Bloom

I’m part of the Mommy Blogger Collective. Each month we’re given a one word prompt to riff with. This month’s prompt is *bloom.*

To understand why this is wrong, you don’t have to be a feminist. You just have to be human.

In the early hours of April 15, 2014 in Chibok, Nigeria at Government Girls Secondary School, 276 girls were forcefully taken by militants. Some escaped; the majority did not. They’re still missing, likely being sold into slavery or forced into marriage, the repercussions brought down on them by extremists for simply getting an education.

#bringbackourgirls is all over the media, with famous faces backing the hashtag, looking serious, disappointed, disgusted. Rightly so. The images that get to me the most are not those of celebrities, but those of the mothers of these young girls – women with tears streaming down their faces, washing over worried crinkles and grimaces as they beg someone, anyone, to bring their babies back safely.

The educator in me is furious, and the mother in me horrified.

Sunday was Mother’s Day.

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girls laughing

girls dreaming

girl sleeping

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I look at my daughters and (soon to be three!) nieces, and think of the the apps at their fingertips, the books at their disposal, the endless information on any topic available to them, and I pray they won’t ever have to fight to keep the basic human right to learn. They, like all girls and boys around the globe, deserve to learn, dream, to shine — to bloom.

#bringbackourgirls


“Bloom” is the May writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Misty of Momista Beginnings. A few words from Misty — I’m Misty, the southern California blogger behind Momista Beginnings. I began this blog while pregnant with Mia over two years ago to create a space for mamas out there to connect with their inner “momista.” According to me, a momista is a devout follower and lover of motherhood who takes her role to the next level. She uses her strengths to create the best childhood for her kids through activities, traditions, adventures, exploration and experiences. My blog aims to inspire all of this. Other bits of me make up my blog as well, like my passion for photography, art, crafts, my love for baking and cooking and family updates. I’m an ex art teacher of over 10 years and my art projects for kids make appearances from time to time, too. You can also find me on Bloglovin’, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and at my photography website and its Facebook page!

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

“Mr. Eat” and flower crown day

Ah, Pinterest. You are addicting. Especially when you’re a visual person. (You’re nodding, yes, yes.) A super cute photo of an adorable girl wearing a flower crown holding a baby calf got stuck in my head when it popped up on my feed. I don’t have a calf, (seriously, right?) but I do have awesome neighbors who have a bunny (rabbit? bunny?) named “Mr. Eat.” Behold:

black and white bunny

Mr. Eat came over with one of his humans this afternoon. We got some time to pet him, learn about his bunny habits, what makes him happy, and offer him some bunny treats and organic arugula. He snubbed both, probably because Hudson was screeching in super-sonic decibels of excitement while trying to kiss him. Mr. Eat probably had agita.

Black and white bunny

He’s a sweetheart, and let our kids pet him (gently) as he graciously posed for photos in our yard, and then came inside to meet Lucy, who didn’t show hair envy at all.

Black and white bunny, sphynx cat

A big thanks to Mr. Eat and his humans for today’s visit! I’m sure tomorrow the kids will want a bunny…my plate is full these days…as undeniably adorable as Mr. Eat is, that’s a chuckle and a *no* bunny.

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Black and White Bunny

Later, I took the ladies outside to twirl around like hippies in the sunset:

Girl with flower crown

Girl with flower crown

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Girl with flower crown

Girl with flower crown

Girl with flower crown

Make it a good week! A pet a bunny kind of week.

 

SPRING has sprung

What did we do this Saturday? We were outside. A lot. For those of you reading from below the Mason-Dixon line, you may not be thinking that’s a big deal, but it is! What a day! It was a “Disney” Day here in New Jersey on Saturday. Sun out, birds chirping, everything about to bloom and burst in full color. I thought Aurora (Sleeping Beauty for those of you without girls under the age of 7) was going to bust out from behind a tree and start singing with woodland creatures in the background. That didn’t happen, but we did see tadpoles and squirrels.

This is the highlight reel starring the kiddos, our good friends and mother nature! Our adventure included our dear friends and their sweet little boys in central NJ, land of rolling hills, towering trees and gorgeous old estates. We had a fantastic day as we caught up and had their photo session at Cross Estate Gardens over smoothies and bagels, (see Hudson’s face) and I’m not sure how their family can get any more adorable.

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The Davids

The Davids

The Davids

Yes, this family belongs in a frame!

Tulips, Tulip Tree

Bloom!

Blonde Boy

Mr. “All boy,” reclining as if he’s just returned from a tough game of cricket. He was really throwing rocks all day.

Blonde Boy

Blonde Boy

Post-smoothie “smoldering” face of a filthy, tired toddler. Work it.

Blonde girl

Teagan can fly!

Hydrangea

Smoothie time! Tea found me some hydrangea: “You’re favorite flower, Mommy.” <3

Flying

No, really. She can fly.

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Somehow, in photos, Gwenyth always manages to look way older than she is! Scary? You bet!

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 We’re oh so close to leaves and shade!

Trees and stone wall

Tulip Tree

Daffodils

 “We were together. I forget the rest.” – Walt Whitman

 

Make it Rain

I’m part of the Mommy Blogger Collective. Each month we’re given a one word prompt to roll with. This month’s prompt is rain.

Make it rain. I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about making intentions, passions and goals reality.

Looking back at my college days and early 20’s, I really had no idea what I wanted in life besides finishing my degrees and marrying my husband, who after returning from ARMY basic training a well-tanned combination of muscles and ambition, I knew I wouldn’t spend my days without. The rest of my early 20’s was a big swirl of decisions based on what I thought I had to do, what I needed to be, and how it all should look based on some blue print of suburban success. I was easily persuaded and influenced by the older adults in my life (read: family), but didn’t see it then. I thought I had it all together, was sure I had it all figured out. I followed the road map made for me: college, grad school, job, (a couple jobs)….fast forward to my late 20’s.

Enter motherhood.

Instantly, a 7 lb 6 oz little girl (followed by two more, significantly larger bundles of joy) carved out a new role me. Since becoming “Mommy,” I know who I am, what I want, what I don’t want, who to spend time with, and who to cut ties with and not look back. I have zero tolerance for negativity, pettiness, or anyone less than genuine. Time is more valuable than ever, and motherhood has given me a keen sense of how to cut through the garbage that gets in the way of the good stuff in life.

The last 5 ½ years have been a full immersion into mommy-hood, like the front seat of the roller coaster, hands up all the way. Three babies in under four years – and that’s how it goes. Bassinets, strollers, diapers, baby-wearing, crib bedding, countless lullabies, baby books, mushy food, decorating and redecorating nurseries, bubble baths, pictures, big kid beds, the first tooth fairy visit, the first day of school, birthday parties, play dates, endless park trips, sleigh rides, snowmen, bike rides and walks on sunny spring days.

Lately, there’s a subtle shift for me. The kiddos are getting big, fast. Really fast. Instead of holding their hands on the stairs at the park, hovering over to be sure of no spills off the slides, they’re ok on their own going down, even though I’m still waiting at the bottom, just in case. “I can do it Mommy. I’m big.” Truth. You are. (Though Hudson is still trying to eat mulch – *sigh.*) My pumpkins are becoming more independent, and in turn, so am I.

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Photo Credit: Katherine Hoos Photography

Photography is a growing career. I’m meeting more moms like me, trying their hand at growing their dreams. I’m watching them crop up like the flowers peeking out of the ground this early spring, and they’re blossoming. Florists, stylists, Etsy store owners, life coaches, small business owners, dedicated teachers earning advanced degrees, nutritionists, gourmet bakers, physical therapists branching out on their own, moms excelling in their chosen career, others as students pursuing a new field…you name it. There’s talent, passion and drive all around. It’s amazing, thrilling, inspiring. We’re making it rain.

PicMonkey Collage

The rainmakers, clockwise, from top left: Alee Bonagura McCarthy – Bright Blooms, Jenine Kinesella – Rodan & Fields, Katherine Hoos – Katherine Hoos PhotographyLeah Bustos Mazzola – Snug Agency, Corinne McKeever Bluteau – Teacher/Grad student, supermom of 4, Kimberly Miller-Volin – Maison KMV. 

Photo Credit of Leah Bustos Mazzola – Brandon Trull.

“Rain” is the April writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Katie of Hello, Little Bean. A few words from Katie — Hi! I’m Katie and I write a blog called ‘Hello, Little Bean.’ It’s about life as a new mom to my cute daughter, Lark Story. I’m California born and raised, but currently live in Michigan with my soon-to-be husband, James and my soon-to-be stepson, Brennan, as well as our little Lark and two kitties. I’m a full-time graphic designer who loves all things artistic and creative. I’m overly sensitive and sentimental, sarcastic and foul-mouthed at times, a foodie and a reality tv junkie who’s completely and utterly in love with motherhood. You can also find me on instagram, facebook, pinterest and our little online boutique, Bold Threads.

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

Picture perfect Easter tables

I LOVE spring. I love it for the fact that things are, well, springing back to life. Birds are chirping, plants are blooming, the SUN, oh the SUN is out! This is no surprise coming from someone who packed up three children under five and stuffed them in a car to drive to Florida in the middle of a snowstorm.

If you’re hosting Easter, you’re probably swamped right about now thinking about the menu. If you’re me, and lucky enough to be surrounded by relatives who are professional chefs and bakers, you’re thinking about how you can best add to Easter brunch or dinner, well knowing that whatever you are going to cook/bake with your brood attached to your legs or asking to be your helper is going to pale in comparison to the masterpieces they’re going to make. Sorry people, but once the kiddos are older, I’ll make it up to you! (Somehow!) That being said, enter my contribution: table settings and gorgeous floral arrangements by the talented Alee Bonagura McCarthy, owner and creative force behind Bright Blooms.

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This beautiful arrangement is set in a wooden flower box centerpiece, and filled with freesia, lisianthus, alstroemeria and carnations. AND is smells really, really amazing!

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This ceramic pedestal vase is filled with hydrangea (one of my two favorite flowers), tulips, clustered waxflower and button mums. Hello gorgeous colors!

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How fun is this arrangement? This glass cylinder is filled with vibrant tulips and everyone’s favorite – jelly beans! (Try keeping your hands out of the vase. I only ate 5, I swear. 5.)

Check out more of Alee’s work here! (And Happy Easter!)

Why Music Matters

PicMonkey Collage

I’m not a musician. Not even close. I can’t hold a tune, and for anyone who has witnessed me dancing at a wedding…I’m sorry, so very sorry. I wish I had rhythm, pitch…all that good stuff! So the best that I can do is live vicariously through my kids.

What I am is an educator, so I do recognize and value a well rounded curriculum, and know from training and experience how cross curriculum skills build on one another. We’re big on STEM education for our brood (science, technology, engineering, math), and a fantastic way to pump up the building blocks to excelling in these areas and improving certain brain functions like abstract reasoning skills, verbal memory and math abilities is through music education.

Spatial-Temporal Awareness

Music education has been linked to an increase in spatial-temporal awareness, aka abstract reasoning skills. These skills give us the ability to mentally manipulate images. (Think puzzles, design, engineering.) In a study involving 78 preschool children, 34 children received private piano lessons, 20 had private computer lessons, and 24 children were subjects for other areas in the testing. Kids given piano lessons showed a large improvement on the spatial-temporal test. What can you take from this? Music education can train a little one for abstract thinking, a skill necessary in math and science.

Verbal Memory

Can being a musician “change” a brain? It seems so. A study using MRI’s compared the brains of musicians to non-musicians. Sixty college students with similar educational backgrounds were given identical visual and verbal tests. Thirty of these students of them had least six years of music training before age 12, and the other half had zero training.

The findings? The musicians had enlarged “left” brains when compared to the non-musicians, and scored higher on the verbal test than the non-musicians by an average of 16%, with no significant difference found between the groups when given the visual test. What’s key to understand here is that the left side of the brain are attributed with verbal memory, and the right side of the brain is for for visual memory. This study’s findings suggest that music education can train a brain and impact verbal memory.

The Math – Music Connection

Is there a math and music connection? You bet, and there are plenty of studies to back them up. One such study involved two groups of second graders; one group of children had piano lessons as well as training in a math program, and another group received English training and piano lessons. Dr. Gordon Shaw of the University of California, Irvine, demonstrated that after four months of this training, the second-grade students in the math + music group scored 15-41 percent higher than the students in the group that received English + music training on tests that involved ratios and fractions.

If you’re interested in music education for your child, Sue On, our girls’ violin instructor and an incredibly talented musician and educator, has some fantastic advice:

How can parents encourage music education at home?

“Parents are already encouraging music education everyday without realizing it. Ask any adult or child how they learned the alphabet and they will start singing it for you. Teaching the basics is just listening to music to help develop their ear so that when they do pick up an instrument, they are already familiar with what it’s suppose to sound like.”

How old should a child be when starting formal music lessons?

“Between the ages of 0-5, most experiences are still first time experiences. With that in mind, everything is fascinating in their eyes and learning something new at every music lesson is no different. At such a young age, a lot of repetition is needed to comprehend the motions required to play an instrument but most of the activities can be disguised as games.”

How do I choose an instrument for my child?

“For children 6 and under violin or piano are great options just to get the ears training. Even if this isn’t your child’s first choice, either will most likely be a good transitional instrument due to the fine listening that is required. For an older child, 7 and up, there are more options because the lung capacity for air is larger for those interested in singing or wind instruments.”

Sources

 

My last day with a one year old

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Today it struck me that tomorrow is my last day with a one year old, because this shop is closed, and because Hudson turns two on Friday. WHAT!? My baaaby. *Sniff* I admit that despite my resolve to rejoice in every day my babies grow, this is making me a little sad. Sigh. My blue-eyed angel can do no wrong…except for draw all over the walls in four rooms with black crayon. Twice.

I’ve been chasing the mini-man around this week, taking pictures of him getting into his usual Hudson Tommy business, (coloring with his sister, trying to break into my studio), taking shots from his viewpoint and realizing just how annoying it must be to not be able to reach the bananas. I’m looking over the photos now, feeling grateful for my (nearly) two years with this little guy, and also reminded just how beautiful the small moments in every day are, and at the same time remembering that there are no small moments. They’re all a gift.

PicMonkey Collage

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Each of my little ones have added joy (and craziness) to my life (don’t be fooled!) Each day since they have arrived, I’ve found a reason to smile a lot wider, and a lot longer. When Hudson smashes his Thomas the Train cake into his face this weekend and follows it up with his infectious belly laugh, it will be one of those days.

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Defined

 As part of the Mommy Blogger Collective I’m delighted to be a part of, I’ll be writing a post in response to a single word each month. March’s assignment is to respond to the word “defined.” Here’s what I came up with:

These were my grandma’s hands, Isabella Rosalie Graziano’s hands. That was the name her Italian parents gave her, the name on her Baptism record from 1915. Everyone else called her Lisa Bella, Elizabeth, or Mrs. Marsh, but mostly Betty. To me, she was Grandma.

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Grandma was embarrassed by her hands, because in her 90’s they were riddled with arthritis, and “knotted up,” as she put it, as she rubbed them together, squeezing one, then the other. Still, they made meals when they could, often caressed the face of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and waved to everyone, coupled with her effervescent smile. They were beautiful hands, despite what she thought.

Each curve and twist in her fingers spoke of a lifetime of love: turning pages whispering bedtime stories and pages in her choir books, sewing countless buttons back onto our coats and our over-loved toys back together, volunteering at the local hospital, hanging Christmas ornaments, bathing babies, grand-babies and great-babies, cracking a baseball far into the outfield as a child (she was so good at baseball), picking blackberries, spearmint and parsley in her garden for us, “I grew this for you, special.” These were the hands who made you believe you could do anything by just tilting your chin up to meet her eyes. These were the hands circling us all together the night my father, her son, died, and led a family in a chorus of “Hail Mary’s” during the darkest hour it had ever seen.

They were strong hands. Strong, but tender. These were the hands that defined her. In turn, they defined me.

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Grandma taught me how to appreciate a summer breeze, a patch of shade, crisp fall mornings, how to make killer meatballs, fantastic bread pudding, how to properly apply “rouge” and why attitude is everything. She taught me not just to squeeze lemons to make lemonade when life hands them to you, but to pulverize them with unfailing optimism, unwavering faith, patience, forgiveness, and why to encourage peace all around you. I’m still working on the last five. Understatement.

The day I brought my infant son home, cradled him on my shoulder, exhausted, covered head to toe in poison ivy (don’t ask how I manged to get that), my then three and one year old daughters were going ballistic with sibling envy. I felt like I couldn’t move back one moment or forward into the next. It was at that moment that thought of my grandma, or maybe she thought of me, and suddenly felt a window of serenity in the insanity. It was also at that moment that my oldest daughter asked out of nowhere, “Where is Nana?” Nana to her, Grandma to me, had been gone for 6 months by then. I’m convinced that on that day, in my moment of mental turmoil, Grandma came to check up on me and remind me of one of her favorite sayings: “Men tena ti forte,” which in her parents’ Italian dialect means, “keep yourself strong.”

PicMonkey Collage me and grandma

When I get past impatient after a day that I think my limits can’t be pushed farther, and then those limits are ran right over and erased like a line in the desert sand, I think about her, and it’s all good. She’s part of me, and I’m part of her. What a better way to be defined?


“Defined” is the March writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Gillian of Comes in Colours. A few words from Gillian — Hey, I’m Gillian and I blog at Comes in Colours! I am passionate about motherhood and passionate about photography. I am married to my middle school sweetheart and we are now raising our two boys, Roman and Asher, in northern Colorado. My life is real and far from perfect but my blog is a place where I celebrate motherhood through pictures and words. Connect with Gillian on Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin and pop by her blog to say hello.

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

sunshine, silence and oranges

One of my oldest, closest friends of all time lives on the opposite coast. From time to time, she’ll text me a picture of a view from her “happy place,” a gorgeous point overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s serene, it’s peaceful, it’s everything a place to re-center should be. For a half a second one fairly recent day when I read her text letting me know she was there, I got to thinking that I didn’t have a “happy place” of my own, and just as quickly as I thought that, I forgot about it.

Fast forward a few weeks later to the beginning of a snow storm. If you know me, you know how I feel about fall and winter. I’ll spare you my rant. The closer to the sun I can get, the better. As the snowflakes began to fall and we headed deeper into yet another snow day, I told my husband the highlight reel of childhood winter escapes to Florida: wind chimes sounding like daytime lullabies paired with the whirl of bike tires, warm air all around, palm trees swaying above me, the sun on my back, in my eyes, hours in the pool – and the smell of oranges. Lots of oranges.

I guess I was convincing – (did I get you?) – that coupled with the man being a spontaneous optimist, ready for adventure at all times. On top of  that, we got news that my grandma, a New Jersey ex-pat who’s been soaking up Florida’s rays since 1984, was hospitalized. That was 11:30 am. By 2:00 pm, our family of 5 (Gwen sporting her beach cover-up) was packed and heading south. We drove all night, taking turns on and off at the wheel, and working on our laptops (working remotely has major perks!) Every hundred miles or so, the temperature jumped up about 2 degrees. After months of cold weather, topped off by a hideous “polar vortex,” that was a glorious sight.

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We had a blast that week, our family of five. We played in the aqua water, collected seashells, jumped in the pool, dipped in a hot tub, rode bikes on the beach and counted stars from the boardwalk. My girls learned that “jungle trees” are really called palm trees. They soaked up sun they hadn’t felt on their skin in months. My babies played with their cousin for hours, and bonded with their great-grandma, great-aunt and great-uncle. Their aunt took them on “safari” in an electric golf cart, dodging through palmettos and under towering pine trees.

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On our last day in Florida, I hopped the fence behind my grandma’s property and found a clearing between two trees into the orange groves that back up to her 5 acres. My grandfather, who we lost in March of 2013, introduced me this orange grove when I was just 13.  As I stood there 20 years later, alone, listening to nothing, overwhelmed with gratitude for sun and overtaken with the smell of these ripening oranges, time folded in on itself and stopped. This place wanted me to remember it. How could I forget my “happy place,” the place where I did nothing else but admire the beauty around me, freeing me from the responsibility of all other thoughts? Easily. I’ve been too wrapped up in life to remember. Since I last visited, I’ve graduated college, grad school, started a career, got married, lost my father, three grandparents, had three babies, moved five times…I’ve been living, and living fast. We all are.

So much life stands between me and that 13 year old girl – so much learned, lost and infinitely gained. If I could whisper in her ear, I’d remind her of what I tell my kids, (who you may see sniffing flowers whenever they have the chance): stop and smell the flowers (or the orange blossoms). All of them.

Good morning, joy!

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I’m often taken aback by my kids’ infallible sense of anticipation and adventure. Adults wake up at 6:43 AM and know “It’s Thursday, it’s Friday…” Days equal weeks, and weeks equal months. We’re so linear. Kids? Not so much. Not at all, really. And I love that about them.

My kids wake up full of nothing but anticipation of the day. Some days our girls wake up, put on knitted cat hats, and meow all morning. Why not? Today, a zebra and a frog where dancing in our bathroom. More than once, Hudson has ripped open the fridge and wrangled the whipped cream for “breakfast” while I eat my bowl of organic oatmeal. Fun? Yep, I tried it! (Before anyone gasps, that’s followed up by his favorite, bananas, and other whole foods.) My point is, I just never know what they’ll surprise me with. It’s random bits of fun, imagination and magic combined. They are all emotion, no logic. Kids really do balance out the adult world.

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We make our lives as predicable as possible by necessity, and that fact tends to blot out that zest, that arms-wide-open “come at me day!” attitude that my pumpkins demonstrate every day. I revel in the wonder that I see in my babies’ eyes each morning as they peek out at the world when I pull up their shades, and eat it up when Gwenyth stands on her toes to see as far as she can and whispers, “What a beautiful day.”  I’m loving the questions and snippets of kid wisdom that Teagan, my “little poet,” comes up with: “Mommy, why’s the moon chasing us?” “Mommy, do dinosaurs have belly buttons?” “Do chickens lay bunnies?”

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Every day they wake up with open eyes, hearts and minds – and they are thrilled, really just so excited to be part of the world. That’s goodness. That’s really living. It’s the feeling of a permanent Saturday, the thrill of that first day of summer vacation or Christmas morning, it’s your birthday, it’s a trip to the beach, your first time on an airplane….at the core of things, it’s joy at the dawn of each day, just for the day’s sake.

Before you pull your shades up tomorrow, promise to keep your eyes open for chickens laying bunnies, down some whipped cream from the can, wonder why the moon is chasing you, and remember the things that make you grateful to be taking a trip around the sun. Let yourself be open to the wonder around you, and in that, I hope you’ll find joy!