Portrait of a Mother

She answered the door wearing neither makeup nor shoes.

She wore a t-shirt and cut off denim shorts and a closely cropped haircut that was devoid of any styling product.  She smiled as she opened her home to me and quietly invited me in.  She seemed a little meek and unsure of how to greet me.

Shit, this is going to be awkward.

I hauled my oversized pink duffel bag out of my trunk and dragged it into her house.

“Thanks again for inviting me to stay here,” I said.  “It’s really great to meet you.”

“No problem.  It’s nice to meet you, too.”

“Is there, um, some place I can go to change my shoes and freshen up a bit?”

She pointed me to a guest suite that doubled as her husband’s office and assured me that I could make myself at home.

“I’ve still got to get ready, but don’t worry.  It doesn’t take me long,” she insisted.

Great, we’re going to have nothing in common.

I took off the black high heeled sandals I’d worn to a baby shower earlier that day and replaced them with a higher heeled pair of strappy black dress shoes.  I removed the pin I’d been wearing to disguise a plunging neckline.  I exchanged a chunky bracelet and dangly black earrings for a silver necklace and hoops.  I reapplied my powder and added dark lipstick over the top of my clear lip balm.

From shower to slutty in less than 30 seconds.

I heard her let the babysitter in.  Moments later she knocked on the door to my guest room and I told her I was decent.

“I just found out the other day that we’re the same age,” she said.


“Yeah, we were both born in 1980.  I always think that’s interesting when someone is exactly the same age as me.”

Yeah.  Interesting.

I noticed that she still wasn’t wearing any makeup and hadn’t changed clothes.  I suddenly wondered if my dress and heels were going to look absurd next to her shorts and t-shirt all night.  I wondered how late she had arranged for her babysitter to stay.  I wondered what in the hell me and this woman who was exactly the same age as me would have to talk about all night.

She was giving the sitter instructions when I came out into the living room.  I noticed the handwritten note she’d left on the counter with snacktimes and bedtimes.  I remembered the notes I used to leave my parents whenever I left my son with them.  On the counter beside the note was a small plastic tub filled with grapes and something crunchy.  I had the feeling that someone in the house knew exactly how many grapes were in the plastic tub.

I never counted grapes.

“I just have to pump and then I’ll get ready and we can go,” she said.

She picked up her electric breast pump and disappeared down the hall into what I assumed was her bedroom.  I glanced at my watch and realized we were going to be late.  I chatted with the babysitter and wondered again what the hell I’d been thinking by accepting an invitation from a woman I barely knew.  A woman who was obviously nothing like me.

Her bedroom door opened and I turned around to inspect what “getting ready” meant to her.

She was stunning.  She darted back and forth between bathroom and bedroom doors and I marveled at her tall and willowy frame.  She wore a silver tank top and slimfitting jeans and a black cuff on her wrist.  Her dark hair was shiny and perfectly tousled.

“Uh, I don’t wanna gross you out, but I’m going to shave my armpits,” she warned as I stood in the doorway of her bathroom and gawked at her.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked as she quickly dry shaved under both of her arms.

She shook her head and laughed, “I’ve been doing this since I was 13.”

I watched as she gave final instructions to the sitter and kissed her kids goodnight and found myself suddenly intimidated by her easy coolness.  She grabbed her purse and I followed her out the door and into her car.

She pulled out of the driveway and started talking immediately.  She told me about her job and her husband and where they’d gone to school.  She started telling me about someone she used to work for.

“He was just a dick, ya know?”

Did she just call someone a dick?

I don’t remember saying much as we drove to the bar where we were meeting the rest of our party.  I probably looked like an idiot sitting in the passenger seat and just watching her talk.  She reminded me of a character in some independent coming of age movie.  She spoke quickly, but quietly, with that cool confidence that I could never muster.  I bet she remembered the names of the authors she liked or the people who produced her favorite movies.

I felt ridiculous in my silver hoops and cheesy red lipstick.  I felt like an asshole for having judged this woman so quickly.

And I suddenly wanted very much for her to like me.

Do not make an ass of yourself tonight.

Of course, I did make an ass of myself.  Because if you put me at a table with people who tell stories on the Internet and let me order margaritas, I will inevitably get loud and stupid and act in a way that makes me wonder why in the hell I keep going out in public.  But Maria sat beside me all night and I didn’t catch her rolling her eyes at me even once.  She even pre-ordered drunk food for later in the night.

The next morning, after sitting up and talking to her so long that I literally fell asleep upright in her living room chair, I came out of the bedroom to find her in boxer shorts and black rimmed glasses.  She made me a cup of coffee and I sat and talked with her while she nursed her baby and played with her toddler.

We talked about the tattoos we wanted to get and the expense of trying to go green.  We talked about engorged breasts and doctors who were too tight fisted with anxiety medication.  We used the words fuck and organic in the same conversation.  I sat at her kitchen table until she finally picked up the phone and called to apologize to her friends for being late to their playdate.

I apologized for overstaying my welcome and quickly packed up my pink duffel bag.  I thanked her again for inviting me to stay and opening her house to me.  I quietly hoped that she’d agree to hang out with me again in the future.

I tell you all this to illustrate that I am an asshole.

But also because, as I drove home that morning, I kept thinking about how Maria perfectly embodied exactly what motherhood is.  I kept thinking about the complexity of who she was and how my initial assessment of her hadn’t been wrong so much as it had been limited and narrow and far too small to fit an entire person into.

I thought about how we are, all of us, too big for our labels.

We are not green moms or mothers of children with cancer.  We are not the Pakistani-American mother or the special needs mom.  We are not moms who scrapbook or moms who blog or moms who cook or moms who buy cookies from the store for the school bake sale.

And we are not good mothers or bad mothers.

By definition, we are simply women who are raising children.  We talk at length about how we raise those children and the millions of ways that there are to do that.  The differences in how we parent can be so vast and varied and my god with the talking about it that we mistakenly assume that it is the “raising children” that defines us.

But we are, first and foremost, women.

This whole motherhood thing, while big and important and sometimes all-encompassing and absolutely life changing, is simply another life experience heaped onto a whole mountain of other life experiences that make us who we are.  It is ridiculous to think that any of us could be so easily identified by only one or two of our experiences or by small fractions of our personalities.

And yet, we keep trying to do just that.

We sign up for playgroups and think they’re moms, surely we’ll have tons in common.  And then we beat ourselves up for not fitting in.

We show up for blogging conferences and tweet ups and think these people use the internet, surely we’ll have tons in common.  And then we wonder why we feel awkward and out of place in a place where we’re supposed to belong.

Or, worse, we see a woman who dares to answer her door without makeup and appears to be quieter and more soft spoken than us – and we assume we’ll have nothing in common.

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Building Up Positive Energy


Nothing has the ability to define your mood and that of those around you more than the kind of energy you emit. We all have that friend who is always whining and crying, saying how life has been difficult and how persons X and Y are responsible for all of their problems. If we are honest, we sometimes have wanted to avoid them. Don’t be that person.

Don’t get me wrong, it is normal to be downhearted in times of difficulty. When your Blog is doing badly or when you can’t seem to find a suitable exterminator, then it might be difficult to remain positive. However, but if the only thing that you see in the event of a new challenge is how inadequate you are and how you won’t make it, then I am afraid that the biggest challenge could be yourself. The sad thing is that this is very dangerous as it acts as a mental block, fighting you and chewing on your self-esteem. Whereas we have BrightEdge and Fox Pest Control to deal with your blog and exterminator problems, only you can remove that negative energy that is holding you back.

Here are some few tips.

Avoid resentments

It is one thing to fail, but it is another thing to remain there. Blaming yourself for that break up that happened 2 years ago will not solve anything. On the contrary, it will keep pulling you down, lowering your chances to meet new funky fresh people.

Celebrate the little achievements

As www.excida.com  will tell you, it takes a lot of little steps before one can become an accomplished real estate website builder. Likewise, waiting till you get that major breakthrough in your life before you can pop up the champagne could be hindering your chances of building up positive energy. Did you pass an interview? Celebrate. Did you pass the mock exams? Celebrate. Enjoy the small forward steps and you will be surprised at how much better you will be feeling eventually.

Accept yourself

I am yet to see something that feeds on positive energy more that lack of self-acceptance. It is true that there are some things about ourselves that we would rather change, and if we can, we should definitely do something about it. However, if we can’t, then the faster we accept this and move on, the better our shot at building positive energy becomes.

Remember it could be worse

We all want to do better. However, it is always nice to sit back, relax and acknowledge the fact that things could be worse. Reading some tough time quotes can also help you realize that you are not alone. Other people are struggling too and maybe they might even be in need of your positive energy to help them face the day.


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Follow your heart


Following your heart should be a no brainer, right? I thought so too. Too many of us chase the prestige, corner office and endless cash in our money clips. Unfortunately, that is not always the road to fulfillment. How many of us have done things that we didn’t want to do, and which brought us little joy, just to please others? How often do we buckle down to the demands of others, be it people in authority, parents, guardians, teachers, or just people we hold in such a high regard as to sacrifice our happiness for? What is sad is that when your sacrifice is not reciprocated, you not only feel cheated, but also your self-esteem takes a big knocking.

You could be smiling in the family websites, showing off your new outfit and oofos sandals but when all the glamour is gone, when nobody’s watching, how happy are you?

Following your heart involves defying the norms. It is following that which truly makes you happy as opposed to that which promises other things be it acceptance, money or even fame. It pains me to listen to friends and colleagues explain to me how they spent years and years doing that difficult medical or engineering course, searching every SEO blog and spending countless hours in the library only in a bid to please their parents. Upon finishing, they land that ‘dream’ job, rise to become the who’s who in their fields be it surgeons, SEO Company CEOs with an exquisite business card holder, chief engineers and the like, having a lot of money but still not happy.

Was life supposed to be all about money and possessions, why can’t I be allowed to enjoy that simple job that I love, hang out with those simple friends that add value to my life and wear my favorite outfit complete with shoes with my favorite Spenco Insoles, without having to feel like I am letting down someone or like I have underachieved? Should my real estate website design conform to the taste of somebody else for me to feel like I am going in the right direction? These are all questions that we struggle with in pursuit of happiness.

Relationships have been ruined by pressures external pressures. If I have to dress, walk and act like your favorite celebrity for me to fit in the relationship, what’s the point? What about me, my walking style, my way of dressing and all, does that mean they are crappy, and if yes, then why are you with me in the first place?

Following your heart raises more questions than answers but I just hope that we can all be bold to let our voices be heard.

Till next time.

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Me, Myself, and My Money Issues

I have never had an easy relationship with money. When I was a kid and my family was very poor, I thought of little more than how much it sucked to have so little of it. When I was a little older and my family was less poor, I hated that my mom wouldn’t allow us to spend more of it. Since becoming an adult, I’ve been constantly afraid that I would once again not have enough.

The topic of money has been coming up in my life a lot lately. My income has become more erratic than I’d like, Jared and I have discussed the multiple ways we let money (and our issues surrounding it) affect our decision making, Faiqa and I have talked about how money affects the way people treat each other, and a commenter on a another blog even mentioned my finances yesterday.

It seems it’s time for me to make peace with my money issues.

I’m not sure where to begin.

The realization that it is money that could prevent me from achieving the life I want makes me angry. It makes me angry at those who have been fortunate enough to be born into or accumulate enough wealth for an apartment in Manhattan. It makes me resentful at destiny for leaving me without. It makes me ashamed for dreaming outside my income bracket.

At the same time, the idea of running out of money terrifies me. I’m afraid not only of the physical consequences of going without, but of the social and emotional ramifications of failing. I’m afraid of being judged a failure, irresponsible, and somehow less than those that did not fail.

I’m afraid of that moment when you know that you cannot make a purchase because you do not have the resources. It makes my stomach turn and my heart pound. It makes me simultaneously angry, frightened, and sad. The instant of denial quickly balloons into the threat of a lifetime of suffering. I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths to stave off that feeling in the past.

I realized recently that I had accumulated most of my possessions — the shoes, the household decor, the ill-fitting clothes and imitation bags — not out of a desire to have, but out of a need to acquire. Buying things — the physical act of making a purchase — made me feel safe. It made me feel like I was in control. It provided me with a sense of security that was often missing from a tumultuous childhood.

Keeping things was merely a way to justify having bought them in the first place. Getting rid of things that weren’t being used was an acknowledgment of my weakness, it was admitting that I had consumed for reasons other than need, which triggers an entirely separate issue I have with money:

Frivolous spending leads to poverty and insecurity.

Since I was 16 and going on weekly shopping trips with my best friend, using the money I earned waitressing to fill my closet with my own symbols of security, I have been relying on quantity to make up for a lack of quality. I have hunted ruthlessly for the bargain in order to calm my guilt about shopping. I have also used frugality to allow me to acquire more items with less money, an easy way to bolster my confidence and sense of security. I was, in a sense, addicted to the transaction and desperate to find ways to get more bangs out of each buck.

I can’t do it anymore.

My fear of money has become exhausting. I’m tired of the limitations it puts on my life. I’m tired of the influence that fear has over my future. It has begun to taint every move I make.

For the first time in a long time, I’m dependent on savings on a monthly basis. Instead of the usual hoarding of cash that I do — a habit that adds to my sense of security — I’m taking money away from our nest egg every single month. This was technically the plan, but in the back of my mind I had hoped that something would happen that would allow us to travel without depleting that savings. I’d hoped I’d be able to work hard enough, earn enough so that I wouldn’t actually have to use the savings we’d set aside for this trip.

Living on savings, even if it was planned, is scaring the crap out of me. Add to that the fact that I’m not getting my regular shopping transaction fix, that I have no idea what our financial future looks like, and that other people have discussed my family’s finances publicly on multiple occasions, and it’s no wonder that my issues with money are finally coming to a head.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure yet how to resolve them. The fear is swollen at the surface like puss, but I can’t seem to find the right angle that will release it. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other right now, acting as if money and I are right with each other, trying to move with the fear instead of because of it. I’m desperate for genuine relief.

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Happiness Highlights: Girlfriends in Memphis

Memphis, they say, is the birthplace of rock n’ roll, soul, and dry ribs barbecue. It’s where Elvis lived and Martin Luther King, Jr. died. There are endless sights to see and foods to eat, but we didn’t come for any of them.

We left Nashville last week and headed into western Tennessee for one reason: so that I could stay up late with my best friend.

Faiqa and I met in Florida and I cried buckets of tears when we left. A few weeks later, she called to tell me she and her family were moving to Memphis, which meant an earlier than expected reunion for all of us. Although we’ve talked on the phone at least once a week for the last five months, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this time together.

It has been marvelous.

We’ve stayed up until 3 AM talking about religion and politics and feminism in patriarchal societies. We curled up together under blankets with candy bars and tortilla chips to watch hours of television. We’ve listened to our husbands commiserate and our children giggle, grateful for the connections our loved ones have made with each other (because it makes those hours on the couch so much easier for us.)

This week has been more than I could have hoped for and everything I have been missing on the road.

There is simply no substitute for a best friend, a person who isn’t bound to you by blood or contract, but who picks up the phone time and again only because she wants to.

I know we have another goodbye looming in our future, but not today. Not this week.

This week my happiness came from the hours I spent with my girlfriend.

Where did yours come from?

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You Deserve More than Love

I saw one of those inspirational photo things on Facebook this week that purported to say a lot about what loves is. Or rather, it said a lot about what love is not.

Love is not, according to the wisdom of inspirational infographs, ignoring someone. Neither is it raising your voice or lying or cheating or neglecting or forgetting to put the toilet seat down.

OK, fine. That toilet seat one might have been a stretch.

But this is not a stretch:

I have done some horrific things to people I love fiercely.

So, too, have I been deeply hurt by people who I know beyond a shadow of a doubt love me.

The way I am treated is not a measure of how lovable I am or how much I am loved. It is entirely possible to love someone and not have the tools to show that love effectively.

I bring this up because my husband and I wasted years of our marriage debating whether or not we loved each other. It kills me to see other people run in this same fruitless circle, fueled by these same misguided lies.

“If you loved me you would listen.”

“If you loved me you would remember the things that are important to me.”

“If you loved me you would be happy.”

The reality is that our love for each other was never in question, but it was how we loved and — more accurately — how we lived and communicated with each other that needed to change. It wasn’t feelings or emotions or even intentions that were lacking, but the tools to choose better behaviors. This argument over love only served to distract us from the real steps we could take towards being happier together.

In truth, I’ve found that declarations of love are rather easy to come by.

We are, all of us, loved.

It’s just that John Lennon had it wrong. We do need more than love.

It’s listening that takes work and can make or break a connection. It’s the ability to take responsibility for ourselves and relinquish the illusion of control over others that makes a relationship thrive.

Stop asking if you are loved and start asking to be heard. Refuse to debate the presence of love and demand a discussion about actions and choices. Do not let it be only love –or the fear of losing it– that binds you to another.

You are, ultimately, worth more than love.

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Learning to Let Go of Expectations

I went to a writer’s conference last weekend and I was ripe with expectations. I visualized and thought positively and did my best to manifest exactly what I wanted with my mind.

Not surprisingly, I found myself disappointed at one point when reality was not lining up precisely with my imagination.

I thought back to a few weeks ago when I was kicking myself for getting disappointed about unrealized expectations. I had resolved then not to beat myself up for having natural feelings of disappointment, but I wondered last weekend why it was that I was so soon having the same struggle.

This is a familiar pattern in my life.

I create elaborate scenarios in my head about how I want things to go.

I wrestle with myself about whether or not everything will play out as hoped, simultaneously assuring myself I’m worth it and chastising myself for not believing hard enough.

When my internal dance proves to be for naught and real life does not follow script, I’m both disillusioned and embarrassed.

It occurred to me this weekend that part of my problem is all this focus on manifestation, this investment in how I want things to end up. I put so much mental energy in the end result, something I cannot ever fully control, that I lose sight of my own responsibility to the process, my own ability to set small goals and act on them.

I spend so much effort trying to bend the cosmos to my will that I forget to do the things I can.

This, I think, is the inherent problem with the whole philosophy of visualizing and manifesting. In our quest to learn The Secret, we ignore the most basic and obvious truth:

Our responsibility is to do what we can and let go of what we can’t.

I’m not saying that dreaming or visualizing or believing is necessarily bad or wrong or even useless. I wholeheartedly believe that there is power in faith and “acting as if.” But there is also power in acting within our own sphere of control. While one is about controlling what I can’t, the other is about choosing what I can.

I was reminded of that this weekend, thankfully before my visit was over. I let go of what I thought I wanted and chose, instead, to commit to taking the next best steps in front of me.

And son of a bitch if I wasn’t happier as a result. Go figure.

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Happiness Highlights: Where my Heart Is

I went to New York City this week for a couple days to attend a writing conference. The content was useful and the conversations meaningful. I got to spend a night in a suite at The Ritz-Carlton Central Park and I was asked for directions several times, as if I looked like I belonged in my favorite city.

But you know what?

None of it compared to coming home to a 24 foot travel trailer in Nashville, Tennessee.


Before this trip, this complete change in how we live, I lived for the next adventure. I couldn’t wait to hop on a plane and head off to a new place. Now I’m eager to explore and still love the thrill of traveling, but every trip I take without Jared and the kids is always missing something.

People ask me often what’s in store for us at the end of this year of traveling around the United States, and I always reply that I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll settle in one of the cities we’ve fallen in love with or if we’ll follow the open road across borders and oceans. What I do know for certain, however, is that I will not go back to a life where the four of us are background characters in each other’s lives.

There is no adventure without them.

They were my homecoming and my happiness this week.

What was yours?

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10 Benefits of Living with Less

Someone asked me recently to share some of the specific benefits of “living like this.” Her family was considering taking a similar trip and wanted to know what they might be in for.

The thing is, there is no one definition that seems to fit what this is.

We’re living with less, traveling full time, living in an RV, and generally enjoying temporary unemployment. We’re making our own definitions of happiness and success. We’re becoming couch-crashing experts. I don’t imagine any family — or any one person — will ever emulate our current lifestyle exactly because it’s uniquely ours. However, there are some aspects of our current journey that might be worthy of adaptation.

I think we can all benefit from learning to live with less – less stuff that doesn’t really matter. This is one of the first lifestyle changes we made, and the one that helped make all the rest possible.

10 Benefits of Living with Less

1. I set aside no time in my schedule for cleaning.

If something gets spilled, it gets wiped up. The floors get swept when we set up at a new campground. There is no need to make time every day or every week for cleaning. How much time do you devote to “keeping house?” Is there anything you’d rather be doing with that time?

2. I don’t spend time shopping.

To be honest, I miss shopping. I tend to rely on the pleasure of acquiring things when I need a mood boost and that coping mechanism doesn’t fit with my current lifestyle. On the plus side, I no longer spend my weekends running shopping errands. The only thing we shop for regularly now is food.

3. I spend less time looking for stuff.

I still lose my iPhone several times a day and I’ve managed to misplace one of a pair of mittens I just bought in New Mexico, but I definitely spend less time searching for lost items.

4. I’m more content with what I have.

I used to sit in my house and think about all of the things I had yet to buy, things I was certain I needed in order to be happy or successful. I cursed the cheap things I’d foolishly purchased to get by until I could afford what I really wanted. Ironically, having less stuff has made me less obsessed with what I don’t have.

5. I’m more environmentally responsible.

Owning fewer items has made me more aware of what I own, what I use, and what I throw away. I think this has made me a better conservationist, a value that’s become really important to me in recent years.


6. I’m more resourceful.

Living with less has made me a better problem solver. When a new need arises, I no longer think about how I can meet it with $10 and the closest Wal-Mart. Instead, I think about how I can use something I already have in a new way. Getting better at finding multiple solutions to a single problem has, I think, made me a better freelance writer.

7. I don’t make purchases based on guilt.

As a parent, I’ve definitely been guilty of buying things no one needed just because not buying them made me feel bad. The newest game, the new clothes, the plastic toy that I knew would be forgotten about even before it broke – my kids don’t even ask for these things as often as they did four months ago.

8. I’m learning to value quality.

I know on a logical level that it makes more sense to buy quality than to purchase a cheap item, but growing up poor trained me to always go for the lowest sticker price. This short-term thinking has repeatedly resulted in waste and buyer’s remorse, and yet it’s a tough habit for me to break. Living with less has forced me to carefully consider any new purchases, which has really helped me to focus on long-term value.

9. I’m learning to think beyond the short-term.

My natural tendency is to live in the moment and embrace instant gratification. Having to focus on quality and think about how one item can be reused over and over again forces me to step back and look at the bigger, more long-term picture. Living with less is also a long-term sacrifice made in an effort to achieve long-term goals, something I haven’t always had the discipline for in the past.

10. I can do more with my money.

One of the most obvious benefits of living with (and purchasing) less is that you spend less money. For us, that extra money equals more time on the road and less stress. It means Jared being able to spend time with me and the kids instead of looking for a way to earn money. It means I get to focus on writing what I’m passionate about instead of churning out content for cash. Those are powerful motivators for our family to keep our possessions to a minimum.

Would your life be better if you could learn to live with less? What’s stopping you from finding out?

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Happiness Highlights: Homesick Edition

Last week was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for us. We said goodbye to friends in Pittsburgh, discovered the hidden beauty of Hocking Hills, Ohio, met up with family in central Indiana, then said goodbye to family through lots of tears.


Sunday morning found me questioning if we’d made the right decision – are making the right decision – to live so far away from our families in Iowa.

I often say that I think it’s important that parents don’t put their lives on hold for their children, but as I held my little girl while she sobbed about having to leave her grandma, nothing in the world seemed more important than making her happy again. My own homesickness mixed with her sadness and it took a phone call to my own mom to stop me from turning the RV towards Iowa for good.

Jared and I spent the drive to Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday talking about our choices – the sacrifices we’ve made and what we might be gaining in exchange. We talked about why we choose to spend so much of our time and money traveling right now, even though that means giving up time with loved ones and the easy comfort that comes from living in your hometown. It was reassuring to be able to go through all of the decisions we’ve made over the last few years and confirm that we’d make the same ones again. It was nice to hear Jared lay out the benefits he sees of us living the way we do right now.

Are we all a little homesick right now? Yeah, we are. But I’m also incredibly grateful to have had both of these pictures taken in the same week:


Skipping rocks with cousins in Indiana


Safely on the ground after scenic air tour of Hocking Hills

And I’m lucky, too.

Because my kids were happy in both photos.

What made you happy this week?

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