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Albany: The place to start a family or the place to raise a family?

We bought our house in Albany in November 2009, and ever since then people have asked us where we’ll move when our children enter school.

It’s a question that we grappled with even before our daughter was born.

Like most city school districts, Albany schools get a bad rap – especially when compared with the neighboring suburbs, which are mostly white and middle/upper class. Many of those people moved out of Albany to the ‘burbs, leaving behind those that don’t have the ability to move out. I learned all about white flight in my college sociology classes, I know how it works and I understand why cities face these situations. But I don’t blame those families- Albany taxes are high, and the schools have different challenges than suburban schools (but those suburban schools do have their challenges, I know that, too).

Buckingham Pond playground, Albany. March 2012.

The thing that gets overlooked in the “when will you move out?” conversations is that Albany is a great place to raise a family. There is a lot to love about living here. We’ve connected with other families living in the city, who share our appreciation for the things Albany offers: community, walkability, convenience, culture, diversity, history.

The other night I met up with some other Albany moms. For the first time, I was part of a conversation about staying in Albany, and about raising a family within the city. Positive, glowing things were said about Albany schools, about the diversity our children would be exposed to, about wanting to raise children in neighborhoods with sidewalks and trees and playgrounds and a tight community.

It was refreshing and energizing. I want to keep having that conversation. What if the conversation were about how much Albany has to offer families, instead of about when we’ll all leave?

I know I’ve written about this at least twice before, but I’ll keep saying it: I love where we live.

I can easily go a week or more without leaving Albany city limits- everything I need is here: my office (commute: 10 minutes), childcare, grocery stores, restaurants, the gym, movies, the library, the food co-op, Stewarts. Many of those places are within easy walking distance.

Story time at the neighborhood library branch-
the perfect destination for warm-weather walks

We can take long walks on continuous sidewalks. We can walk to our friends’ homes or just drop by for quick visits, and we’re building a strong network of nearby friends. There are several parks and playgrounds within a half-mile. Story time at the library includes families speaking Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.

All this, but of course the question still comes: What about the schools?

We have several friends who went through Albany schools and graduated from Albany High. They had great experiences, went on to good colleges, and are successful adults – many of them have bought their own homes in Albany.

I’ve met families who have chosen to stay in Albany, who rave about their children’s experiences at Albany schools. The elementary schools offer diverse programs (Spanish, Montessori, Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, to name a few) and Albany High has the area’s only International Baccalaureate program and has made Newsweek’s list of America’s Top Public High Schools on multiple occasions.

And yet Albany has this reputation as a place to start a family but not a place to grow and raise a family. We don’t hear the stories from people who choose to stay.

Why?

There’s the taxes issue, yes. We continue to struggle with that. Eventually we’ll outgrow our house and we hope to afford to increase our living space. When the time comes to move, will we choose to continue paying Albany taxes? Will we give up the things we love about where we live for a larger house and lower taxes elsewhere? There are a couple incentives for first-time home buyers in Albany, but what about those buying AND selling in Albany? I have a feeling there aren’t many people that do that. If we leave, are we just becoming part of the problem? (Yes.)

It will be a difficult decision, and luckily one we have a few years to think about.

I urge our city leaders to spend some time focusing on this strong and vibrant community of young families living in Albany, those with children and those without. We make up an important part of this city, but like past generations of young families many of us will move out within a few years, lured by lower taxes and an expectation that we should send our children to suburban schools. If the conversation is one about staying, will we?

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Becoming an early morning exerciser

Having a baby changed everything I knew about sleep and daily schedules and taking care of myself.

I haven’t always been perfect about sticking to an exercise routine, but throughout my 20’s I was generally pretty good about fitting in time at the gym, evening runs, or some yoga. Even while pregnant I kept up with exercise and yoga. And then, well, it’s been awhile.

In those first months after my daughter was born I was tired and just trying to survive. During her first summer and fall we took a lot of long walks, but that was the extent of it.

This past summer I signed up for a “boot camp” class, which had me running and flipping tires at 5:30 a.m. twice a week. It was my first taste of that early early exercise lifestyle. Going to bed early and waking up were both hard, but once I was there I discovered the secret world of the morning exercisers. The sky was beautiful, it wasn’t hot or muggy yet, it was energizing to be up and moving while the rest of the city slept. There was a solidarity among everyone at the gym at that hour.

Once that class ended, I fell off the wagon, again. Mornings were dark, I started working more, I was still trying to figure out how to do everything I needed to do and fit in a full night’s sleep.

But by mid-winter I was antsy, putting on weight, feeling blah. I knew I needed to move, to get back in shape, to get some exercise back in my life.

One of the best tips I’ve read about setting a goal is to not say “try”. So, instead of saying: “I’m going to try to go to the gym three times this week” it’s “I’m going to the gym three times this week.”  It is a small shift that works wonders for my own goals.

So, I’m becoming a morning exerciser again. I’ve stopped focusing on how long of a workout I can fit in before I need to go home to shower and get ready for work. Instead I focus on getting to the gym and doing something, anything. Getting to bed early and getting out of bed when the alarm goes off at 5:15 is rough, but I never regret going to the gym. I repeat that to myself as I drag my groggy butt out of bed.

I’ve connected with another working mom in a similar position, both of us longing to be active again, needing exercise for energy, and with the same time slot available: 5:30 a.m.

I leave the house when it is dark, the moon and stars still bright, and the air cold. We meet up at the gym, pump out some cardio, and spend some time with weights. We chat about our two-year-olds, about the daycare they both attend, and about the challenges of finding balance in our lives. We share tips. We are proof to each other that we can carve out this time for ourselves.

The gym at 5:30 a.m. is like a secret society. Full of others for whom the pre-dawn hours are the only time to devote to exercise, we’ve all made the choice to be here. We all decided to get out of bed and do something that is just for us. Fist bump.

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32

Today is my 32nd birthday.

Approaching this birthday, it felt like a big one- a little scary. I had no trouble with 30, but 32 feels like I am in my 30s. Mid-30s.  30 is just over the line from one’s 20s. 32 is in it.

But here we are and it’s not really scary at all. I took a look around and it turns out I’m exactly where I want to be and where I’d hoped to be at this point in my life.

I have an amazing partner in life who makes me laugh and makes me brave.
We have a sweet and spunky daughter who has an endless supply of hugs and kisses to give.
We have our own home that is a cozy, comfortable work-in-progress, where we laugh and play records and gather with the people we love for meals and conversation.
I am surrounded by a supportive, loving, and fun circle of friends and family.
I have a career I enjoy, and I’m able to work less-than-full-time outside the home- something I’d always hoped would work out during the “raising young children” phase of my life.
In the past year, we have traveled as a couple and as a family (and we have plenty more travel in the year ahead- as a couple and as a family).

This morning, my kid sang me ‘happy dirthday’ and stated that “today is Mommy’s white birthday. Next year is Mommy’s pink birthday.” (????). Last night she told me about sleeping waterfalls.

A 25-year-old co-worker told me that I “seem much younger than 32”.  I had no problem with that statement.

So, hello 32. It’s nice to meet you – you’re not so scary. I think we’re going to have a great year together.

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Our Friends

A few weeks ago, Julia and Seth and Sarah came over for dinner and a little quality time. It was one of those nights when I was reminded just how amazing our circle of friends is. Hold on, I’m going to get pretty mushy here.

As Pat and I worked on throwing together dinner, Julia, Seth, and Sarah were in the playroom with Evy. Every so often they broke into song – serenading Evy with the Beatles, singing “Over the Rainbow” with her, or creating a soundtrack to whatever she was playing with. I could hear the eruption of toddler belly laughs. Oh how she adores Sa-ah and Jooya and Seph. (I have a feeling it’s mutual.)

And I am so so grateful for the relationships my daughter is building with our friends.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what would happen to our friendships when we had a baby. We were the first among our local friends to become parents, and I’d heard nothing but negative stories about how friendships change once you become a parent. I worried that we’d lose some friends as we adapted to life with a little one.

But I forgot – these are our friends we’re talking about.

Our friends are full of love and awesome. Truly.

They didn’t leave us behind. They opened up the circle and pulled our daughter in. They pile on the love. They are funny and goofy and sweet with her. Friends near and far have treated our daughter with such kindness that it almost makes my heart hurt to think about. They come over to read books and color, they send her postcards and sweatshirts in the mail, they spend evenings having Facetime pizza parties with her, they make her laugh and laugh.

Someday, when she’s a teen and mad at me for something, I know she’ll be able to call Sarah or Julia or Beth or Janet or Grace or Seth or any number of our friends. They’ll take her out for coffee and commiserate about how hard it is to be a teenager ( and maybe stick up for me a little?).

And, not that there’s any pressure for anyone else to start having babies, but- I love being able to pile on the same kind of love as more little ones are born into our sweet, fun, wacky circle.

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2013

Here are my traditionally late goals for the year. I always feel like I’m missing something (hence the reason that I’ve had this post written but unpublished for a month) but here goes:

2013 Goals

1. Reclaim evenings that have been lost to the internet. To make this happen, I’m making a rule for myself: no laptop on the couch during the week. If I want to write, return emails, upload and edit photos, or read blogs, I’ll do it while sitting at the table or the desk. The goal is to put an end to those nights where I sit down to write one email and look up to find that hours have gone by. Those nights leave me tired and annoyed. Instead, if I sit down on the couch I’ll have something else in my lap: a novel, a crochet project, a cookbook, a notebook, a magazine.

2. Take care of myself/commit to ‘me time’.  This is something I really want to get a handle on. Schedule time for exercise. Go to yoga classes. Meet a friend for a drink. Use my lunch hour for walks/reading instead of Google Reader. Paint my toenails. Also in this category: go to the dentist. Go to the eye doctor. Get a physical.

3. Run a 10k – this is the year. Also, run at least three 5k’s (get back to a sub-30 minute 5k)

4. Take a family trip to the Boston Aquarium and Childrens’ Museum

5. Celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary in some special way. We have lots of traveling coming up this year, so maybe it won’t be an anniversary trip, but I want to be sure to celebrate the milestone.

6. Finish the photobook of Evy’s 1st year. She turns two next month. Oops.


7. Read before bed again. This goes hand in hand with #1. Already doing much better with this in 2013 than I did in 2012.

8. Continue on the path to ‘real food’ eating. 

9. Actually donate all the stuff piling up in the basement “donate” pile.

10. Garden with Evy. Be intentional with the garden plan. Grow things I think she’ll eat. Have her help me start seeds. Build/plant a second raised bed.

11. Finish the porch project. Put up lattice, paint, plant the garden in front of it, decorate inside.

12. Paint the upstairs bathroom (and/or make progress on the kitchen project)

13. Show Evy more of her city (the toddler version): 

  • Visit three new city playgrounds.
  • Spend a Saturday (or two or three or five) at the State Museum. Ride the carousel, visit the Sesame Street exhibit. 
  • Take walks around Washington Park

14. Figure out how to set up that DIY/babysitting share 

15. Go to my (gasp choke cough) 10-year College Reunion

16. Take Evy sailing. Several times.

17. Do yoga outdoors, preferably on the beach. Look into doing this on Cape May or Cape Cod this summer.

18. Have an old fashioned sleepover with my lady friends. Let’s figure out how to do this.

19. Visit Grace. Continued prayers to the airfare gods.

20.  Take my mom out for lunch and pedicures. 

21. Go for a family bike ride on the Mohawk-Hudson rail trail. 

22. Continue on the path to Simplifying: keep on getting rid of stuff, practice the “1 in 1 out” rule, get rid of things we don’t use, organize our space to fit with our life, work toward only having things that are useful/beautiful.

23. Get our mail problem under control. The avalanche and “oops, didn’t see that” syndrome can’t continue. Find and implement a system that works for us. Stop junk mail. Sign up for as many e-bills as possible. Shred what needs shredding.  

24. Hang framed family wedding photos (that we displayed at our wedding) on the staircase. First step: locate these photos.

25. Write more.

26. Accomplish much of the above by reviving the “project a week” project. 

 

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In Support of Parental Time Outs

(I have a post up at All Over Albany about our weekend trip to Manchester, VT. Here’s a little more about the reasons behind the getaway.)

Sometimes, the world of parenting in 2013 seems like it’s just trying to make moms and dads feel guilty all the time. Part of the problem is information overload- for every topic you try to research you will find 38 points of view stating that their way is the best and any other way will scar your child for life. And then there’s the blogs and the Pinterest images showing you all the ways other parents are more organized, more fun, more crafty, more creative, better dressed, etc etc etc.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find at least one friend who is also a parent and who will reassure you that you are doing just fine, commiserate when things get frustrating, agree that it’s just impossible to keep a clean house with a toddler around, and encourage you to by all means to take a break once in a while- and don’t you dare feel guilty about it. I’m here to agree with that friend: go! Take a break! It will make you a better parent. Really, it will.

It’s hard to take a break from parenting, I know. Whether you work in the home or in an office, the demands on a mom or dad can be endless. And while it’s a job that absolutely brings lots of joy and fulfillment, it can also be oh so draining. As a parent who works out of the home four days a week, I find it very hard to choose to be anywhere but with my child during any time off, whether it’s evenings or weekends.   

For Christmas, Patrick and I decided that the time had come to take a break together. Rather than give each other gifts, we made a promise to book our first weekend away together since Evelyn was born and to do it in the near future.

Thanks to a Groupon and grandparents who were willing to babysit, we got that getaway last weekend, and it was amazing.

We shopped, we explored, we had adult conversations, we reconnected, we reflected on the life we were building together, dreamed up future plans, and ate good food. We drank wine with dinner and beer with lunch, we took our time browsing books, and let time get away from us without thinking about when it would be naptime or snacktime or bedtime.

Meanwhile, Evelyn was having her own awesome weekend with her grandparents. We split the weekend between the two sets of grandparents, and Evy had a blast. She played in the snow both days, took Grandma to music class, ate pancakes, played guitar with Papa, read books with Vou, and happily noshed on Italian bread and Nonni’s freshly made tomato sauce.

I’ve had other moms proudly tell me that in six years of motherhood they’ve never spent a night away from their children. I give them lots of credit. For us, a weekend away in the dead of winter was good for all of us. As parents, we returned refreshed and recharged. Our daughter had a great time with her grandparents, and they loved having her around.

In 2013 I want to do a better job of making time for me and for us. I love being with my daughter, but I do miss making time to run, write, crochet, and have time alone with my husband. It was hard to do in the first year, especially with a breastfeeding infant, but with a toddler (and awesome grandparents nearby) it’s so doable if we just make it a priority. I think it’s important that Evelyn sees us beyond our roles as mom and dad, and that we show her how much we value our marriage. I want her to know that I have my own interests, and I want her to see me pursuing them.

So, if you’re researching whether it’s okay to have a weekend away from your little one(s), I’m here to say yes! Ignore anyone who says otherwise. Have a refreshing guilt-free getaway. Recharge and reconnect. Part of being a parent is doing your best to be the kind of person you want your child to be. I want my child to grow up to be an adult who gives to others and makes time to take care of herself, and I want to show her how that’s done.

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Phases

When you’re expecting a baby, you prepare endlessly. There are birth classes, nursery preparations, gift registries, and doctor appointments. There is cloth diaper research, baby gear research, books about newborns and breastfeeding and happy babies, and a baby shower that brings unimaginably tiny shirts and socks to organize.

And then that baby arrives, and you’re thrown into it- things you fully expected, things you didn’t. Exhaustion like you never imagined. A love like you’ve never known.  Life with a newborn is bewildering. And then, your newborn is a baby. Then a toddler.

“It goes so fast” they tell you. And while you savor each moment, it’s true: in a matter of weeks, those early phases that you spent months researching and preparing for are left behind for new phases. Most of the time there isn’t a chance to think about or prepare for those next phases. There isn’t the luxury of nine months of preparation as each phase begins without notice.

When someone told me that Evy’s fussiness could be teething at 4 months I was stunned. Whoa whoa whoa. I don’t think I realized until that moment that I wouldn’t always have a newborn. I put so much focus on preparing for a newborn that I didn’t think beyond that (teeth??). Now here she was, saying “That’s nice that you’re starting to figure out sleep and we’re settling into a routine, but guess what? It’s all about to change!”

Wait, what, I had a newborn and now she’s teething? I had a baby and now she’s walking? I had a sweet baby and now she’s a strong-willed toddler? You figure it out on the fly. Parenting books and blogs are helpful, family members and other moms give great advice. You figure it out and then it’s on to a new thing. Incredible.

The latest change in our house: we are done with diapers. Other than naps and bedtime, Evy is a potty-using citizen, out of diapers and into tiny little undies. We did months of research on cloth diapers, spent hours talking to each other and other parents about them, figured out diaper systems and routines. Now we are packing them away until the next kid. I’m glad we made the decision to use cloth, but with the amount of thought that went into it we clearly thought we were making a lifelong commitment.  In reality it was 21 months. And now, we’re on to new things.

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toddler moments

  • The way she calls oatmeal “opa-meal” and snuggles “huggles” 
  • Looking at a magazine together, she sees an ad for a mop. “Broom!” she says. “That looks a little like a broom, but it’s a mop,” I say. “Mop,” she says. “Mop mop mop mop mop.”  She won’t let me turn the page, just keeps looking at the photo and saying “mop mop mop” with big ephasis on the p- “ma-puh!” Total joy in the discovery of a new word.
  • When I’m one place but she’d like me to be in another: “C’mere! Come on! Mommy c’mere!” and then little hands around my leg, pulling me to the place where she wants me. This should be annoying, but I love it.
  • She falls asleep singing and wakes up singing. This is not an exaggeration. The soundtrack to our lives these days is her little voice singing Old McDonald, The Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle, Over the Rainbow, the Hello Song, Goin’ to Boston and whatever song they sang at school that day. Sometimes she makes up songs entirely, or plugs in her own lyrics to the tune of one or her favorite songs.”Time to take a naaaaaap!” is a classic.
  • If you ask her the name of anything- a doll, stuffed animal – she will reply “Happy!” There is something so pure and sweet about this. All of her babies are named Happy.  I’ll be sad the day her answer changes. 
  • I was sick on Monday and in an effort to protect her from my germs, I didn’t see my sweet kiddo at all (big thanks to Patrick for taking care of both his girls). The toughest moment was around dinnertime when I heard her downstairs begging to “huggle Mama”. The next day, after I picked her up from daycare, she held my face in both of her pudgy hands and said “Mama feel better? Mama happy now.” And gave me a big smooch. 
  • The delighted way she greets us with “Good morning, Daddy! Good morning, Mommy!” no matter what time of day it is. Another greeting: “Here’s Daddy!” as if we misplaced him somewhere around the house.
  • Words that start with L in English start with Y in toddler-ese:  Lap = yap, llama = yamma, love = yuv, light = yight. 
  • Her lyrics to Rockabye Baby: “When the bow breaks, the craisin will rock”
  • Typical Evy dialogue (monologue, really) “Mama hurt. Mama go boom. Mama hurt knee. Need ice. Evy get ice. I sowwy, Mama. Mama feel better now.”  This is entirely made up- in most cases, no one has gone boom. The big moment is always applying “ice” to whatever injury needs tending.
  • I opened the front door to check the mail the other day, and it hadn’t come yet. “Hm, no mail yet,” I said. She looked around, spotted our towering pile of mail and said, “Here’s the mail! Not outside, inside! Here’s the mail, Mama!”  Silly silly me for looking outside when we have so much mail inside!
  •  The way she talks to the cat. “Hi Ca-vin. How are you?”
  • Her newest phrase: “Hi guys!” said, of course, with unbridled enthusiasm. 

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Remembering Uncle Vince

Uncle Vince and Evelyn meet for the first time.
May 2011

On the last day of 2012, we lost my Uncle Vince. At 84 years old he lived a full and vibrant life.

On Monday, my sister Katie and I gave part of the eulogy at Vince’s funeral. I’m posting it below so that I can easily share it with family members who requested copies.

I am grateful to have had such a wonderful uncle, and for everything he brought to our family.

——————–

Over the past few days, as we’ve talked about our Uncle Vince and everything he meant to all of us, we noticed a theme: Uncle Vince was always passing on gems of wisdom to the people around him. So in honor of everything we’ve all learned from Vince, we put together our list of


Top Life Lessons from Uncle Vince:

1.  Be the first one on the dance floor. He taught us to get out of our seats and dance. Uncle Vince was always the first one up and dancing at every family party and wedding, leading us all in the tarantella. He and I would dance at the Italian festas. Even well into his later years he led me in a tango that I will never forget. He was a leader of our family and could certainly take the lead in some of the most skilled dances on the floor.  -Katie

2. Family comes first. Our grandmother instilled strong family values in all of her children. As the patriarch of our family, Uncle Vince made sure we all remembered that family comes before anything else. Looking around today, it’s clear that the lesson stuck. Talking to everyone last night and today, that’s what comes through: Uncle Vince loved his family so fiercely, and we’ll continue to feel his love for the rest of our lives.  Now it’s up to all of us to carry on that legacy, whether we’re in Albany, Florida, Schenectady, Toronto, or Maryland. It’s all about “famiglia”. -Nicole

3.  Never put your sweater on a hanger. Uncle Vince was always the best dressed person in the room, and full of fashion wisdom- like, never hang a sweater. And he probably taught most of the men in this room how to tie a tie- properly. Through the men’s fashion stores he owned and managed and his time as a Capital Region tv model for Spector’s, he was a fashion icon.  -Katie

4. The meaning of true love. Vince’s love for Carm was an example to everyone around them of a devoted lifelong marriage, especially for me as a newlywed- it is a wonderful model of love and loyalty. Who can forget the way he called her “dolly” and they way they cared for each other? -Katie

5. No one in this family really needed a lesson in this, but Vince reminded us: Mangia!  Whether he was showing us how to roast red peppers, preparing a Sunday dinner, or munching on a biscotti, Uncle Vince taught us to eat good food together. I’m sure we’ll have no problem living out this lesson.  -Nicole

6. Make time to enjoy the finer things in life. Uncle Vince loved opera, ballet, cigars, and tea in a china tea cup with a linen napkin. He enjoyed life’s finer gifts and shared his passion with others. Whether it was lending me a VHS of “The Red Shoes” or talking about productions of Carmen – he taught me to appreciate and make time for the arts … and tea. –Katie

Uncle Vince and me.
May, 1984

7. Canna canna stoopali! All of us who grew up around Uncle Vince remember canna canna
stoopali and the giggle fits that resulted. I was told that “canna canna stoopali” meant “climbing, climbing the stairs,” but we’ve found no evidence of this in the actual Italian language. Maybe it was a Vince-ism or a silly family game, but it’s one that I’ve been thrilled to play with my own daughter – I’ve discovered Uncle Vince’s secret that this game gets the absolute best little belly laughs. -Nicole

8. Keep moving.  In the past few years, Uncle Vince went swimming daily, walked on the beach, traveled to Italy, visited California, came up to Albany several times, and cruised the seas. He was vibrant and full of fun -and sported a great tan- right through the end of his life. Grandma Andrews always said “never stop moving” and Vince was proof of the wisdom in this lesson. –Nicole

9. Live with love. Every one of us here feels Uncle Vince’s love. His life was defined by his love for his wife, his daughters, his grandchildren, his brothers, his sisters, his nieces, his nephews, his friends, and his family.  

Our duty now is to remember Vince and everything he taught us. Most importantly, our job is to live with love the way Vince did. (And, of course, to mangia!)

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acts

What can I say about what happened in Newtown last week? Everything written about it begins the same way – there are no words. And there aren’t.

The deaths of those children and their teachers has hit me hard, as it has so many of us. I feel shaken to my core, scared and angry and prayerful and grateful and, often, tearful.

I didn’t know what to do or how to respond other than giving hug after hug and kiss after kiss to my daughter.

I don’t usually jump on the bandwagon of the #hashtag trends. But Ann Curry’s #26actsofkindness has been inspiring.  No, it isn’t the gun control we need. And maybe it’s a bit self-aggrandizing to publish one’s own acts of kindness.  But people are being kind to each other, to strangers, in ways they may not have otherwise.  Out of a great horror, kindness is being born.  I want in.  (Plus, I really like Ann Curry. We need more people like her in the media.)

I was reading through some of the acts of kindness — meals being bought, gift cards given, flowers delivered– and feeling like I didn’t have much extra money to spend right now. And then I happened to come upon a little bit of unexpected funds. Which seems like a sign.

So, count me in.

I’m making it #28actsofkindness.

I don’t know if I’ll share what my acts are, or if I’ll just do them.

Just planning out a few makes me feel better. Less fearful. Less sad. More hopeful.

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