April 26, 2017

Dear sweet baby girl,

I always get rather emotional on your birthday, but this year, this year that you officially, formally, instistantly become a teenager, I am even more of a loving, teary-eyed mess than usual. I can’t believe I get to be your mom. I can’t remember life before children, and I can’t remember why anyone would try. Being a mother isn’t my entire reason for being, but being the mom of you and your sister is by far the most important piece of me. It’s what I love the most. And that you were my first baby seems to be the rightest and truest thing that has ever happened to me.

You’re exactly what the universe decided I needed, my own special gift. A pain in the ass, sure, but a gift all the same. And I can’t even tease you too much about your teenagery, sarcastic, over-achieving, lazy, helpful, eager-to-please, confident, anxious, full-of-laughter, loyal, football-crazy self because, well, I sort of nudged you in that direction, didn’t I? You’re my mini-me, which helps (I hope) in helping me parent you. But I hope it doesn’t hurt too much. I am always trying to do my best by you because you exceed my every hope, sweetheart. You still seem to be so many steps ahead of me, funnier, smarter, braver, YOU-er than I could ever have hoped. It makes me want to smoosh those cheeks and embarrass you with how much I love you (truly, it makes me shriek with laughter every time you [mostly] jokingly “MOMMMEEEEEE!!!!!” whineyell at me, when I jokingly [mostly] go too far); and it makes me want to throttle you, too, at times, when all my knowledge (because: mini-me!) doesn’t give me any advantage at all. Because for all that you’re my mini-me, you are wonderfully, gloriously, wicked awesomely your very own person, Gracie-girl. And you’re stubborn, so you ain’t budging off being exactly who you are!

I’ve been stricken dumb, so often, during this past year, as I watch you grow and mature, and robbing me of my words isn’t easy to do. You continue to keep track of your own school work, study schedule, and homework. I might ask, as part of engaging you about your day, but I don’t double check. I don’t think you’ve required that since second grade! You have surprised us all with your progress in tennis (you joke as much as any of us at the idea of you and physical coordination belonging in the same sentence), but haven’t really entertained the idea of entering into any of the competitions – and given your proclivity to enter into and join everything else, I’m grateful for that! What hasn’t surprised me is your domination in band. You’re second chair in percussion and the feminist in you loves bragging that first chair is the only other girl in your section. You’re consistently asked to perform some of the trickier parts during performances, and the first thing you comment on afterwards, when I catch up with you, is the one part where you think you messed up: ever the perfectionist.

It’s funny, seeing which of those pieces (like the perfectionist at school) remain the same, and which parts of you are evolving. You were so quick to say yes when your crush asked you out, after for so long expounding on how you weren’t dating until high school. Ha! You’re quick to help out when I really need you to (putting away groceries without being asked, taking care of chores when I don’t feel well, offering to take care of Bee’s chores when she has a migraine); offering to pay for so many of your own expenses now that you have an allowance; coordinating all the details for transportation, etc., when you and your friends want to go somewhere and you need rides. In fact, watching your social life blossom and evolve has been one of the more intriguing and reassuring aspects of this past year. You are fiercely loyal, but you know what is Drama and what is Worth Working Through. There are a few exceptions, but you are still doing an excellent job of picking out good people to add to your village. I might make good on my threat of taking away your phone at night if I hear about any more 2 a.m. text-capades, but I get that you thought you were being there for a friend during a critical time. What makes me trust your judgement is that you don’t have any time for drama. You don’t like making scenes. You don’t like being subjected to gossip or getting shafted. You won’t stand for unfair behavior too many times. You’ll go to the end of the earth for your friends (and twice as far for The Boyfriend), and you’ll hand out chances, but only so many. I like that. It makes me feel like you’ve been listening. Like when you bop me on the arm (our accepted consequence) and lecture me when I call myself an idiot (for whatever reason). You know I won’t stand for you doing it, and you’re sorting out when to hold me to the same benchmarks. And I let you, because how else will you learn? And it does do my heart good to see that you’re taking it all in, baby girl.

There are other ways teenagerdom is settling in for you. You were never really one for keeping your room ship-shape, but GOOD LORD, GIRL. Cinderella’s woodland creatures who could tidy an entire house in the blink of an eye would keel over dead if they saw your room. It takes it a couple do-overs before I don’t keel over! And I’m not that fastidious! You’ve adapted well to my recent decision to ditch cable, but what you do miss is football…and awards shows. Like the Oscars, the Grammys, and that sort of thing. I remember getting all twirled up in it when I was in junior high, so there’s still hope for you, sweetheart! (And even if you continue to enjoy them, I promise to allow you to be your own person, no matter how ridiculous I think those shows are.)

And that’s what I find most encouraging about this past year: even as you grow up, even when we disagree and have those types of fights that everyone’s warned me comes with raising a teenager, we always find our way back to being okay. We both have Irish tempers that might need to cool off first, but you’re good at knowing who you are, Gracie. You’re good at putting your feelings into words, and expressing yourself and your perspective. You’re good at explaining why you were fighting, and apologize when it’s called for. And you’re not too proud to share that with those who matter. You know that family matters.

And I hope you know how much you matter to me.

I love you, Gracie-girl. More than any birthday letter can say. And I always will.

Love,
Mom

In which all the shenanigans are afoot.

April 25, 2017

It would be a good, good week if it wasn’t so unnaturally quiet. The girls are off on a mini-vacation. Their stepmom had plans to visit her sister this past weekend in Houston, and since they were going to be in the area, Stepmom and the Ex asked if they could hold the girls out of school a few days so they could spend a few days in Galveston. They rented a condo and have gone on dolphin tours, held sandcastle competitions, and scored sunburns so bad I’m not even excited anymore that they’re going to peel. (Because: ouch!)

I miss my girls terribly, but that means I’ve had time to do some planning of my own. Because the girls will be home for one day tomorrow – a teeny, tiny day in which Gracie turns thirteen (!), and I become a mom to a teenager (!!) – and then we snag Auntie Kim from the airport and she and Bee-girl and I zoom down to San Antonio for another mini-vacation! See? SHENANIGANS!

Kim is delivering a presentation at a conference, and so the plan was for me to make the five-hour drive, steal one of the extra beds, goof off with Kim, and drive back, all refreshed. Corrie was going to come with, which would be handy when dealing with all of the driving directions (I still haven’t gotten my glasses fixed), and also the tedium of a five-hour drive, but she’s out of town on two separate week-long work trips this month, and she’d rather not get kicked out of her house. So rather last minute, Kim and I arrived at – what if the girls came?

It’s terrible timing. Missing almost a week of school? Unheard of! We don’t do that! But, as my Ex put it: it’s not every day your daughter turns 13! And I’m not going to have many opportunities for a “free” vacation. Bee could bunk with me in my bed, and we could grab a cot for Gracie. It’d work out great! Also, Gracie’s an excellent navigator! So I took a deep breath and checked with their dad to see if he’d wig out if I pulled them from school and got the green light. Only one problem: Gracie didn’t wanna go.

See, she’s a regional finalist for the Big Idea competition. She proposed a health-based community center/retail shop for diabetics – one stop shopping where they could buy groceries, get recipes, get a check-up, work out with the supervision of health professionals, and find a “village” of other people with the same health issues. Because Gracie’s the oldest, and because she was only 4 years old when her dad and I separated, she’s known for a long time about what living with diabetes means. I used to drill her about what to do if she and Bee were alone with their dad and he had a hypoglycemic seizure or he wouldn’t wake up or was acting confused. She’s channeled all of that into an interesting health center – she even thought about adding “halfway housing” for people who were recently diagnosed with Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes and needed help adjusting to a drastically new lifestyle. We won’t know whose idea wins the grand prize until the awards ceremony – which is early afternoon on Saturday. And even if I could convince the district to tell me if I shouldn’t move heaven and earth to get her there, Gracie said she wanted to go either way. “It’d be a great experience!” she said. I hate when my daughter is more responsible than me.

So Gracie is staying with her dad, and Bee and I will be adventuring to San Antonio. I’ll get some one-on-one time with Bee-girl, and still have a navigator for the ride home. (This will be a big test for Bee-girl. She’s a little flighty; I hope it works out with us home safe and sound and not by way of Louisiana.) Bee is wicked excited! Kim’s colleague told us about a wicked candy shop that’s near our hotel, and Kim discovered our hotel has a heated pool on the roof. And somewhere in my texting all of that to Bee, she thought the pool was on the roof of the candy store and possibly that Kim’s conferences were in Hogsmeade?

It shall be a grand adventure, even without the literal magic. And who knows – with Bee helping me find my way back home, we might end up in the magical back alleys of England. Who knows what shenanigans we’ll fall into with that one in charge!

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!