1.21.2016

Stayin Alive

The weather is now finally at the point where every day is a "haul warm water from inside to take out to the goats, sheep and chickens" kind of day. You gotta overturn their flexible rubber water pails and stomp out the left over ice from the day before, and pour the steaming water in.

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they are always grateful to the humans bringing hay and water
It's eyes burning in the wind cold now. It feels so strange, like a dream, every winter comes and I am like how do I live here? What is even more surprising is that once I have postponed the inevitable and necessary too long, finally pulled on sweaters, boots hat and coat to go attend to the beasts, it is rarely as bad as I think it will be. Life lessons with farm animals I suppose. Daily I am forced out of my literal comfort zone, which is huddled in front of the space heater on the sofa. It can't be a bad thing for my character, right?

Home school took three weeks after the holidays to stop feeling like a continual yelling fest. One day Cookie took more than two hours to do three math problems. That was a low point. But our rhythm is back. Cookie is burning through math lessons again and we have instituted a new thing: copywork. He can choose to copy down a passage from a book he's reading, a poem or a bit from the Bible. The point is to work on letter uniformity, good spacing, penmanship and also, it's fun exposing him to great poets and lovely bits of literature. Second grade really is fun. For those of you with seven year olds out there who are avid readers, you need to check out his current book Fortunately, the Milk, which he is finding hilarious.

Oh Cookie, if you didn't let the cats derail half your school work, you'd be in fourth grade material by now.
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Though, to be fair, the Cookie isn't the only one who says Mom, I need to take a break from school right now. The Aaron Purr and Sirius Black need love... As if a lb kitten is just too heavy to scoop off the lap top or workbook and move forward...

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Life is marching on. Each child in this house seems to be finding their path, finding their strengths, and despite tears and bickering that all families face, I have to say, I am content with the trajectory. Mimi and I actually have fun working on her papers and math and designing her science projects, and she is doing so well. We are in a competition to each read one hundred books in 2016. Her obsession with the ample offerings in the genre of post-apocalyptic YA novels is hilarious and wonderful. I constantly remind her that all that "yearning" is not what real love looks like so take it all with a grain of lusty salt. She loves hearing me rip the books to shreds and then stays up late reading the next one.

Tsega is learning to read like a champ, and I see him become a very dedicated reader like his older siblings. And Brady keeps shocking us all with his incredibly good drawings.

Samantha spends 25% of her free time writing stories and essays that crack me up.

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The other 75% of the time she isn't in singing class, gymnastics and science at the private school, she is making up dances, routines, and math assignments, drawing mazes and dot to dots, not for herself, for Brady and Tsega. Half of their "school" is her teaching them. I sometimes will wake up and she will have led them through a unit on M, with writing practice, a craft and identifying words that start with M. She doesn't mess around with what she feels is her personal mission to hone teaching skills. Right now she has even a rewards/points system that she keeps track of when they complete assignments.  I honestly wonder, how long are they going to do everything she tells them to do? It's so fun to watch.

Sometimes the best part of mothering is silently observing the beauty of all of the children's interactions and growth from the background... And then coming back in to freak out about the giant mess they didn't clean up. Right? Who is going to beg and plead for us to just put away the mess if I weren't here?

I am so needed. Stay warm out there, everyone.



1.10.2016

The One on Belonging

I am not a typical Mormon. I am fiercely feminist which is a scootch chafing in a religious environment that prides itself on a structure of  patriarchy. I also believe in marriage equality and feel wildly supportive of my LGTBA+ brothers and sisters. Round peg meets square hole when it comes to me and churchy stuff sometimes. But I go, I serve, I seek God. There is work to be done y'all.

This week I was asked to speak in church. Give a sermon, of sorts. I am always grateful for an opportunity to explore my faith and for posterity's sake, I leave my ponderings here with you as well. (A note for my atheist and non-Christian readers, you are welcome to take a dip in Christian theology but I won't be offended if you take a pass.)

CS Lewis said “To have Faith in Christ means trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his or her advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way...Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but because a faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)


I am sure it seems to many of us that soon after the moment we feel like we have reached a kind of equilibrium with our bodies, or our schedule, or relationships something rocks us. I once had a friend who said “If life feels like the Garden of Eden, get ready, cause you’re about to be kicked out.” While I don’t think our Heavenly Parents are watching for moments of joy and happiness and waiting for a chance to destroy the balance by purposefully sending challenges and trials our way, I do think it is important for us as a community of church members and community of humans to look around a moment and acknowledge with a deep solemnity that every person has recently, or is about to, or is currently going through something hard.

No one is unscathed. We are all on a quest for peace, for balance, for health, for love, for happiness. We all are fighting so desperately to be kind, patient and forgiving with our parents, our spouses or our children if we have them, our co-workers, the mailman who keeps missing our house, and the people who are awful to us. We know who we want to be, and know we often fail. We know how we want to feel physically and emotionally, sometimes it feels completely out of our hands.

Dostoevsky said in one of my favorite books, “God and the devil are fighting, and the battlefield is the heart of man.”  When I first read The Brothers Karamozov as a college student I thought I understood what that meant. I thought that God wanted me to be good, and the devil wanted me to sin. And this battle for my soul, for my level of righteousness was playing out in my alternatingly prideful/sinful or humble/repentant heart.

That is one interpretation. But now as an adult I see this battle in my heart a little differently. The battle I feel currently being waged in my heart and perhaps in yours isn’t God trying to get me to be good, and Satan trying to get me to be bad. If the kids and teenagers don’t know yet it isn’t too early to learn: There are very few things in this world that are 100% good and 100% bad. Very few things are black white.  Life is like a pool of grey area, and we are all swimming around seeking the Holy Spirit to direct us toward God. But like I said, this battle in our hearts I don’t think is necessarily all about right and wrong.

I believe the real struggle is that God wants me to remember how infinitely amazing and gifted and sacred and worthy I am, and the Devil is battling for me to remember how weak, frail, prone to failures I am; so that those feelings override and obscure my sense of divinity. And just as bad and just as common, the great tragedy of negativity and that eats at my sense of self-worth inversely builds walls of pride that obscures my ability to see the infinite divine worth and sacredness of others, as they are. 

This brings us back to Mr. Lewis’s quote. This heaven inside us.  If there is heaven inside me and you, why is it so hard to feel it? We do a fabulous job in our church building lists of things we need to do to get to heaven; we see the kingdoms of glory as a destination. We have charts with arrows that mark off steps, bullet points so we can see where we measure up, which place in the afterlife we fit, and based on those steps and check marks and bullet points and arrows, we can even kinda guess where people around us are heading. People we fear, people we don’t like. People from other churches or people whose family doesn’t match the one on the cover of a church magazine, we have the tools to know if they've hit the right milestones to heaven, right?

I believe those check marks, those steps and lists and those arrows can only help as long as they bring us personally to Jesus. Unless Christ’s outstretched hands and and a completely enveloping sense of love are at the center of a chart about our mortal journey we have missed the mark.

Why Jesus Christ? Because every other person on the planet -despite their immeasurable worth is just as weak, prone to failure, frail and inconsistent I am. Our dearest friends and most cherished family members will let us down and we will let them down. We need Jesus, not just to save us from our sins, but because he is incapable of leaving us. He is incapable of being inconsistent.

In this life we will feel unloved. We will feel misunderstood. We will be mocked. We will feel we do not belong. Even in places were we feel we should belong, like with our friends, family; even at church we can feel alone.  I would venture to say that our fear of being unloved, rejected, being unworthy of love and not belonging are among the most crippling. This is the real battle of the Heart. Remembering to whom we belong.

Jesus was extremely clear and outspoken about belonging.  In Doctrine & Covenants he says Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me”

In John he says “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”

In the Doctrine & Covenants he asks “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings?”

In Isaiah he reminds us: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”

The most perfectly loving human that ever lived engraved us on the palms of his hands. With scars that he chose to keep so when we forget, there is physical proof of his love there to see and touch. He knows we are going to forget how loved we are and how very much we belong with him. In this scripture in Isaiah the usage of walls is unclear. I like to think it means as he builds us up, he tears down the walls that keep us from seeing others as they are. He rips down our pride that lets us judge them.

When discouragement wears us down we are losing the battle in our hearts. Remember his great commandment, “Love they neighbor as thyself” -  how on earth are we to love our neighbor when we do not love ourselves? Jesus can repair our broken places. And we need to get to know him so he can do this.

Dieter Uchtdorf instructed us in the last church-wide conference that when things are hard (and interestingly he was specifically speaking about the fact that sometimes church is the thing that is hard) his advice was to simplify our discipleship. This is my humble recommendation on how to do so:

First we must read Jesus’s words. The primary kids are focusing on the scriptures this year and I would highly recommend cracking open the New Testament to learn who Jesus was, what he did, how he did it.

Second, we take His name upon us - in other words, follow his example through loving service. This is the Mormons’ cup of herbal tea. We know how to serve each other. We are experts.  I testify of the power of Christ’s love that can envelope us as we use our time in the service of those who need it. I felt it as I have received selfless service and when I’ve had the chance to render help.

That is it. That is the recipe. I believe that with Jesus and because of him we can remember our power, our innate and eternal awesomeness and fight against the feelings of failure, rejection, and unworthiness that can come as we unintentionally hurt one another in our families, our jobs and in our work together in church.

Paul said to the Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. I am persuaded nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

I started with him and I will end with CS Lewis who said when contemplating his potential: ”If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

We do not know all what comes next, in the “other world” the one with Heavenly Father, Mother and Jesus, no matter the nifty charts and arrows and bullet points. I think we can only imagine most of it. We don’t know how it will all turn out, how the injustices of this world will be made right. But I do know this- we can let the perfect love of Jesus help us to feel peace in this world. We can let the perfect love of Jesus help us remember our worth as souls in this life and when we serve those around us, we can see their divinity as well.

That we can do so together is my prayer. 

*Edit to add: A few hours after I gave this talk a very high up leader in my church claimed that a very debatably un-Christ-like legal-move policy to shun children of gay couples from membership until they are 18 and renounce their parents, wasn't merely a few lines they slipped in a manual that most members don't get to see. They are now claiming it was a revelation from God. Two months later after thousands of members asked their names to be removed, thousands have told their local leaders how they feel. Two months later they are saying it's not just a policy to protect the Church from litigation. 

This is deeply troubling and extremely painful for many in the church. For there have been many policies the church has had over all sorts of topics that are arbitrary and just kinda make sense for a general world wide church "so we all are doing things the same way." The policies change, they come and go, they are altered when they are found to be not as helpful, useful or based on bad information. That this  policy was just "policy "was a shred of comfort for many members. It wasn't apostate or going against leadership (which is a very UnMormon Thing To Do) to say "ya know, this doesn't sit right. But it will likely change. They did it for legal reasons and got caught in a PR nightmare and it's yucky but it will likely not stand." - Now Church leadership have backpedaled and are saying it was revelation from God. This doesn't feel like the Jesus I know. So many are in pain. So many families are hurting. For a church who uses phrases like "Defend the Family" and "The Family is of God" and then make it clear "But only if no one in the family is born gay and decides to not live life totally alone. If they are gay and decide to want to not be alone in life decide they want to raise children with the person they love, that family is actually not of God, even though we agree God made them this way, He still wants those people to be alone. Maybe he will fix them in the next life." 

That is the official stance. It is meant to feel supportive and loving. To outsiders it may not seem obvious that the people saying thing these things actually mean all of it with sincere love. But they really want to show love. Clearly, this is not how it is coming across to families with gay parents, sisters, brothers, children. It is heartbreaking. I mourn with those that are mourning. To my dear personal friends affected by this: I am so sorry. I love you. You belong to the One that matters most. Please email me if you need to talk. scoopingitup at gmail dot com



1.06.2016

Shiny and New Didn't Last

2016 isn't taking long to play dirty. Sick kids and parents, poor sleep, grumps and winter slumpy feelings are at large.

But I have to hand it to the kiddos and Hubs: we had the happiest night ever on NYE. Here, let us both get distracted from the raging horrible mood with the pretty pictures of family time.

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We closed 2015 off so well. I hope we can turn around a crummy beginning of this year.

We are working to pick Words of the Year instead of resolutions. A word to help us focus our goals and aspirations. Samantha chose Improve, Brady chose Happy, Cookie wanted Despicable, but after gentle coaching went with Brave, Fikir chose Gather, Mimi chose Leap, and despite gentle coaching Tsega chose Rag Tag Volunteer. (From of course, Hamilton. If you don't know the song Guns and Ships, you need to, Tsega lives for this song and knows most of the words.) Hubs and I are in a quandry still. Will get back to you on that.

Maybe when I get my attitude in order. 

1.02.2016

Taking a Moment to Move

I am learning to be an vigilant observer of myself. And I have learned a few things in the last year of my life.

I have learned that everything goes better if I just don't eat the pasta or the bread. It doesn't mean that I don't indulge on occasion, but I just know where it all leads and I am usually able to pass.

I have learned that I can go a solid three weeks without doing laundry and the children will eventually fend for themselves when things get desperate.

I have learned that my hair is just going to be this way.

I have learned that I absolutely must wear shoes that are as close to barefoot as possible and have a thin, flexible sole and allow my toes to spread comfortably. I feel almost fanatical about it and the connection to the ground is something that I sense throughout my day.

I have learned that I like cleaning the kitchen and I am fast, efficient and like to clean it so I know it's perfect.

I have learned that when I feel insecure about my wifery, I am a much worse mother. Working on this.

I have learned that my church stretches me. My membership forces me to confront my relationship with God in a real way every single day. I am on a journey in defining what my discipleship to Christ looks like. It's not comfortable but I am usually glad of it. However. I find that my church does not often nourish me, it's a battlefield - maybe sometimes it even feels like a minefield. So I need to supplement my spirit to fortify myself. This means long walks with Blue and relishing the resulting endorphins. This means yoga. This means meditation practices. (Oh Christians, we are really good at the to-do lists to be better humans; we are SO bad at being still and being in tune with our bodies and souls. Buddha and Jesus are good buddies, I am sure of it.)

I have learned that when I am feeling tense  I need to get out of a chair and get on the ground. When I am spending a lot of time reading and writing, or have gone a few days without doing some of the things that help my body feel good I have to start at the beginning.

I wanted to share with you what I do to wake up my tense, tired body. Here you are getting me in my pajamaed, puffy faced glory, after having stayed up too late and had a few days too little movement. I am not stretched out, I don't have perfect positions because this isn't about positions and it sure as heck isn't about perfection. I am not a certified yoga instructor. I am not prescribing anything. Just sharing with you what I do when I need to regroup.

It's a new year, I expect we are all in a state of regrouping. Maybe we can do it together. Observe how we feel, be vigilant observers of ourselves and figure out what we need to be our authentic, kind selves. Hopefully authentic means being kind, right?

Cross your fingers with me. And get on the floor and take a moment to move. I promise, you'll feel better.

12.28.2015

A.Ham Meets Harry Meets Rey: The Story of an Imperfect Christmas

This Christmas Eve was very low key. The children watched a marathon of holiday movies including Elf, The Muppet's Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Nightmare Before Christmas. They each donned comfy new jammies and we sent them off to bed with visions of sugar plums. Looking back I'd wish we'd done more. Taken the children to visit others, spread some cheer, get outside the house. By staying home and doing nothing it turns out, we may have let the focus turn decidedly on the coming presents which is the exact opposite of how we like to focus this holiday.

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I could tell a few of the children felt a bit anxious about what the next day would bring. I did not listen much to that nagging red flag kind of feeling, and didn't prep. I should have taken the concerned parties aside to reassure them that I didn't want to spoil any surprises about the next day but that there would be a few small things they will like, and a really big one they don't expect but will be fun but isn't something you can hold or touch. This kind of reassurance would have gone a long way methinks. Hubs and I learned a powerful lesson this year in prepping kids who have anxiety about surprises.

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The next morning instead of six bubbly kids we had a few who tried very hard to make everyone miserable. They tried to convince everyone else that everything was a lie, steal the magic, criticized every aspect of the presentation and every thing that came out of the stocking.

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The vocal bad attitude really dampened the whole experience. This was new for us. We've never had Christmas Derailment like this before. We pushed through but instead joy, it was really a flat, tense mood we had to get to the other side of. I tell you these things so you know that pictures can look magical. And pictures and blogs and perfect looking Facebook posts can LIE. But I won't do that to myself, or you. Because maybe, just maybe, you had an anxious person in your family try to suck the joy too. You are not alone.

If you did experience Christmas Derailment like us I will throw out there this picture of Aaron Purr snuggling a slipper. Because we all need something that isn't rude or hateful for a minute.

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But. There was fun. There were some excited kids.

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We hit up three of our favorite characters this Christmas, the first was his royal highness Harry Potter. The children each got a present straight from Hogsmeade.

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Brady didn't pause when he accidentally ate the gross flavors in Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Bean. He chowed down Dirt, Vomit, Booger and Earwax without slowing. Low sensory kids have a serious advantage in life: they can eat anything because they don't notice when it tastes bad!

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And each child got their own custom (no two were alike) Harry inspired necklaces hand stamped and made by a dear friend who sells them in her Etsy shop, where you should go immediately to check them out.
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Cookie's has a winged golden Snitch and says "Wingardium Leviosa"
(click here for a much better picture, it's really stunning)
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Tsega's says "Mischief Managed" with a lightening bolt and wizard hat

Samantha's says "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" Fikir's says "Lumos" with a gorgeous lantern and bead that looks lit, Brady's says "It matters not what someone is born, but what the grow to be" which makes me cry when I think about my tiny little sick preemie who is such a big wonderful boy now, and Mimi loves hers which says "Study like Granger, Protect like Weasley, Live like Potter."

Mom Screw Up number two (the first was ignoring warning signs of nervousness) came when I gave journals to the girls. Sometimes communication isn't easy and I thought I could remove some of the fear there with these - really cool journals meant to inspire dialog and build relationships between moms and daughters. Sometimes writing notes is easier than face to face stuff. These really had/have potential. However. I didn't open them before I gave them. The first few pages ask the mother to write about what she felt and thought when the daughter was born, when she first started to talk or walk, first day of school, first missing tooth.

Fikir and Mimi immediately felt understandably on the defensive that this journal was one more thing that pointed out how our relationship wasn't a normal mother and daughter one. It made them feel badly, which is the exact opposite of what I had hoped to accomplish with this journal.

I think I can salvage things. I will ask if they want to cross those things out, or ask their mom for input so she can fill in those answers, or we can talk about milestones that started when I first saw them and our first year together. I will let them choose.

The fact that Samantha could just start writing in it without a moment hesitation highlighted the privilege she enjoys as  having access to her full story and an uninhibited relationship with me.
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At this point I kinda felt like we were drowning. Some kids were hanging in there, others not so much. Trying to do the "set up" for the BIG GIFT was rough, despite well laid plans.

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All around the house were strips of paper. Well over a hundred of them, and some had quotes on them. They had to rush about finding them, and bring back as many as they could find. Half way through the frenzy they started noticing some had words on them. Quotes, lines from a show, to be exact.

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They turned out to have more than fifty lines from the musical Hamilton, which is a musical on Broadway right now that happens to be the coolest thing on the planet and you are sorely missing out if you haven't listened to it. In fact, stop reading, go listen. It's streaming on Amazon Prime, Spotify, or just do yourself a favor and buy the album. (There are some swear words. Out of the starting gate. Give it a chance people.) Our family has a bit of a religious conviction about this musical. The true story of the birth of our nation focused on a little-discussed founding father, Alexander Hamilton told in rap, hip hop is a revelation. All these strips of paper were made into a chain. As we started stapling, Mimi caught on, albeit slowly, not wanting to believe it, you can see her hesitation to hope in the following picture.

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There is an awesome video of them reading the quotes from the show, rapping and singing the lines, but we use their real names so much in it, and on this blog I try to only use their fakey blog names I won't be posting it here. I may have to make them do a blog-safe version.

The reaction was more of a slow build (and still building two days later) because there was so much weird negativity leading up to this "reveal", but the kids are thrilled, and delighted and we know it will be fun to count down the many, many months until we could go. (The show is largely sold out until next summer. To find eight tickets we had to get into the first week of July 2016. Not even kidding. Buying these tickets was a harrowing experience that I do not wish to detail here. But I don't think I can visit Ticketmaster dot com without tremors.)

We had breakfast, their one day of cereal a year. A massive hit with children and kittens and Hubs alike.
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And then, after some calm time and a visit with grandparents we went to Star Wars. I bought the tickets three months ago for this day. And when it came out last week lied and said "I don't know when we will ever see it, it's just so hard to get tickets, we will eventually..."   

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I was just as excited as the kiddaroos. Maybe more so.

Well, except for this one.
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When the show was about to start Tsega started to cry, said he was nervous and needed Blue, whom we had left at home. We were nervous the movie would end up being too intense but we made a plan of action in case Tsega was scared and just having the plan was all he needed, he loved the whole thing and we made it through it with no tears or anxiety. And no spoilers, but The Force Awakens was a gift to all humanity. I loved everything about it. Feminists and nerds everywhere can rejoice as one at this wonderful film.

We ended the day with a big dinner with some best buddies, one of whom fell asleep while eating, which is always good camera fodder.

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Life is messy and imperfect. Holidays don't always go perfectly. Our feelings are big things that we fall over, and others stumble on as we leave them laid out like tripwires. But there is loveliness in the mess too.

Grateful for our friends and family. And kinda grateful we are done with it for this year. Documented so I do not forget, and make some changes for next year to hopefully make it feel a bit safer and more predictable for the children who need it.

May you sneak the last of the egg nog and go on a good walk today, (My plans, anyway.)


12.24.2015

Three Smiling Things on Christmas Eve

Mariah Carey is wrong, you know. All I want for Christmas is egg nog. It's not as catchy as "yoooouuuu....Bebe!" But really, it's egg nog. That's it.

Today the children did this. In New England. It was warmer than in LA tonight.

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Last night they did this. This is how we do Christmas cookies.

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And as with many days, Blue helps Tsega when he's having a hard time. Thank God for this doggie. He just wants to help, and he really does. Tsega gave me the okay on sharing it. He says all kids need dogs. So there you go.

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May you all have warm days, Hamilton the Musical, cookies or an animal friend to kiss your tears away should you be in need of any of those things this weekend. Or egg nog. That covers a multitude of whatever-is-getting-you-down.