My Choices Shape My Future

My Choices Shape my Futuer

Last night I could not get past writers block. I did write for about an hour, but only managed to squeak out 2 ½ paragraphs that sounded forced. It’s easy to get carried away and strive to be profound when the art journal entry that corresponds with the written piece is “My Choices Shape My Future.”

This morning I deleted the words written last night and started over with a fresh heart.

Just as I was settling in, the steady low roar of the lawnmower stopped abruptly with the clank of the blade against a rock. I didn’t have to see what happened to know that my son felt the vibration from the impact, there were sparks involved, and the clatter was without a doubt the last noise the mower would make.

My writing direction changed once again. I was going to write about the fact that I’ve made some pretty bad choices and how they ultimately shaped my future in a good way. Thoughts about the power of positive, the importance of self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness raced through my brain.

The sound of the lawnmower brought me back to reality and to the smaller kind of choices we make every day. How we choose to handle life’s minor mishaps and whether or not we allow them to ruin the day.

This morning I had two choices, one was to be mad and ask my son rhetorical questions like, “why weren’t you paying more attention?” and then remind him that money doesn’t grow on trees and he really should be more careful. The other option was to take a deep breath before going outside, accept his apology calmly, and ask him to help me find a replacement.

For whatever reason, the first approach seems to be human nature but it really serves no purpose. My son already felt bad and knew he should have been paying closer attention, his face told me so. It wouldn’t have made either of us feel any better if I’d yelled at him. We’d both be feeling miserable, small, and angry.

Together we shopped online for a new mower. He selected an old-fashioned push mower for the following reasons: it was the most affordable, it’s environmentally friendly and quieter, and it will provide him with a little more exercise. I’m proud of the way he handled the situation. He also had choices, and he handled it maturely by owning what happened and remaining calm.

It wasn’t the way either of us wanted to start the day, but life happens and mishaps are part of the deal and we have no control over them. We only have control over how we react to them. I’m learning that facing problems calmly is far more effective and pleasant than hiding from them or living in a constant state of hysteria and discouragement.

I’ve come to believe the way we handle the little things life throws at us has a significant impact on shaping our future. It establishes a pattern of behavior and sets the stage for how we handle the big things.

My Choices Shape my Futuer

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Wonderful Moms, Especially Mine

I’d always assumed that Mother’s Day was started by Hallmark, but it turns out that’s not the case at all.  There have been various precursors to the spring holiday that can be traced back as far as the ancient Greeks and Romans.

It’s amazing to me how many historical people I’ve never heard of and the creator of the American version of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, is among them. The holiday became official in 1914 and interestingly she ended up spending the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar because it turned into such a commercialized celebration. 100 years later it looks like the holiday is here to stay.

It’s interesting to note that the roots of the holiday were started by her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis, who in the years before the Civil War, helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

I am blessed to be a mother to 3 wonderful children and I am also blessed to have an amazing mom, who inspires me in so many ways. She is a beautiful person both inside and out. She is a passionate and loving person who gives tirelessly to her family, friends, and to the St. Louis Volunteer Committee.

Three lovely ladies in Nevis

She loves music and has a special knack for entertaining and preparing fabulous meals. We not only love each other, we like each other. 🙂 One of our favorite activities to share is biking in Minnesota. My mom can out ride many people half her age, which I think is pretty darn cool!

break from biking in Minnesota

Over the years I’ve learned many valuable lessons from my mom, I think the most important one is that mother’s provide a safe haven for their children – no matter how old they are. She’s been there for me every step of the way and I know I can always count on her.

Thank you mom, for being you.

I love you.

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Author’s Note: on this Mother’s Day Weekend, it seems fitting to share one of my recent entries in my affirmation journaling project.

I Keep My Children Safe

This may seem like an odd personal affirmation, but as a parent, there is nothing more important to me than my children. Although, as a human being I sometimes wonder if I’ve been a good mother.

I’m flawed, have made mistakes, and there are more than a few things I would do differently. My guess is that my parents and their parents before them feel much the same way.

I think one thing that is different, is that with each generation, at least in my experience, we become more willing to talk honestly and openly with our children about our hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. We’re more willing to talk openly about our humanity.

There’s part of me that would love to be able to keep my children from ever having to feel pain, whether it be emotional or physical. But I also know that’s not realistic and that at some level, painful experiences are part of life and need to happen.

The emotional pain somehow seems the more difficult to handle, both as a parent and as a child. With a physical injury, there are ways to predict and anticipate when the healing process will be complete and we can get back to the activities we love. With an emotional injury, the healing process is far more uncertain and unpredictable.

I can’t keep my children from experiencing pain, but I can keep them safe.

I give them a safe place to talk, to grieve, to “be.” They don’t talk to me about about every situation but they know I’m always here with open arms, unconditional love, a shoulder to cry on, and always, always accepting and respectful of their feelings. They also know they can count on me for honesty and constructive, but maybe difficult to hear feedback and input when it’s needed.

Keeping your children safe isn’t so much about protecting them from harm as it is being there for them when they come in harm’s way.

I keep my children safe

Listen With an Open Mind and Hear with Love

I Hear With Love

Listening with an open mind isn’t always easy. As human beings we come into most situations with our own predefined thoughts based on our individual experiences and beliefs. Most of the time we believe that what we think is right and often-times we go into conversations with the intention of changing someone’s mind and not our own.

Listening with an open mind means more than being open to someone else’s opinion or point of view, it means that you are receptive to being influenced by what you hear. It means listening to each and every word without jumping to conclusions and striving to understand what the other person is saying without judging whether or not they are right or wrong.

Hearing with love is partly about listening with empathy but it’s more than that. Empathy helps us understand better where someone else is coming from emotionally and conceptually but it’s not the same as hearing with love.

Hearing with love takes it a step further, hearing with love not only means understanding it also means compassion, kindness, and goodwill. When we listen with love we listen with both an open mind and an open heart.

Our opinions may or may not change as a result of the conversation but if the end result is a greater understanding of the other person and  a mutual feeling of acceptance and goodwill, it was a success.

Strive not only to understand another person’s experiences and thoughts, love and embrace them for who they are because of them.

I Hear With Love

Inspired by Louise Hay ~ “I Hear With Love.”

That’s a Really Bad Place to Change a Flat Tire!

My phone’s ringtone was hardly necessary this morning; it was 3:30 am and I’d barely slept. I tapped the screen for snooze; ten more minutes in my warm bed was preferable to the chilly air outside the comforter.

Christian’s flight back to college was scheduled for 6:10 am this morning. Last night we backward calculated and decided that we could leave at 4:00 am, make it to the airport in plenty of time even if we stopped at WaWa to get coffee for me and doughnuts for him. We sailed along I95 at just the right speed to avoid getting pulled over and were on track to make it to the airport in plenty of time.

I hate driving on I95; the closer I get to Philly the more I hate it. The minefield of potholes gets progressively dangerous the deeper you drive into the construction zone.

I made the mistake of driving in the middle lane, which turned out to be the most treacherous of the three available lanes. I won’t prolong the suspense or try and find a clever way to describe what it felt like to connect dead center with the pothole that ate my tire and then spit my car back onto the highway with a jolt.

“What was that!?”

Christian said, “I think we just hit a pothole. I hope we didn’t get a flat.”

The car balance of the car shifted and leaned toward the right front passenger side; the sound of air leaving the tire confirmed we had a flat tire. I won’t repeat what I said as this is a family friendly blog. :). I pulled over to the side of the road next to a construction barricade.

It was 4:30 a.m.

In theory I know how to change a tire, in practice I’ve never done it. I had sense enough to turn my hazards on and retrieve the jack, the spare tire, and the lug-nut wrench out of the trunk.

Christian figured out how to jack up the car and then Googled “how to change a tire” while I paced back and fourth trying to remember the trick to getting access to the lug-nuts. The lug-nuts on my tires are covered by a nice decorative cover, which is great unless you need to change a tire and don’t know how to take them off.

It was a good thing that I wore my white winter jacket instead of my black one; a last minute decision that kept me from blending into the pre-sunrise sky while I stood behind my car making calls for help.

My first call was to my parents because that’s who I call when I’m having a disaster and I hoped that because my mom has a Volvo they could shed some light onto how to get to the lug-nuts. My second call was to a 24 x 7 emergency road side assistance service that was 1 1/2 hours from where we were stranded.

Six rings into my third call Christian said, “Someone’s stopping to help.”

I turned to see a tow truck and a stocky, bearded man walking toward us, “This is a terrible place to change a flat tire! Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?”

I just nodded, hoping he intended to help and didn’t stop just to tell me how dangerous my situation was.

He tugged up the back of his pants and squatted in front of the tire. After a few failed attempts at removing the lug-nut covers with the factory provided tool, he retrieved a screwdriver from his truck.

It took more than regular muscle strength to loosen the lug-nuts. For each one, he positioned the lug-nut tool as a platform of sorts and forced the it free through a series of jumps and grunts.

He gave me instructions to add air to the spare and not to drive over 50 mph. I have no idea what his name is or what his company is, but I’ll always be grateful for the unexpected and free roadside assistance. I’ll also always wonder what he thought of our improvisation and that we used suitcases to block the tires. (if only we’d known that there were blocks for that purpose in the trunk)

As for the rest of the story, Christian missed his flight and will be headed back to St. Louis tomorrow. All of the flights were booked today; the airlines are still playing catch  up from last week’s weather related cancellations and delays.

Christian took my tire in to have it fixed; turns out it’s not just a flat tire, I have a broken rim. It’s a bummer, but there are so many ways that it could have been much worse.

In case you’re wondering about the feature image; well I’d rather enjoy roses than think about flat tires. And  after this morning’s mishap it was especially nice to have this cheery bouquet in my den.

Don’t Throw Out the China

holiday table set with fine china

Divorce is hard. Even when it’s for the best it’s not an easy experience. It’s laden with “what if’s,” “should have’s” and “what do I do now’s.” This is my fourth Christmas as a single mom and tonight I’m more thankful than ever that I didn’t throw out the china.

Backing up just a bit, a little over three years ago Christian and I moved into my lovely artist’s vessel, aka home.

my lovely artist's house - the livingroom

We’d been living in an apartment that was one third of the size of the house we left behind. This meant that one third of our belongings were sold, a third was in storage, and the rest was in the apartment. Although I’m not so sure it was quite as evenly split as that.

After much angst we found a house to rent and it was time for the belongings that had been gathering dust in a storage container to meet the light of day. I scheduled the moving company to deliver the contents of the storage container and my parents volunteered to help me unpack.

surrounded by boxes

I won’t go into all of the details but suffice it to say it took me 322 days to unpack all of the boxes and turn my porch into a slice of summer.

finishing touches

Unpacking items I hadn’t seen or used in two years was almost as surreal as walking through my house and marking things with labels that designated the disposition of individual belongings as keep, sell/donate, or store.

My standard line for the day the storage arrived was, “I haven’t used it in two years so I don’t need it, put it in the donate pile.” Memories, both good and bad, poured out of each box I opened. Naively I thought the experience would be without emotion.

One of the most difficult moments was when I opened the box labeled “china.” I unpacked a dinner plate; memories of Thanksgivings, Christmases, and special occasions flooded my mind and pushed tears down my face.

Hoping no one had seen, I stood up and said, “I haven’t used it in two years, donate it.”

It’s an understatement to say I was irrational that day and if Christian hadn’t asked, “but Mom, what dishes will we use for special occasions?” – I would have thrown out the china.

For me the china represented the hope I had as a new bride and the disappointment that things didn’t turn out the way I had planned. For him the china represented family, traditions, happy times, and perhaps stability or familiarity.

Tonight he asked if he could set the table for dinner. We’d invited his girlfriend to join us for pre-holiday meal; he chose to use the china.

holiday table set with fine china

Thank goodness I didn’t throw it out.

The Stockings are Hung and I’m Ready for Christmas Hugs

It’s a cloudy, snowy Sunday.

snowy winter day in PA

I slept in and had no intention of putting up my Christmas decorations. For the first time in a while I felt a bit lonely today. Thankfully thoughts of cozy evenings with my kids during upcoming holiday visits bumped my dreary demeanor to the curb.

Normally I put my decorations up the Friday after Thanksgiving. When the kids were growing up it was a tradition to decorate the house on Friday and go to That Pottery Place to make giant mugs, dog dishes, or holiday decorations on Saturday. I still have a few of the things we made, including my favorite over-sized bright green and blue polka dot coffee cup and saucer.

It’s never been great for coffee, it’s so big the hot liquid turns to room temperature almost before you’ve had time to take a sip. It does however, make a great place to keep loose change in case one of my kids needs a little laundry money to take back home with them.

change cup

It’s the first time in my adult life that I’ve decorated the house with the knowledge there was no one coming home this evening to enjoy the holiday transformation with me. It feels a little strange.

At first I thought it was silly to decorate until the day before the inbound Christmas flights arrive. But now that I’m done and there’s a stuffed Santa on the window seat, the stockings are hung by the fireplace, flames are flickering behind the glass doors and from the winter green candle tops, I’m glad I didn’t wait.

There are a few things left to do. I need to buy a wreath, figure out whether or not I’m going to replace my outdoor decorations, and last but not least put up the tree. The tree is going to have to wait until Christian gets home and has become our new tradition we’ll decorate it on Christmas Eve.

The stockings are hung and I’m ready for Christmas hugs and warm cozy nights.

the stockings are hung

Wasn’t it Just Yesterday?

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. My Ex and I had been looking for a dog for a few months, with the help of his mom. She was very active in animal rescue and adoption efforts and passed along leads to us as they came her way.

The phone conversation started something like this:

“Hello”

Long pause.

“A miniature dachshund?! How much smaller can a dachshund get?”

I dashed downstairs to the computer and Googled “miniature dachshund,” printed out pictures of half a dozen cuties, and ran to the top of the steps holding the pictures up and singing, “see how cute they are!”

Although he was skeptical, Eric agreed to go meet Annie, a beautiful auburn mini-dachshund with a heart shaped spot on her tail. I don’t think it’ an exaggeration to say it was love at first sight.

A few months later we decided to surprise the kids with a pal for Annie. Romeo, a handsome dapple joined our family as a Christmas puppy. From the very first day we brought him home, Annie and Romeo were inseparable.

the puppers

You may be wondering why we didn’t call them Romeo and Juliet. Annie was already well over a year when we adopted her and over two by the time Romeo came along, so it didn’t seem right to change her name. Besides, we’d already assigned her several nicknames like, Anna, Anabelle, Belly, and Bellerbee and who wants to start learning a new name let alone a bunch of alternates ;)?

Romeo was a compromise for Oreo, which Katie had set her heart on for his name. We all have a different memory about how the name Romeo came to be the choice, but we all remember Katie being adamant about The name Oreo.

They loved long walks in the park, digging holes, and chasing squirrels. Back in the day when people used to thaw meat outside in the sun without worrying about food poisoning, Annie managed to leap frog onto the patio table via a chair and consumed an entire package of pork chops. Pork Chop Annie was quickly added to her long list of nicknames.

Romeo was known as Mo Mo, Me mo, Mobert, and Moby to name a few. I generally referred to them as a pair, they were my “dudes.” The dudes spent many hours chasing each other around the legs of the table, scurrying under one end of the sofa and reappearing on the other end, and slipping and sliding on the hardwood floors. Any toy with a “squeaker” became squeakerless within the first few seconds of receipt.

The winter before last, Annie’s age began to catch up with her. Stairs became more than she could manage and Christian and I shared more than a few tearful nights wondering how long she would be with us. I was thankful that she defied my prediction and came back just as scrappy and sassy as ever.

Last spring I thought the “time had come” again; Jeff and Katie even made a special trip over Memorial weekend to say farewell. Little did we know that things would turn out quite differently than we thought.

An injury and old age took Romeo from us unexpectedly in August. He was a proud boy who chased squirrels and hunted for rabbits every chance he got. He stood guard fearlessly before a storm, but had an unusual fear of flies that would send him under the nearest bed or into the closest closet.

romeo standing watch before the storm

Annie loved giving kisses, sitting on laps, and never turned down a tummy rub. Every afternoon at 4 pm, Annie assumed a watchful position on the bottom step, waiting for Christian to come home from school. Her habit didn’t change after he left for college.

Annie_saying goodbye

Yesterday, I had to do what every pet owner dreads for the second time in two months.  It was hard, but it was right. The vet was kind and compassionate and reminded me that when one of your “dudes” loses their passion for life and is experiencing discomfort, the kindest thing we can do is say goodbye.

It was a sad day indeed, but I cherish the memories of the joy the pups brought to the lives of my children and I take comfort in the knowledge that Annie and Romeo are once again together.

Fall, a Season of Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Spring is usually the season we associate with new beginnings and fresh starts. As the plants and trees come back to life after lying dormant during the long winter months our hearts fill with hope. We look forward to the season of graduations, confirmations, and weddings, the ceremonies and celebrations that represent new beginnings and change.

I hadn’t thought about it until this year, but in many ways fall is really the season of fresh starts and new experiences. Fall marks the passage of children from necessary nap-times to kindergarten kids. Every new grade marks a milestone for students and the parents who shake their heads and wonder where the time went.

This year, fall brought about one of the most significant changes in my life since the birth of my first child.

On Wednesday August 21st Christian packed up the remaining travel necessities like snacks, Cd’s, and our not so trusty GPS.

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He somehow managed to squeeze the last few items into the back seat on top of an assortment of suitcases, duffle bags, and boxes which were piled as high as possible without blocking the rear-view mirror.

Christian and his girlfriend exchanged one of the longest pre-sunrise goodbye hugs in the history of young love. The sky was clear and dry, but our eyes were not.

We started our 17 hour journey with a stop at Wawa for a not-so-nutritious breakfast and a giant cup of coffee.

The last time we packed up the car to drive 1/2 way across the country was five years ago, the fall we moved from Omaha to Yardley. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the number of changes that have taken place since we moved.  Among the many changes, is the fact that Christian is no longer a boy; he’s grown into a mature and wonderful young man.

It seems like yesterday he was making a goofy face at me on the drive to Pennsylvania.

Christian in the car on our move

And it literally was almost yesterday that he helped me tackle a thousand mile drive.

Goofy face while driving

We abandoned our outdated GPS in favor of Siri fairly early in the trip. Our not so trusty GPS kept losing the signal and recalculating routes because it lost our location.  Christian’s foot was more than a bit heavy, so it’s a good thing I was driving when we pulled into this rest stop or he might have started his college career with a speeding ticket.

speed trap

I didn’t know until this trip, just how many goofy faces my son could make.

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Thank goodness he’s also willing to smile and show me his handsome face.

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It also turns out he’s a great multi-tasker. He can switch CD’s, text with his girlfriend and at least 5 other people while having a conversation with his mom. I seriously thought his phone was going to explode.

Our stop at “Steak n’ Shake” meant free wi fi.

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Another goofy face while pondering the menu selection.

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More texting (not sure what has happened to our technology free meal rule).

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And a giant Cookies and Cream shake topped with a mountain of whipped cream.

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We arrived at Kay and John’s at 11:02 pm, just like Siri said we would. After seventeen hours in a car it was wonderful to get a hug from family friends and have a glass of wine before falling into a comfortable bed.

We followed Jeff through the maze of morning traffic and I somehow managed to keep up with my oldest son’s lane changes. Orientation leaders directed us through the parking lot and provided instructions for the drop off.

It’s incredibly well organized, the kids on the orientation team load each student’s belongings into a large bin on wheels and before you walk back from the parking garage it’s in the dorm room ready to be unpacked.

The actual unpacking was a bit discombobulated, but that’s a story for another day. People kept mistaking Jeff for an incoming student and not an alum, which gave us some good laughs.

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The next two days were full of orientation sessions. It was all a bit exhausting and overwhelming. For the first time ever, I secretly kept tissues in my purse because tears kept creeping out at the most unexpected times.

Saturday was the final day of orientation and after lunch it was time to say goodbye for now. I snagged one of the orientation leaders and cajoled Christian into one more picture.

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Now begins my journey as an empty-nester and another season of change.

57 Days Until the Next Chapter Begins

Graduation Caps in the Air

In some ways I think it’s a bigger milestone for parents than it is for kids when they graduate from High School, especially when it’s your youngest child. On June 19th we celebrated Christian’s graduation in Yardely, PA with family and friends.

For whatever reason, the tradition for Pennsbury High School is to hold graduation on a Wednesday evening which makes it a little tricky when it comes to inviting guests and making party plans. My guess is that we were one of few, if not the only family who had guests coming in from Nebraska and Missouri.

My parents arrived the Sunday before graduation and immediately started helping me prepare. They spoiled me rotten while they were here. I didn’t cook a  single meal outside of my famous enchiladas for the night of graduation.

Monday they tore into my outside porch and cleaned it from top to bottom. My dad had to improvise work clothes (which was a tad bit entertaining) and my mom even ironed the freshly washed window coverings.

Tuesday my mom made several trips to grocery store in between the torrential rainstorms while I prepared the enchiladas. She spent the rest of the afternoon preparing food for the party. I still can’t figure out how she managed to fit everything into the fridge and when the time came we still managed to squeeze in a few more bottles of wine.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I scheduled myself to teach a workshop the morning of graduation, but for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was wired by the time I got home, too much caffeine, not enough food, a late co-presenter, and technical difficulties did not make a good combination.

Thankfully the jitters passed and I was able to decorate the house and iron the graduation gown. Ironing a graduation gown is truly a labor of love. Why do they have to get so wrinkled and be made of a fabric that seems to hold onto those wrinkles like none other?

We posed for pictures in front of the house and then Christian’s girlfriend took him to school. The plan was for her to come back to the house and we would all drive over together.

Family Picture on Graduation day

It’s about a ten minute drive and they left the house around 4:30, which in theory should have been plenty of time for her to drop Christian off and get back to the house by 5:00.

4:56 pm
Christian: Traffic is crazy. We’re not even at school yet

Me: Ok – just have Katie meet us there

Christian: You need to leave soon

Me: We’re leaving now, we’ll be there as soon as we can

5:15 pm
Me: This is insane. Are you there yet?

Christian: I know. I’m still in the car outside school

My stomach was turning and panic was rising because we were still a few miles from school and the ceremony was scheduled to start at 5:45 sharp. It could have been worse, at least he wasn’t the poor kid who abandoned his car and whose robe was flying behind him while he ran along the sidewalk.

5:32 pm
Christian: We’re lining up now. I have to put away my phone

We were still over a mile away from school and the minutes were ticking away much faster than the lines of cars inching their way toward the school from competing directions.

5:45 came and went while we were made our way through the parking lot.  Three phone calls later we found Katie, Christian’s girlfriend, and made it to the football stadium just as they started calling out last names starting with the letter “B.”

I didn’t get to see him walk, but we did hear them announce, “Christian Paul Browning,” so I didn’t miss it completely. Phew! Normally having a last name that starts with the second letter of the alphabet is a good thing, not so much on graduation day.

When I saw the concession stand was open and they were selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels I thought we might be there until midnight, especially since the line of kids waiting their turn wrapped around the entire track and overflowed outside of the stadium.

Students lining up for Graduation

I’m not 100% certain, but I think Christian was in fourth or fifth row of black robes.It was quite a different experience than Jeff and Katie’s High School graduation where we knew all of the kids by name.

Pennsbury High School Graduation

It took nearly an hour to announce all of the names and my concern that we’d be there until midnight seemed more than legitimate.

Pennsbury High School 2013 Graduation

As it turned out, we were home by 8:00 pm. The enchiladas were in the oven, the food was all set up (thanks to my wonderful family and friends), and by 8:30 the rooms were filled with laughter and celebration.

It was strange to celebrate the occasion without the big kids, but it didn’t make sense for them to use up vacation time to fly in for an event that lasted a few hours. After nearly missing graduation completely, I was really glad that they came out over Memorial day weekend instead.

In 57 days Christian will be starting his life as a college student and I’ll experience my first day as an empty nester.

Here’s to the “Next Chapter,” and new adventures!