet restaurants
  • Frothy $8 drinks

We want the feeling of being famous, loved, fancy and successful.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes.

All the hard work of humans is for the mouth, but the appetite is never full. It’s better to enjoy what’s at hand than to have an insatiable appetite. This too is pointless, just wind chasing.

Sweet is the light, and it’s pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

Even those who live many years should take pleasure in them all. But they should be mindful that there will also be many dark days. Everything that happens is pointless.

Ecclesiastes 6:7,9; 11:7-8 Common English Bible (CEB)

Research shows that old people are happier than younger people (article). How can that be possible? Our bodies grow frail, our minds fade and we have fewer friends because they’ve died.

One theory is that older people know how to enjoy the present.

Older people know what matters

This summer I got to spend the last three days of my dad’s life with him. He was there for my first days and I’m grateful I got to be there for his last ones.

During those last three days, he gave us a single smile. One smile. I remember that smile.

During those last three days, when I squeezed his hand, he squeezed mine back. A soft squeeze. I remember the feeling of his hand in mine, day by day growing cooler, as his heartbeat grew fainter.

During those last three days, I sang songs to him. I sang the songs from his own childhood in the 1930s and I sang the songs he sang to me during my childhood in the 1970s. I remember those songs.

What is your invisible dog?

I’m here to tell you that this is your day at the amusement park. Enjoy the rides. Feel the sun. Laugh with your friends. Taste the food in all its goodness: salty or sweet.

When you see an invisible dog, let it go. You don’t need it.

You already have what you need.

Give a smile.

Squeeze someone’s hand.

Sing your song.

 

 

 

Wingin’ it with baby chickies 🐥

Day One

There’s a famous saying that goes,

If you have a dream, collect all your scrap wood from the barn and make that dream come true.

OK, maybe that saying is not quite famous, yet…but I will tell you more.

Our dream was a coop.

Our necks are burnt. Our muscles are sore. Our drill bits are broken. But we made our dream come true! Here’s how we did it.

Reason for the coop-building season

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First, the need. An impulse buy of seven cute chicks from Cackle Hatchery meant we needed to make housing for them. We got seven different breeds:

  • Houdan
  • Buff Brahma
  • Polish
  • Blue Ameraucana
  • Jubilee Orpington
  • Silver Laced Wyandotte
  • Barred Rock

Three of them will be hens. The other four are a gamble. I will let you know in a few months what we have if/when the crowing starts!

I love their little peeping sounds! They are all fluff and warmth in the palm of my hand.

Back to the coop building

I took all of our items out of the barn to see what we had to work with. As part of the coop-building process, we got the side bonus of organizing the barn.

You can see we had quite the collection of junk stuff.

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Let the coop building games begin!

Using this book from our local library, Reinventing the Chicken Coop: 14 Original Designs with Step-by-Step Building Instructions, we started with the base. From that point, it was guessing and trying since we didn’t have the wood—or the tools—that the book suggested. Our coop also needed to be much bigger than the ones described.

At this point, we are five hours in and my husband is not yet sunburnt.

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Next, we started to build the side. For the front and back, I wanted them to open so we could clean the coop and collect eggs as needed.

Mid-afternoon, my son brought new energy and some much-needed supplies: more screws and 2x4s. With his help, we got the back wall done.

We used an old storm door for one side. Then it was coop-raising time!

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I felt happy when I saw that our coop was strong enough to support a person inside. For people with no building skills, that was a big accomplishment. We ended day one with hope in our hearts.

Day Two

Day two and I painted the base.

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Cats are not good painter’s helpers

A certain naughty kitty explored the coop while I was turned around.

She loved getting her white kitty paws washed in the sink so much that she sang us a song while we cleaned them.

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The we added the front gates and a little ramp.

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We attached 2 by 4s for them to roost. Chickens don’t grip with their feet well like wild birds. I read that they prefer a flatter roost pole. Plus, a couple of our breeds will be 10+ pound chickens. We need a strong roost!

I realized the noun, rooster, comes from the verb, to roost. Yep, seems obvious now, doesn’t it? But I had never really thought of it.

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We will pick up some paint this week and get the fencing ready for the little chick friends. They will start living outside in a few weeks after they have their feathers and it has warmed up.

Hope you have a lovely spring week. May your dream—whatever it looks like—come true!

Can’t forget the horses!

PS: a couple bonus pics of our horse and pony, just for fun.

Pixie does not look impressed by our newfound building abilities

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Miko loves the long spring front lawn

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Christmas is not a plastic holiday

I was lucky enough to have my writing included in my church’s advent devotional this year (We would welcome you to join us at the Christmas Eve service! Ask me if you’re interested.) This is one of my offerings from the devotional. I hope this season will bless you. 

 

Psalm 139:13-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.

Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.

In December 2015, a little Chihuahua puppy shivered and starved on the streets of Kansas City. Temperatures were harsher than average. Lows at night dropped to 13 degrees, even lower with the wind chill. Without his mother and littermates, and no human to care for him, the puppy grew weaker from cold and hunger. In desperation, he began to eat plastic.

Kind people rescued the puppy. He was unable to eat because he was so weak and his belly was so full of plastic. They removed the plastic from his belly. Then they fed him broth. As his strength returned, they rallied for him and got him the care his life depended on. Today this puppy named Mufasa is a lively, happy dog who lives with me and my husband. (We are so thankful to all the volunteers at Paws Crossed Inc. for their loving care and bringing him to us!)

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During the holidays, I see how people can grow desperate. The puppy was hungry for real food but ate plastic because it was all he could find. In the same way, I believe people are hungry for spiritual nourishment and deep connections. They can’t find nourishment or connections, so they fill the holidays with plastic materialism. They buy into the commercial pressure and intensity. They try to buy moments of joy and happiness. Then come January, they look at their credit card debt with regret.

God created us to be marvelous. We don’t need to buy anything to rest in the unconditional joy that we are God’s beloved children. No amount of plastic will fill the need we have for God. Kindness and mercy are free for all to give and receive.

When we give thanks for what we have, it liberates us to see how God is working in our lives. Jesus is not a plastic lawn decoration. Christmas is not a plastic holiday. Christmas invites us to know our Savoir, the heart of God and God’s love for us all, no matter who we are.

Prayer

God who created us, give us eyes to see the hungry, the abandoned and the lonely. Strengthen us in this season of long nights to be havens of warmth for those alone on the streets. Make our arms strong to do your work, feeding your people and your creatures with nourishing food and your nourishing Word.

Thanks for the difficult family members

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, could be a grump. In real life, she tended to be haughty and critical. I don’t know if she was anyone’s favorite person.

She had icy, cut-crystal blue eyes, so blue they seemed too clear and bright to be real. She seemed to look through you. She was a beautiful, classy woman.

Her life started out rough and then she experienced disappointments where she wanted happiness and elegance.

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My grandmother with my sister and me at my sister’s college graduation (side note: LOVE the 1970s fashion in this photo!)

My grandmother sat up straight and she didn’t hesitate to tell you to sit up straight too. In any photo I took with her, she always told me to turn my hip to the camera so I didn’t look wide, even as a kid.

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At my sister’s college graduation where I turned my hip, with my aunt in the fabulous 1970s rainbow outfit and my dad in the back with an incredible tie. Happy smile on my sis!

Sometimes it seemed she saw the world split in two: there was her, and there were the others who could serve her, or disappoint her.

With one glance to her face, you could tell she didn’t approve. Of anything. She was someone who smiled with her mouth and rarely her eyes.

I didn’t spend Thanksgivings with her. My family had its own fractured, distant ways. Growing up, I had the holidays with only my parents until they divorced, and a few rare times, with my brother or sister.

My grandmother was difficult to deal with in real life but a fantastic penpal. She wrote me letters every month for a couple of years while I was in college. She wrote about her passions when she was a young woman and how she saw a great intelligence in me.

She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She only said it in letters but maybe that was the best place to say it. In real life, she questioned my clothing and hair choices. To be fair, they are often questionable.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I give thanks for difficult people who make a difference. Not always easy to love, but worthy. I am thankful for my grandmother, more so every year.

I am thankful for the family I have, different maybe from other people’s or the ideal, but they are mine.

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At the table, I will take a breath and pray to become more forgiving and more grateful.

With grown-up eyes, I see how we are all still children, children of God begging for love.

This Thanksgiving, may God bless you with eyes shining with love to see the goodness always around you. May you recognize the little moments of sweetness that will grow sweeter as time passes. May you have colorful memories to last you through the winter of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!