Allergy Friendly · Back to School · Family Life · Salads

Just One More Day, and BLT Pasta Salad

4Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.”

-Psalm 39:4-5

Dear Joey,

Just one more day.

That is what I told myself this morning when I climbed out of bed, not really ready to get up to face one more day of summer togetherness. I trudged my way through the dark of the morning, Emery at my heels: hungry and impatient. The thought of getting through one more day of all the Goobies home all day threatened to steal away the last shred of my sanity.  In the harried moments of the morning, it seemed like school couldn’t start fast enough. Just one more day until I can catch my breath.

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My parents have been here for a week and it’s been fantastic. They brought my grandparents to see our new home and to explore the area a little before heading off to Iowa to take care of some family business. They leave again today. The Goobies don’t want them to go. Neither do I, really. The Goobies seemed more at ease this past week than they have perhaps all summer long. More themselves, as if they had been holding their breath for weeks, not really sure they would ever see these familiar faces again. But they exhaled this week, finally able to relax a little and weren’t so on edge with each other. But today they had to say goodbye again and their tender little hearts were brave, but broken.

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They loaded up the car a few hours ago now after squeezing us tight and calling “See you later!” as they waved goodbye with the sort of cheerful smile that convinced me it might actually be true. We watched them drive away and the Goobies asked me they could please stay for just one more day.

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And those words brought me back to reality: their visit and summer vacation both end today. For me, this means the fridge won’t get magically stocked with Earth Balance and pork chops while I’m not looking; the kitchen sink will stay piled high with dirty dishes unless you or I (or both of us) roll up our sleeves and actually scrub them; and the laundry won’t fold itself while I’m making dinner in the other room. (Bless all the Grandparents.) Suddenly it is a school night and gracious me I have to think about packing lunches again. But for them, for the Goobies, this means there is just one more day until school starts and the elusive change we have been talking about for weeks is finally, unavoidably, here.

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My breath is catching in my throat as I think about the weight of those words: Just one more day is both a promise and a warning. Hang on, there’s only one more day to endure the aggravation of too much togetherness. And also, Make the most of this moment, because there’s just one more day until it all changes again. Just one more day until the rigors of school supersede laid back summer days, as cooped up and crazy as they became. Just one more day until packing lunches and completing homework and enforcing bedtime make the evenings fly by. Just one more day until fighting over outfits and untangling unkempt hair and forcing breakfast into a tummy that doesn’t want to eat, followed by the frenzied dash toward the door and a too-quick kiss goodbye as they topple out of the car. Just one more day to be slow, to lay low, to just be.  When tomorrow comes, I will breathe deeply and exhale slowly, thankful that we made it to the finish line. When today is gone, my heart will hurt and tears will fall, I will face the first day of school wishing for just one more day. I wonder how the Goobies will feel?

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I carried Mia up the stairs this afternoon; it was quiet reading time and she seemed a little off. She wrapped her arms around my neck and I memorized the way it felt to hold her like that.

“I’m going to miss you tomorrow,” I said.

“I’m going to miss you too.”

 

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Isn’t that always the way? We have complained our way through the summer, frustrated with all the togetherness that has made us so sick of each other, but suddenly I want to beg plead and bargain for just one more day with them all here at home with me. I want to finally slow down enough to plop on the floor with Addie and build Legos all afternoon. I want to sit in the shade of the garage and watch them ride bikes until they are red in the face. I want to listen to them squeal with shocked delight as they run through the sprinklers in the heat of the day, and let them lick Popsicles at lunchtime because it’s just too hot to eat. I want to snuggle up with Mia while Emery sleeps in the haze of a lazy afternoon and listen to her read Matilda to me as I fight to stay awake. I want to go swimming at twilight and and pile scoop upon scoop of homemade ice cream high up on a sugar cone, lapping up the frozen treat in the thick evening air right along with them.

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Why is it so hard for me to say yes? Why do I say no, or not right now, or maybe later when experience teaches me that later is the place where regret resides? Today is a good day to look back on all the times I said yes, the times I jumped into the water and played in the pool along with them, the afternoons we pulled out the Whirley Pop and made kettle corn and piled onto the couch and snuggled as we watched The Sword in the Stone or Robin Hood; the mornings when I put on my prom dress and played Royal Family with them, pretending to be a queen dripping in gaudy jewelry, only to have them wrap a cape around my neck and declare me a royal superhero. But instead of seeing all the times I said yes, all I seem to see are the times I said no, not now, and maybe later. Later is here now, and time ran out, and I wish I could go back and do it better.

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Rain is falling now. Gray clouds stretch farther than my eyes can see, a soft blanket nestling us in the house together for one last afternoon before we throw off the covers and crawl out of bed to face a new school year and all the hassle and joy and change it brings. Tears sting my eyes, and I can’t help it. I can’t go back, I can’t do it all over again, but I can re-frame my thinking. I can remember how painful it is to regret saying no, not now, or maybe later. I can choose to be motivated by the promise and warning of what it feels like to have just one more day, every day.

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Addie and Mia have miraculously built Lego’s together all afternoon without snarling at each other over petty little problems. I hardly hear them; but what I hear, I cherish. Their sweet voices cooperative and kind, the soundtrack to my afternoon that romanticizes the idea of having them here with me forever. Tomorrow, the house will be quiet at nap time, and tears fall as I think about it. I will miss them, but I am excited for them too: out there making friends and taking chances and learning, again, what it means to be brave. And while they are there, I will be here, waiting to hear their stories when they pile into the car when the day is done, refreshed and ready to really listen because there are only so many more days left like that out there in the hazy future, and I don’t want to miss even one of them.

Love,

Scratch

BLT Pasta Salad

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This salad screams summer to me: a refreshing salad that requires minimal effort. It was born out of the need to ditch my plans for Friday night pizza and throw something together with minimal effort (because spending a summer morning at the farm in the middle of a Midwestern August day does not make me want to come home and work in a hot kitchen). Not too proud to admit to poor planning, I switched gears and declared we would grill Bratwurst and throw together a few cold salads instead and toast to an easy summer dinner. I didn’t come up with the idea for BLT Pasta Salad, but I followed my own intuition when making it for my food allergy family.  The beauty of it is it is flexible (like so many of my recipes!), and can easily be adapted to suit your family’s needs. My family liked it so much they urged me to post it here on Love, Scratch, so that other families could enjoy it too. Cheers to laid back summer dinners!

Ingredients:
  • 1-12 oz box Gluten Free Bow Tie Pasta (such as Jovial brand)
  • 1 heart of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • real bacon bits* (such as Epic brand, which is dairy free. Watch out for lactic acid starter culture in bacon!)
  • 3/4 cup homemade dairy free ranch dressing (or store bought)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons barbecue sauce (homemade or storebought, more or less to your liking)

* You’ll notice I do not give an exact quantity for bacon bits. This is because you know how much your family likes bacon, and you probably have a grasp on how much they would prefer. I used a 3 oz. package of Epic brand bacon bits for this particular batch, but the salad would have benefited from more. Admittedly, I would have preferred to use a freshly cooked batch of thick cut bacon, crumbled into bits, but I took the easy way out and saved myself the trouble of dealing with hot bacon grease. I humbly suggest you do the same if you make this on a hot summer afternoon.

Method:

First, cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water. (I know most cooks frown upon rinsing pasta, but I rinse mine when I make pasta salad. I like the way it helps the noodles cool down and keeps them from sticking together.) Dump the noodles into a large mixing bowl and let them cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes or so.

While the noodles are cooking, get the bacon ready. If you are cooking a fresh batch of bacon, go ahead and do it now. Then wash and chop the lettuce and tomatoes, and set them aside. If you are . Mix together the ranch and barbecue sauce and set that aside too.

When the noodles have cooled off, toss in the tomatoes and bacon bits, and drizzle about half of the dressing on top. Toss it together, making sure the noodles are completely coated with the sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve, so that the noodles soak up all the flavor of the sauces. When it’s just about time to serve, toss in the lettuce and pour the remaining sauce on top and toss to coat again.

Spoon the filling into the taco shells–about 1/3 cup each, then top with the cheese. Pop the pan into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the shells are golden and the cheese is melted and golden. (Yes! Even vegan cheese melts and turns golden!)

Serve immediately–or as soon as you can. The filling will be hot, but the shells have a tendency to turn soggy if they sit too long. This never stops any of us from polishing off a taco or two (or five, if we’re talking about Joey).

 

 

Back to School · Changing Seasons · main dishes · Motherhood · Paleo · Wrestling with Reality

Death (or Saying Goodbye) and Life (or Saying Hello), and Chorizo Spiced Pork Roast

 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
2 Corinthians 5:17

Dear Joey,

It is fitting that school starts in the Fall: the classic symbol of change that is both beautiful and terrifying. Fall is death put on glorious display, isn’t it?

Ok so fine—a new school term doesn’t bring death, exactly. Forgive me for being dramatic. Most folks probably think of it as a fresh start, a reset button that puts things back to normal in an instant. But it does put an end to the carefree days of summer, and there is mourning for the loss of the freedom summer represents, isn’t there?

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The words of Paul are ringing in my ears this week: the old has gone and the new is here indeed. Death and life and renewal and starting over—all these things are vying for my attention these days, and all of them from a whole host of places, not the least of which is watching Mia put the final dividing line between herself and her babyhood while Addie insists on losing more teeth and inching her way toward my own height. This day has been a long time coming, and last fall brought with it a sense that life as we loved it was dying a slow death, and I wasn’t ready to face it. But life changed anyway, didn’t it? And here we are back at the start of another school year, saying hello to a new chapter in the life of our family. I feel more prepared for it this time because I know this fall season really is a fresh start.

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The girls seemed to feel the same way. Waving goodbye to us on the first day didn’t pose a problem for either of them. We walked them to the playground and helped them line up and followed them to their classrooms because we were sure they needed us. Mia tromped off with the rest of her Kindergarten class without so much as a backward glance at us. Addie saw tears glaze my eyes and bent down to hug me, saying “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll come home after school. I promise.” Saying goodbye to each other on the second day of school was harder. The girls’ pained eyes poked holes in my heart as I eased my fingers from their grip and urged them forward into the unfamiliar, terrifying reality of change. The idea of going to a new school this year seemed exciting right up until the moment they actually had to let go of my hands and walk themselves to the playground without us. In a flurry of tears and tentative hearts, they walked away from me, seemingly unsure of themselves. I waved goodbye to them as bravely as I could, wishing I could nestle myself in a corner somewhere, watching and waiting, ready to intervene on their behalf the moment trouble comes.

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I couldn’t help feeling this way, of course. I am a normal mother with a natural need to protect, nurture, and sustain her children. They couldn’t help feeling insecure any more than I could help wishing I could make everything better in an instant. Of course they felt timid and unsure: everything was new. The people, the buildings, the rules, the uniforms—even their backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes were new. Why would I ever expect them to feel completely confident to take on all the newness by themselves? In that moment of goodbye, I couldn’t do much else but smile through my tears and hope it helped them understand that new isn’t necessarily bad, and is often, in fact, actually good.

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We forget that new isn’t always bad, don’t we? I sure do, especially because it seems that when something is new, it renders something else old. Old things pass away, and death is difficult, so managing our feelings about losing the things we love gets tricky. We learn this lesson every year when summer ends and the leaves turn color and quietly settle into their final resting place. Soon fall slips into a quiet winter, a time of mourning that does eventually melt away, waking to the brilliant bloom of spring. The point? The promise of new life hinges on old things passing away, but saying goodbye isn’t the end. New life lingers just around the corner. Don’t you think we ought to say hello?

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This is happening in other places in my life this season, too. It is in the reality of living in this new place, of course, and the reality of how it feels to know that part of our story has ended. It’s showing up in friendships and projects and plans and food and any semblance of normalcy that I had before my health issues took an uncomfortable turn over the summer. Admittedly, it felt like this season held the end of life as I knew it. Control over my health slipped even further from my grip, I spent the summer sequestered at home managing my symptoms and squeezing in appointments and going in for blood draws and scopes and ultrasounds—and came out the other end with a few more questions to answer, as well as the relief that comes with a doctor who confirms my suspicions: that colitis is casting its sickly spell on my insides. It came as no surprise that I have a disease that needs my attention, and walking away from his office this summer, prescription in hand, left me wondering how to manage it in the long term. Clearly, gluten is a known problem. But it’s not the only problem these days, and the best way I know how to deal with the unpleasant reality is to say goodbye to simple gluten freedom. Embracing a new way of living isn’t easy or fun, exactly–but I’m encouraged, because the promise of renewal lingers just around the corner, sad as I may be about the reality I face.

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So this season, I’m doing my best to lift my eyes above my circumstance and say, “What’s next?” with the sort of grace that only comes from acknowledging loss and greeting a new reality with hope. What other choice do I have? Modeling this for the Goobies helps me believe things will get better: I leave the girls with a kiss and a smile as they skip off into a new school day without the support system to whom they are accustomed, but I assure them they’re going to be alright. This is new, but this is good, I say as I give them one last squeeze. And when I wave goodbye to those smiling little darlings as they head off to their day, it reminds me that we can’t bask in the beauty of anywhere new if we dig in our feet, refusing to leave familiarity behind. So by the grace of God, and with His help, we walk, together, waving goodbye to the old and hello to the new in one hope-filled gesture.

Love,

Scratch

Chorizo Spiced Pork Roast

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This is one of my go-to meals, meaning this: when I run out of creative steam to keep dinner new and exciting, I give myself a break, pull out my crock pot, and get a batch of this pork going. It’s fast, easy, and versatile (and inexpensive, to boot!). Plus (and this could be the most compelling reason why I love it so much) everyone around my kitchen table cheers for it. I make it for friends more often than they appreciate, I’m sure, but no one ever seems to mind. (In fact, most of them end up asking for the recipe, so if that is you? Here you go.) I’m especially fond of it now because as I transition to a Paleo lifestyle, I am thankful to have so many well-loved recipes that work within that framework. Shred it and fold it into corn tortillas (if you aren’t Paleo), lay it atop a baked sweet potato, or pile it high on top of a bed of cauliflower rice. Drizzle with some hot sauce and sprinkle on some cilantro and you’re golden. (Add more spice blend if you want a little bit more heat, but as written, this recipe does not wallop your tongue with a punch of heat.) The picture above shows a double recipe, which is just as easy as a single recipe (which is written below). Just double the ingredients–the cook time remains the same. And don’t skip the red wine vinegar! It makes the other flavors come alive.

Ingredients:
  • One 2 pound pork loin roast
  • 2 Tablespoons Chorizo Spice Blend (recipe below)
  • 1 medium onion–any color you choose, but I tend to use yellow
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Method:

Spray Crock Pot with non-stick cooking spray (such as Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil Spray). Slice the onion and lay it on the bottom of the crock pot. Then, wash the pork roast, pat it dry, and lay it on top of the bed of onions. Sprinkle a thick layer of the Chorizo Spice Blend on top of the roast, then pat it to cover as much of the roast as you can. Carefully pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the crock pot, around the perimeter of the roast. Do the same for the red wine vinegar, then put the lid on.

Cook on high for 4 hours; then turn to low and cook for an additional 2 hours (alternatively, cook it for 8 hours on low). Once the meat is fall-apart-tender, shred and toss it with its own juices and the onions and serve.

Chorizo Spice Blend

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This recipe is based on Diane Sanfilippo’s recipe in Practical Paleo, 1st Edition, which is super informative and helps make taking the plunge into Paleo not quite so daunting (Thank you Diane! You’re a life saver, kinda in the literal sense.) I keep a jar of this spice mix in the pantry at all times because I love it so very much. I’m sure you will too.

Ingredients:
  • 4 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 Tablespoons paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Method:

Measure all spices into a jar with a lid and shake until evenly distributed.

Back to School · What I Love Lately

What I Love Lately, Back to School Edition (Volume 2)

Dear Joey,

No rest for weary travelers–remember how driving home from the airport took longer than the flight itself? Welcome home indeed. An empty fridge and bare cupboards even clamored for my attention early the next day. Thank God for my mom, who whisked me out the door and assured me the Goobies would be just fine with her for awhile.

So what does a harried mother do when she finds herself with a free afternoon? I went to Costco, of course, because when do I ever get to meander through it unencumbered? Usually I strap the Goobies in that two-seater cart and frantically push that thing through the aisles like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. To have time to think about what I’m putting in the cart? Sigh.

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My favorite find this time is Autumn’s Gold Grain Free Granola. Cue the chorus to sing hallelujah because 1) YUM and 2) grains and I aren’t getting along at the moment, so stumbling upon easy, grain free morning fare is a big deal. The only trouble with it is this: it contains sunflower seeds, which means that I have to be careful while eating a bowl of it while Emery is around. He’s so allergic to sunflower seeds that I almost didn’t buy the bag at all, but I go out of my way to stock the pantry with foods everyone else enjoys, foods that meet everyone else’s dietary needs, but how often do I buy something that I really want? (I can’t even lean on my beloved Orgain these days because it’s got so much brown rice protein in it.) I hesitated for a half a second in before I tossed the bag into my cart and ultimately decided feeding myself well is just as important as feeding these Goobies well. I can keep Emery away from the granola, and I can explain that it would make him sick if he tried it. He gets that well enough now. Plus, the Goobies’ pediatrician has a son with a peanut allergy just like Mia has, and she and her husband keep a stash of peanut butter hidden way in the back of the pantry, far from his prying eyes. If she feels ok about doing that, then don’t you think this is probably ok too? (Pray for us as you walk out the door every day. We need it.)

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This is especially important because school is starting in four days. Mornings will be just as harried and hassled as ever, but this time around my own breakfast options are giving me pause. We all know how quickly this mama’s mood turns sour if I don’t have something in my tummy soon after I wake, and Lord help us all if I have to fry eggs every morning. Sure, I whirl bananas and strawberries into coconut creamy oblivion, but sometimes I crave crunch–and something mindless, especially since I know how much mental energy I’ll need to expend just getting the Goobie girls ready to greet their own days.

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Last year, getting one child dressed and ready in uniforms was an every day nightmare. Addie spent her first five years in t shirts, tutus and leggings with not a button or zipper to be found. Teaching Addie how to actually dress herself in real clothes didn’t occur to me until a few mornings before school started when I filled her closet with khaki skirts, plaid jumpers, polo shirts and button up blouses. I did what any mom would do–I panicked and forced her to bear with me as I forced her to learn how to zip and unzip those stiff, tricky outfits. She was eager to learn because it made her feel grown up, and she did love those cute little plaid jumpers. But it wasn’t long before the business of getting dressed turned into a frantic hassle, and we lost our tempers with each other over misplaced biker shorts that had to be worn under the jumper every single morning. Don’t get me started on selling her on the khaki skorts–she pouted just about every time she had to wear them, except for on Chapel days when she knew the school had their say. Getting two school-aged kid dressed in uniforms seemed impossible from my vantage point last year.

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This year I sung a merry little song of thanksgiving when I stumbled upon Old Navy’s uniform skirts that already have shorts built right into them, without any zippers or buttons to fool with. (Uniform pants are another story, but it’s far too warm to worry about long pants yet. We’ve got time.) Each girl got two of them because investing in making mornings easier for all of us is money well spent. I may have bought the skirts, but really, I was buying myself some sanity. Lord knows I will need it because Mia is already boycotting the things. Just trying them on make her pout. Don’t fret, Rach, I keep telling myself, These skirts will make life easier. (If I keep telling myself that, will it really be true?)

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I got another batch of Emily Press Labels because I’m all about taking the easy way out these days. An afternoon with a sharpie in hand while surrounded by a stack of school supplies isn’t my idea of time well spent–but these labels change all that. I stick them on lunch gear, water bottles, pencil boxes, and scissors, inside of shoes and inside of jackets, and I even stick them on chapel shirts because they won’t wash away in the laundry. These things are legit.

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Speaking of investing in my own sanity: job charts. We’ve waited for years to implement chores, waiting for just the right moment to put those babies to use (the charts. Not the kids. Ahem.) I think a lot about how Proverbs urges us to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NIV), and try to apply it in a practical, life skill sort of way. We’ve chosen jobs that train the kids to do things we expect them to do every day (get dressed, brush teeth, clean up their plates, etc.) and train them to do things we hope will develop into good habits (making their beds, developing a love for reading, lending a hand with another person’s chore). We require, but we don’t push. We let the job chart be the boss, and for each job done, they earn a star, and each star earns them 5 cents (except for Emery, who earns a penny for each chore completed). If they don’t do the task? No star, and no nagging from us because we let the money do the talking. At the end of the week we count up their stars and fill their banks. The good news is the Goobies all respond to it. The expectation is clear, the reward is valuable.

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One of their jobs is Independent Reading for 20 minutes. I wasn’t convinced this was a good “job” exactly, except that it instilled a new love of reading in both girls (but most especially Addie). The girl craves alone time just like I do, but she’s not great about seeking it out for herself yet. The first day I enforced reading time, I ignored the protests and handed her a copy of Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, the first in a new chapter book series for early readers. Wouldn’t you know that 20 minutes later she was engrossed in the book, laughing out loud, and not ready for reading time to be over? Piper Green was an instant friend, and Addie soared through the first two books in a snap and is anxiously awaiting book three to come in the mail. Independent Reading? Totally worth it. (Mia loved it too, but it wasn’t such a hard sell for a girl who already plops herself down on her bed, book open wide and reading. Her current series pick? The Adventures of Sophie Mouse).

And with that, I’ll say goodbye for now. I just saw the time and realized I’ve got to usher these Goobies off to school today to meet their teachers, and if I don’t get moving, we’ll start those harried, frenzied mornings a few days too early (and I don’t need that kind of stress).

Love,
Scratch