How I made it through my week.

April 18, 2017

It’s been a tough week. Losing a pet is always difficult, but losing one so suddenly, and under such suspicious circumstances is even worse.

I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve lost a pup-pup to old age; I’ve lost one to divorce; I’ve lost a dog suddenly to an accident; I’ve lost a dog to a sudden medical issue; and I’ve lost a dog who’s run away. And having been through that, this one seems worse. Maybe because the kids are old enough to have invested everything in their dog, and now she’s gone. Maybe because she was the good luck token we got days before the Red Sox won their most recent championship. (Okay, not really that. But maybe.) Maybe every single loss feels like the worst one.

You know, I’m kinda leaning towards that theory.

My friends and family, though – they’re awesome. I think they get it. I know they do. I am surrounded by dog people, and even though who aren’t devoted to pup-pups, they got how devastated I was. And so this happened:

Sympathy cards, encouragement cards, wine, chocolate, extra time with the girls, all kinds of flowers (!) [and thank god no one pranked me with hydrangeas because this just wasn’t the time], and then that photo. My cousin Kene (who, by the way, was the one who came up with the suggestion to name her Fenway) sent me a print of the red seat at Fenway Park. It marks the spot in the Lower Bleachers section in Right Field where the longest homerun – hit by Ted Williams, naturally – landed, clocking in at 502 feet. It was an incredibly thoughtful and personal gift. The girls and I are going to frame it and hang it up, making my home a little more like home Boston, and a great way to remember my pup-pup.

All of it has been very much appreciated. You all have been so sweet and so patient. Fenway was a very good dog, and she will not be forgotten.

In which Easter was happy, despite Fenway’s empty bunny ears.

April 17, 2017

It was a happy Easter. Not just because there was chocolate and wine (although there was). And not just because we had pizza for dinner (although we did). It’s because of the little victories! (And also: books.)

The girls went to their dad’s house for a potluck reunion after church, so we’ll just have the ham dinner I bought another time. It was a last minute addition, last Saturday night kind of last minute, but I know how hard it is to get everyone together on that side of the family, and so I thought that was a little more important than what we had going on.

While the girls were gone, I filled Easter baskets and plastic eggs and maybe cried a little when I saw the bunny ears we used to put on Fenway (and Bee, to be honest). It worked out okay for the girls, though, because feeling all my feelings just meant I added extra chocolate to their baskets.

I think they were pretty happy, don’t you?

If you can’t see in the pictures, this year’s book haul from the Easter Bunny: Bee got the new volume of Lumberjanes – and shrieked my ears off – and Gracie picked out By Your Side, by Kasie West, a romance about two teens (one good girl, one “bad” guy) stuck in a school library for the weekend. And I got the second book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.

You can’t really see the girls’ dresses in this pic, but that’s okay because I dragged them outside at stupid early o’clock. They had to show up early for church, and so we were all up crazy early – and so were my neighbors, for unknown reasons, but my wish came true and they didn’t call over or try to engage us in conversation. Maybe because I was still in my pajamas and my hair wasn’t even done? But that’s okay because the girls looked so pretty!

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We won’t talk about how grown-up Gracie looks in that lace dress, or how much I wanted to cover up the giant cut-out in the lace in the middle of her back, or the fact that those shoes she has on are mine! Instead, we’ll focus on how great Bee-girl looks in her chevrons and that she’ll be able to wear that dress the entire summer no matter how tall she grows because superlong! The fact that I was able to find dresses that fit them both and matched together was an Easter Miracle, praise the Cadbury Bunny and all the Easter gods that ever was!

There was one other small, sad detail from this Easter that I have to report. After finally relenting and buying three dozen eggs for the girls to color (to avoid all the arguing over how many eggs), the girls broke it to me that they didn’t want to color eggs. So much for my big surprise! Also: I now have more than five dozen eggs in my fridge, so guess what’s for dinner all week?

But, not to worry! Just because the girls didn’t want to color eggs, that doesn’t mean they didn’t want to hunt for them! I still had to count out 20 eggs in each of their approved Easter colors, stuff them with candy, and then hide the eggs while the girls hid in their rooms.

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Yes, I made them tough to find. So tough, in fact, that two eggs are still missing! They’ll turn up. I’m not worried. It will probably be June and I’ll hear Bee exclaim, “Ooh! Mini-eggs!” and pop them in her mouth.

See? It’s the little victories here at Casa de Katie. The little things that keep us going.

Book Reviews: The ones with gangs and nostalgia, hidden worlds and top-tiered societies.

April 13, 2017

You guys, I think I busted through my slump! Let’s hope it’s not temporary. And let’s see if I can squeeze in all the books from this week…

MisterMonkeyMister Monkey, by Francine Prose (2016, Harper, 304 pages, e-loan). There were so many monkey-themed books in this year’s Tournament of Books, I just couldn’t take it. And monkeys – not my favorite. They bug, they annoy, they’re frickin’ creepy! But Mister Monkey is more about nostalgia about a children’s show expressed by those involved in and touched by the show – former actors, audience members, and even the author of the book the musical was based on. It’s supposed to be funny, but the humor seemed aimed at an audience a few clicks left of where my funny bone is located. The longing ache for bygone times hit the mark with me far better than the jokes. But even the desperate attempts to reconcile an irretrievable past with their sad present tense didn’t jive all that well with me. It was a meh book to the nth degree. 2 of 5 stars.

ShatterShatter, by Michael Robotham (2008, Sphere, 352 pages, paperback). I grabbed this at a used book store, though I can’t remember when, and it was a total “eh” kind of buy. A mystery/thriller about a psychology wunder-professor who helps the police solve a suicide that could have been a murder. But how does someone make a naked woman jump off a bridge when she’s terrified and doesn’t want to? So that was the premise. I like thrillers when the voice is right and the plot isn’t too cookie cutter and the characters are developed and aren’t plastic pieces moved about the game board. Shatter had a good plot, a good mystery, that was what made me grab the book in the first place. The characters were well drawn; the main ones were quirky enough to feel original and fresh, and the background characters knew when to speak up and flesh out a scene and when to pipe down to keep the scene from getting overwhelmed. The pacing was perfect, too. So even though it wasn’t a WOW THIS BOOK! kind of experience, it was still enough to make me knock out the book in a few sittings, rather than just leave it for 10 pages here or there. 3 of 5 stars.

LadyAlminaLady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, by Fiona Carnarvon (2011, Broadway Books, 310 pages, paperback). I was thrilled to find this at the Book Barn in Connecticut over the summer (or was it the Fall for Uncle Timmy’s wedding – did we even go to the Book Barn then?). In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was engaging, even if the editing could have been a lot tighter. The history was clearly laid out, with enough gossip to keep it entertaining. If you enjoy historical pieces, or biographies of the upper class Brits from a certain time, this is right up your alley. You’ll especially enjoy it if you at all liked Downtown Abbey, but even if you’re one of the handful of people who didn’t watch it, and you still enjoy British history, you’ll enjoy this. 3 of 5 stars. (I’d have ranked it higher but I wasn’t kidding about the loose editing – it bugged.)

DaughterOfSmokeAndBoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (2011, Little,Brown, 422 pages, ebook). This book has been on my TBR quite possibly since it was released 6 years ago. I never could find it (now I know why) and so on my TBR it stayed. Then it was a Deal of the Day and I snagged it, thinking that even if I didn’t like it, I was only out $2. I finally had a break in my reading rotation, and OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS!!! I was immediately sucked in, even though the characters casually strolling through Prague quickly took a spin from quirky novel to fantasy novel, which usually I’m mostly averse to. But because the world was so 3D – I mean, I really felt I was there, seeing every detail, every background character, every everything – I was okay with the blue hair and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-esque characterization of Karou, our main character. She was badass. And her chimerea family added an American Gods/Magic: The Gathering-esque quality on top of everything else. But the storytelling was of the highest caliber, to the point where it killed me to put it down. I was mad I had gone 6 years without knowing what I was missing out on, but then I realized that the entire trilogy is out and so I can fly through it without waiting! WIN! I am so heavily invested in Karou – I don’t know why she isn’t as big as Katniss, honestly. 5 of 5 stars.

WeEatOurOwnWe Eat Our Own, by Kea Wilson (2016, Scribner, 320 pages, eloan). It’s always tough to read something after you finish a book that will be in your top 10 for the year. I tried to go total opposite – We Eat Our Own is about a horror film crew shooting in the middle of the South American jungle, when everything goes awry. The small town may or may not be entirely involved in trafficking drugs and protecting their own, and our nameless main character may not survive. Not because the town is creepy and vampiric and focused only on protecting their own, but because the main character is a soul-less a-hole himself, without a single redeeming characteristic. It was hard to read simply because I didn’t want him to survive. Hmph. 1 of 5 stars.

See? A pretty good week! I’m nearly through with another good book – Always Running – about a man’s life in L.A. and Chicago gangs, and how he tries to get his son to break the cycle. I AM SO GLAD READING ISN’T BROKEN ANY MORE!! Stay tuned for many happy updates.

Still nope.

April 12, 2017

Last night I came home to an empty house. No spazz-monkey waiting for me when I walked in the door. Quiet. Just quiet.

Last night as I was shutting down the house, I moved around the kitchen on autopilot, filling Fenway’s bowls with water and food for the morning. And then it hit me that I wasn’t supposed to. I didn’t have to. No one was going to be impatient for their breakfast.

One of these days the loss won’t hit me like a soccer punch to the gut. But not today.

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Fenway and Julie. This pic is all sunshine and love!

It’s gonna be a little kitsch, but I don’t care.

April 11, 2017

The idea came to me when I was on a run, like all of the best ideas do. I think I had passed a house that had a giant butterfly or two attached to the roof (talk about kitsch), which made me think of our neighbor when we were growing up, Albina.

Albina was like a grandmother to us. She was quiet, and kept to herself, and with our side yard being so big (more than two house lots, but just), it wasn’t like we could throw pleasantries over the fence. So we kids talked to her whenever she was out gardening and we were out playing, and she must have talked to my parents from time to time. I know that when she drove past in her little four-door sedan (with the electric windows that we thought were so. fancy.) and we were outside, she would stop and talk to mum.

Not only did we talk to Albina when she was outside gardening (which seemed like all the time – the woman loved her flowers and plants), she sometimes borrowed me to help her run errands. We go driving around the city, picking up various things. I think she liked the company. She didn’t have any family. So I was her stand-in granddaughter. And I liked that. She always took me to McDonald’s for lunch when we ran errands, and she knew all the best McDonald’s with the coolest outside playgrounds. Even if the “cool” ones were far away, she would take me there. She liked to treat me.

Sometimes the errands we ran included picking up new ceramics from her supplier. Albina ran a ceramics class out of the basement on her side of her duplex. The shelves were lines with unpainted figurines. Everything from bears to kittens to clocks to doll’s heads and hands. Everything! She had shelves and shelves. She had two long tables with chairs and so many jars of paint! And there was a TV and two giant kilns in the corner. It was a wonderland!

For a couple summers, Albina taught Kim and I ceramics two days a week. We’d go over in the afternoon and stay for an hour or so. Albina would pick out a piece for us (or sometimes ask us for ideas) and that’s what we’d work on. We did Care Bear banks, a Holly Hobby clock, a baseball nighlight for Joey, and so many other things. We’d paint whatever section Albina had picked out for us, and we’d use whatever paint she gave us. There wasn’t really a lot of choice involved, but we didn’t mind. And we watched Albina’s show, Days of Our Lives, while we painted. Mum wasn’t very pleased about that, but not enough to say something. I laughed to myself when my roommate in college was addicted to that show and I still knew so many of the characters, just from the short time I spent watching it with Albina.

One of our favorite things about ceramics class, though, was the walk. We’d leave our yard, walk to the end, past the three giant pine trees, and turn onto Beanie’s path. (Beanie is what we called her; she always chuckled so at her nickname!) Once we hit her walkway, Kim and I would start counting the ceramics we saw attached to Beanie’s roof, or the side of her house, or hidden in her garden. There were gnomes and butterflies, kittens and frogs, signs and mushrooms and stepping stones. It was all so magical! Truly, each piece felt like a talisman of some sort.

And so that’s my tribute: I want to start placing nice pieces of ceramics around my gardens, fairy gardens, and house. I want to cover my yard in a tribute to Albina. I’ll try my best to keep it from being too tacky, because I want to capture a little bit of the magic that Beanie’s house had. I think keeping most of the pieces at least partially hidden might be key.

We’ll see. I have an entire yard and house to start decorating. Kitschy or a bit magical – I’ll let you know how it turns out.

A good, good dog.

April 10, 2017

I don’t know how to write about it. Probably because I’m stewing in so much guilt still.

Someone – I think the neighbor kids, while retrieving their dog, but I can’t be sure – left the gate open. When I let Fenway out, not knowing, my sweet, mischievous pup-pup found the open gate, and then escaped. Fenway loves a good adventure.

I tried finding Fenway, driving along the streets, hoping I could tempt her into the car because my goofy dog thinks every car goes to the vet. But I didn’t find her until it was too late. She was hit by a car.

And telling the girls… well…let’s just say we’re never getting a dog again so I never have to go through the particular heartache with them. So many tears! It broke my heart. I can’t even handle my babies with that much grief.

She was a good dog. Yes, you were, Fenway! Who’s a good dog?! She loved hearing that; I can guarantee you her tail is wagging, wherever she is. (And probably there’s a little pee on the carpet.)

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A late-breaking 6th bullet for Friday.

April 7, 2017

One more thing…

6 This trailer for Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of Anne of Green Gables has been released. I think it’s going to be just as I hoped: entirely different, enjoyable, but separate. Like how the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice will always be the “real” one, but I enjoy the Kiera Knightly version from time to time. Go check out the Anne trailer and let me know what you think. (Like how they could have cast a better Gilbert…)

Five for Friday.

April 7, 2017

Morning, all! Is it just me, or did this week fly by? Constant crises will do that, I suppose. A lot was going on. Let’s see what’s still sticking around, what things still need to be told so we can get this Friday started…

1 I maybe have a date tonight. One of the women in my department set me up with one of the doctors she knows – and by doctor, I mean psychiatrist, so this is going to be hilarious. We’ve been texting back and forth every day since last Monday when my friend sent us each other’s number. Tonight, we meet. I’m a little nervous, but not really. I’ve done this first date thing so. many. times.

2 Gracie has been MVP of date prep. (And how odd that my girlies are so old that they can even be That Person for me?!) Since Corrie insisted on moving across the city and couldn’t just run across the street for outfit selection, Gracie watched me model outfits and helped me pick one out, and the jewelry. Then Gracie spent an hour straightening my hair for me last night. My hair looks great! I mean, Gracie did an excellent job! She didn’t burn me, never pulled my hair, knew exactly what she was doing, and we had a blast watching Bones while she worked. And my hair looks fantastic! WIN!!

3 I have been writing up a storm. At least my insomnia is good for that! I wrote 30 pages of one of my stories this week, during the hours I should have been sleeping but couldn’t. At least that is useful?

4 Part of me really wants to read It out loud to the kids. I could skip over the really gross and unnecessary parts. Gracie saw the trailer and I’m trying to talk her into seeing the movie with us. (Well, the second time. I’m seeing it with the stisters and cousins when I go back home for my cousin’s wedding.) She seems reluctant. I think once she meets the Losers, she’ll be all in. Bee might like it even more that Gracie. The problem is, Gracie refuses to read. She’s sucked into 13 Reasons, but won’t read the book. So there’s no way she’ll read It. Unless I read it to her… What do you think? Too over the top?

5 I’m lost in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone world. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that caught me so completely! It’s magical. I feel like I’m standing there, in this world, completely 3D. And not just like I am when I read a book – it’s not just like watching a movie. It’s like I’m there. I can see every building, every strand of fabric, every hair and freckle and crumb of dirt on the background characters. It’s bizarre. And wonderful. I’m kind of mad no one made me read these before.

So there you have it! Today is either going to go by reeeeeealllly slowly or in a blink. To be honest, I’m not sure which I want!

Book Reviews: Pushing through the TrumpSlump.

April 6, 2017

It’s been forever since I’ve done some reviews – mostly because I haven’t been reading as much lately. It’s hard to find motivation when you’re this depressed about the Big Things (like HeWhoShouldNotBePresident) going on.  But I’m at least doing better enough right now to try, so here we go:

EllaMinnowPeaElla Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (2001, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 205 pages, paperback). I found this at my used book store and cackled madly as I set it aside for Christmas this past year. It’s one of my reading twinner’s favorite books; in fact, when pressed (by reading surveys) for her favorite epistolary novel, this is it. [Mine is Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – don’t even have to think about it.] So I was excited to finally have time to read it, which I did in one sitting, in my doctor’s waiting room one afternoon. It was…well…disappointing. I didn’t latch on, like I assumed I would. The basic premise: a letter falls from the status of the town’s founder, who happens to be the person who invented the pangram “The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog,” which clearly means that letter is banished from use. In the criminal sense. There’s an unlikely, insipid romance thrown in, and more letters are banned as they, too, fall. I thought the writing was thin and the characters without value or redemption. It’s the worst when you want so desperately to like something and kind find a single piece to grab on to. 1 1/2 of 5 stars.

StoriesIOnlyTellStories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe (2011, Henry Holt & Co., 320 pages, hardcover). Another fun used book store find; I think I only grabbed it because it was a buck or two and so if it wasn’t my thing (celebrity bios usually aren’t), then I could just bring it back and not really have missed anything. But it was good. I got sucked in as soon as I started reading. The blurb promises that it’s never salacious, just revelatory, but it lied! Or, at least, I thought so. The writing is fun to read, easily-get-at-able, and it goes down quickly, so it’s easy to forgive Lowe’s occasional grandstanding and fake modesty. You had to know what you were picking up when you grabbed a Rob Lowe tell-all. I mean, come on. So if that’s your thing, this is definitely for you. If you’ve enjoyed Rob in anything he’s been in, or you just want a good picture of Hollywood in the 80s, this is a good read. Even if you run into a copy and need some quick, easy entertainment, it’s worth a shot. It’s never boring, but not life-changing either. 3 of 5 stars.

BlackWaveThe Black Wave, by Michelle Tea (2016, City Lights Publishers, 176 pages, ebook). I borrowed this from the library because it was part of the Tournament of Books longlist (and then final brackets!), but had high expectations after I read it was about a druggie writer who holes up and cleans up in San Francisco when it’s revealed the world will end in a year. Apocalyptic fiction for the win! Except not. This novel was kind of a hot mess. Because the protag is also kind of (but not really) the author in a honey-leave-that-to-Dave-Eggers kind of way. I couldn’t quite tell which way was up at times, and while I know it was druggy and trippy and kind of on purpose, that really isn’t my cuppa tea. It can work at times, under some circumstances, but it’s like Tea didn’t have an structure or form there for all the deviations and freestylin’ that was going on. So: nope. This isn’t BYOStructureAndMeaning. 2 of 5 stars.

HighDiveHigh Dive, by Jonathan Lee (2016, Knopf, 336 pages, ebook). Another library loan taken up for the Tournament of Books. This was one of the better books in the finals; a tale of an assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher via a bomb planted in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where she was to stay. I loved the characterization; everyone was drawn so well. Dan’s backstory with the IRA was compelling, Freya’s bemoaning of her life less so, but her dad’s life at the hotel made up for it. I love how Lee took what could have been a political thriller and used it to deconstruct who and why – a character study – of people on the brink of these “high dives”, these huge, momentous points of action in our life. Are they dives? Were they pushed? Could they get back down the ladder or was it swarming with kids waiting for their own turns? It did drag in places, but not for long. 3 of 5 stars.

GriefGrief Is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter (2016, Faber & Faber, 114 pages, ebook). Another library loan for the Tournament of Books. This was a delightfully twisted and grim(m) fairy tale type of story, one that focuses on children (check), whose mother has died at a young age (check), and is then raised by Crow, a trickster figure. It was…a dark story. Crow gave me the heebie jeebies. I’ll take Mary Poppins, thanks! But it was gorgeously written, exposing all the different steps forward and back the sons, the dad, and even Crow, take in questioning whether you can “simply” move-on after a loved one has died. WICKED TRIGGER WARNINGS if grief is a thing. Uh…obviously. It’ll either be your cuppa tea, or it won’t. It will either help immensely after you’ve lost, or it won’t. But I have to say that it was a well-told tale. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

So there you have it. Right now I’m reading a pretty good crime thriller, and also flying through Daughters of Smoke and Bone, which I’m kind of mad no one told me about before. It’s kind of like American Gods meets Dark Tower meets Magic: The Gathering. But way better than that because that sounds so odd and particular! We’ll see if I can think of a better analogy before I have to review it.

In which I finally caved and said yes.

April 4, 2017

I had A Day with Miss Gracie yesterday. It was one of those golden days that I’m sure I’ll look back on a hundred times later.

It didn’t even start out all that extraordinary. I picked her and M. up from school. I dropped of M. and got Bee-girl from After-Care. The coordinator there loaded us up with cookies and desserts they had leftover from Panera – it pays to be a nice parent, you guys. And while we were driving, I told Gracie about my crazypantsbananatown day, and she told me about all the drama going down at her school. Something about a text-storm at 4 a.m. [good lord – yeah, if that continues, the phone is outta there] and then a bunch of smack being talked about her at school. I listened as baby girl told me all about it, and agreed (mostly) with how poised her responses were. Gracie’s doing fine. I’m parenting fine. All is well. …At least on that front. …For now.

Our evening…meh. It seemed pretty average. Bee had a headache, so she laid down for awhile. Gracie did her normal just-got-home things: played with the dog, changed into comfy clothes, texted all her friends. Told me more about all the drama. In fact, I remember quite a bit of her following me around as I tried to transition out of my day. Earrings were getting shucked, shoes getting put away, hair pulled back. Finally I told her I was changing and just stopped caring if she was in the room. Tell you what – as soon as I unbuttoned my slacks, that girl was gone.

We had a good dinner (shrimp scampi and salmon and garlic button croissants. And pretend we had a veggie) and the girls and I laughed our way through some household chores. And it was Bee who came and hung out with me in my room and watched TV with me; she and I started putting together the Ghostbuster’s Ecto-1 Lego car. But then it was bedtime and Bee went to bed without a fuss (because: headache earlier) and I made Gracie come entertain me while I cleaned the kitchen. So I rinsed dished and loaded the dishwasher and recycled 93284032 cans and wiped the counters and cleaned the sink and checked on my pet ants, all while Gracie told me stories and more about her day. It made me think of when my mom would be cleaning the kitchen and ask me to entertain her. It’s a good way to sneak in some bonding time.

I should have sent her to bed after the kitchen was clean. But the wiseass I raised kept trying to convince me that we should flop down on my (comfy, comfy) bed and talk or watch Bones instead of cleaning. So I told her we could hang out in my room for a bit. She immediately flopped down on the bed and started making herself comfy while I got ready for the next day, picking out outfits and jewelry. Then I got the grand idea of letting Gracie help me to game out my outfit for my date on Friday. She adjusted a few things and I went with her decision, so we’ll see how it plays out. In between all of that, Gracie took alllllll the selfies. I’m sorry, World: there are no selfies left. Gracie took them all last night. Sheesh.

That’s when the begging began. About just staying right there and sleeeeeeeeping. I can count the number of times that child has slept in my bed, and two of them were after times she ended up in the trauma hospital.

I can’t believe I gave in.

I know the girl kicks in her sleep. No one wants to sleep with her on vacation because we know she is a restless sleeper, she snores, she drools, and she kicks. And coughs! I made the girl get up and take some cough medicine. God, I was tired by that point, but she thought it was Christmas morning, getting to sleep on the NASA technology mattress she’s in love with. Lights went off. And then the moving began. Over and then the other way, and shuffle this way, and that arm… It was a nightmare! I put a hand on Gracie’s upper arm. Told her rather firmly to stay still (because the girl was out – dang, she can sleep!) and she stopped.

So I did get some sleep after all. My little girl is growing up so fast, it’s nice to have those moments – or an afternoon of moments – while we can. Even if those mean I have to deal with a bonkers teenager who sleeps like monkeys are jumping on the bed.