Still First

Twenty-five years.  I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it.  Even after celebrating your 25 years as an active-duty soldier, the idea that we have now been married for that amount of time still boggles my mind.

Two and a half decades.  DECADES!!

Amazing, huh?

We were so damned young. On the surface of it, we really had very little going for us – neither of us had any education past high school, neither of us had spent any time living on our own.  You were a baby Private First Class in the Army, and I had a scholarship at the University.  We had potential; oh, we had such great potential.  But it was feared our plans to get married would derail a lot of that potential.

That’s what we were told.

The simultaneous facts that I was newly pregnant with Big G (surprise!) and that we hadn’t talked to our parents at length about how serious we were in our relationship probably did not help matters.

We were told by some that we wouldn’t last five years.  Some thought I would never finish school.  Some figured we would be destitute and miserable.

But you know what?  We weren’t. We aren’t.

My G, you’re still first.

All these years later, you’re still the first I want to laugh with. When I see something funny at a store, or I come across a hilarious bumper sticker on the road – you are the first one I want to tell.  I sometimes can’t wait to share the laughter with you.

You’re still the first I need to hurt with.  When our girls have gone through struggles of their own, you are the one I turn to for help.  I know you will understand that my mother’s heart is hurting, and you offer a shoulder even as your father’s heart aches too.  When the Army has offered us another “challenge,” I’ve known I could turn to you.  I know I can lean into your warmth, grow stronger, and then we can forge ahead together.  If work or friendships or other situations go sour, I know I can turn to you.  Even when you’ve been 7,000 miles away – you’ve been the first.

You’re the first I need to rejoice with, too.  When I got that interview for a dream job, or something went fabulously, ridiculously well, you’re there to share the joy. I know you feel gladness simply because I am rejoicing.  Your eyes sparkle and your smile welcomes me to share.

You’re the first I need to help me decide.  When there are big decisions about work, or family, or future, I turn to you to help bounce the ideas around.  You don’t just say what I want to hear; sometimes, in fact, you say exactly what I do not want to hear.  You say what’s real.

More than twenty-five years ago, we saw potential in each other.  We looked at our friendship, felt a spark flare up, and thought “Yeah, we can make it work.”  We wanted what was best for each other, and decided we would put each other first.

Twenty-five years ago this month, we committed to each other first.  First before friends, first before family, and quite often, first before self.

Here’s to 25 more years of “firsts”.

 

First

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This Too Shall Pass

 

The other day, I thought to myself, “This too shall pass.” But not for the reasons you might be thinking. At that precise moment, I was walking with two coworkers and we were laughing after a terrific day of teamwork and humor. We had been swamped with clients but we all pitched in and the day ended up on a wonderful high note.

We remind ourselves that hard times are temporary –

Bad day at work?
Deployment?
Hangnail?

This too shall pass.

There’s a flip side to it, however, that we sometimes lose in the day to day. Good times will pass also.

Great day with your kids?
Relationship hitting all the right notes?
Hair looks amazing?

This too shall pass.

We are told in the book of Peter that we shouldn’t “think it strange” when we are in fiery troubles, and there is great peace in remembering that the fire shall pass. But we are also told, in James, not to boast about tomorrow because the plans are not ours, but God’s.

When things are good, sometimes we forget to be thankful. We forget to take a moment and soak in the moments of joy, focusing on the well-being. We forget, until the hard times come and we have to shore up against them.

This was made abundantly clear to me over the last month or so. At work, things had been really rocky. There were some relationship issues and some other factors that made daily work very difficult. During that time, I relied on God to change things – I knew something had to give, and the difficulties wouldn’t last forever. As I told a coworker, “Something has to give.”

Something changed. Our team realigned and the difficulties were resolved. There is a lot of laughter in our group again, and we are able to provide much better service to our clients. At the same time this changed at work, things at home were really positive and happy as well.

This too shall pass, right?

Fast forward to today – work is still amazing. Home life is in a happy rhythm only slightly broken by the welcome visit by The Folks.

But my mom is in the hospital. A thousand miles from here. I believe she is getting terrific care, and I will go to her when she is ready for my help, but she is sick and I worry for her. I find myself distracted and somewhat exhausted, wondering when I should go, how I can help, and dealing with logistical details so she doesn’t have to worry about them.
And then a quiet voice reminds me, as it did during the happy laughter last week –

This too shall pass.

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(P.S.) – This did pass.  My mom is back at her house, with appropriate meds and home health care available.  And all I can do is smile.

 

Rules for Parenting the Half-Grown

I have a group of Mom friends who all have children my Little G’s age. We met online when we were all pregnant with these kids, and 16 years later we are still “together”.  Many of us have met in “real life” but our “pretend friendship” is strong even among those of us we’ve not met in person.

From these Moms I have learned to be a better parent.  As I began writing some rules for parenting these half-grown kids, I turned to Shannon and then to the rest of our group.  The rules that follow are an amalgamation of what we came up with.

Rules

Remember these things –

The fact that you will miss her desperately is not her responsibility nor her burden to bear.  It is yours alone. Learn to live with this.  This is where adults have to adult and kids still get to be kids, even for just a little while longer.

The fact that you are realizing that your time with her is passing faster and faster is also not anything she should be worried about.  Cry and mourn away from her, don’t add parental guilt to her already drama filled life of teenage angst and agony.

If she asks to do something with you, say yes.  She most likely won’t ask again.

This will be your loss, but her gain – remember this is a time that should be filled with joy for her as she looks forward to being on her own.

Don’t cling.

Do let her cling occasionally, but know it won’t last long. She may want to bounce things off of you; are you OK listening and NOT always giving advice? Learn how.

Go ahead and schedule time with her, and set up activities with her, but realize she has her own activities and interests.  You will regret not doing so.  Time is at a premium now.  She has friends and ‘important’ life things going on and you will have to fit into her schedule, so book time NOW.

The number one thing she needs from you right now is the security to spread those wings and the privacy and independence in order to do so.

But, she may falter at the edge of the nest.  She may change her mind 80 times.  Listen to her and believe in her decisions every time, even though it is hard each and every one of those times. It’s the 81st time you get to celebrate her, when she flies. (Remember to add a little mental kudo for yourself, since it is because you reinforced her independence that she flew!)

Add the assurance that you will be there when she falls to the ground – because she will.  These are fledgling wings, and not yet as strong as she thinks they are.  It’s OK.  (Remember, those same wings are also not as weak as you may be afraid they are.)

Be her soft place to fall.  You aren’t her parachute or her helicopter, but you are the solid person who has always been there to catch her.  She may ask for that – be willing to hear her, and if possible, occasionally, blow up the airbag for her landing.

You will doubt yourself.  You will make mistakes.  You are now realizing how many mistakes you’ve made over the years – she is not your therapist and is it not up to her to help you fix those mistakes.  Acknowledge, accept, move on. You may need a therapist, but don’t use your child as your ear or shoulder. She needs yours, but you can’t have hers.

Tomorrow is a new day, and today is one day closer to her being grown – you don’t have time for the awkward, doubting, nay-saying voice in your head.  Push it out and soak her in.

Remember hearing “the days are long but the years are short” when she was tiny?  The years are growing shorter and shorter – remember to enjoy them.  Take photos, but enjoy her live and in person more.

You never started that day journal for her.. . but it’s not really too late.  Maybe not daily but jot down those happy moments because they are things to share with her kids later (if she has them). They will remind you when you need it how wonderful it was to have her home.

Let them fail. Let them figure things out for themselves and choose their own path. We can teach, guide and support but we need to let go. It is NOT easy but it is necessary.

The irony has not escaped me that I, who did not even cry when our first went to kindergarten, am now struggling so much with the little one spreading those wings. I’ve even done this before – Little G is our second to fly from the nest.  I realize it’s a little ridiculous, but I am sometimes too overwhelmed by the sheer emotions to do anything except acknowledge, accept, and move on.

There is a big world out there, which scares and excites you for her.  Remember, that world is waiting for you to spread your wings again, too!  This time older, wiser, and with a fully grown person who you have offered to the wild. Good job!

(Many thanks to Anne, Gay, Jill, Kris, Kristin, Laura, Leanna, Linda, Melissa, Pam, Penny, Sarah, Shannon, and Trish.  And, because we will always miss her – Tabatha.)

 

 

 

Unpacking

 

From this:

Why we have separate closets

Thank you, Betsy.

 

To this:

Army unpacking

Thank you, Amy of AWW. (The beer is the best touch.)

And eventually this (tucked away):

Army packed

Thank you, Kelly of AWW. (We won’t keep this much.)

 

There has been a lot of packing and unpacking in our household over the years – packing to move across the country once we got married, packing for moves, packing for gunnery/NTC/field time…  Packing for deployments, for Korea, for extended TDY…

There is a certain emotional component to packing up the gear that I’ve learned to accept, acknowledge, and then just sort of shelve in my mind.  Set it aside – as My G puts it, “Build a bridge and get over it.”  Other spouses have echoed my dread for the days when the duffels come out and the gear vomits across the household in so much green/brown splendor.

However, how often do we acknowledge the unpacking?  How often do we look at the changes that have occurred during the “trip” (so to speak)?  Whether it’s a move across the country or a deployment across the world – or even a field exercise numbering in the days – there are things that happen during those journeys that sometimes go unregistered or unnoticed.  We put away the socks, we launder the gear, we find homes for any new stuff.  Over time, though, the unnoticed and unacknowledged emotions and events start to build up and create a cluttery mess inside our minds, where it is most difficult to resolve.

As we reach single digits in our countdown to My G’s signing that beloved (and somewhat scary) DD214, there is a lot of unpacking going on.  His gear is turned in, but our closet, shed, and garage corners all have the leftover bits and pieces that have accumulated over these 25 years.   A glove here, an extra uniform piece there – mox-nix stuff here and there of little value but that still has to be taken care of and put away.  And as we…ok, as he goes about figuring out what is worth keeping, what is trash, and what can be shared with others, we are also looking at the last 25 years and making choices about the intangible things too.

At night, his brain is unpacking memories it had long stuffed away – soldiers today have huge numbers of sleep disturbances, because eventually these things have to be dealt with.

In conversations, we are acknowledging the loss of time with his girls and together, the lack of deeper connection to extended family, and the loss of health and changes to his body that the Army has wrought.

All of it- unpacking.

Long-term Army spouses have long recognized that even joyous homecomings can usher in some mixed feelings.  There is a cost to everything the Army asks of us, and disregarding that truth doesn’t change it.  While this is a “homecoming” that is filled with just as much joy as all the others, it is also a time of great change and future-planning.  In order to make space for the new things we get to experience, it is time for us to unpack some of the old.

We are unpacking memories and frustrations and joys and sorrows that have been piling in the corners of our hearts for many years.  Heartaches and hurts and yes, even petty grievances lurk in the corners of our emotions and we have to figure out how to clean it out and start anew.  After so much time, our hearts are beginning to look like those well-worn duffels that he just recently turned in!  We’re both a little battered, a little bruised, but also reinforced by things like acceptance, joy, stolen moments, gratitude, and even duty.

This month, we unpack.  We clean, we dust, we mend and we make decisions about what to keep.  This next journey is one we choose.

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This one was by far the best and worst I’ve seen. When My G went to Korea, our garage was nearly this bad. Whew.

Filling Buckets

This week, we’ve all just been running on empty.  Full of the wrong things, maybe, as we try to just get through like we are driving to the gas station with the light on and praying the car doesn’t die.  Our tanks depleted, we’ve neglected laughter and “please” and “thank you” and just felt oh-so empty.

But starting last night, we began doing some things to fill ourselves back up.  A few years ago I read a book called “How Full Is Your Bucket” and it talks about how we can’t really do much for anyone if our buckets (our hearts) are feeling empty or worn out.  It mentions ways to fill out buckets, and ways we can help other people with their buckets as well.

It’s a great book.

The things we’ve done have been small ones, but they’ve helped a lot.  Maybe these ideas will help someone else who is running on empty and needs a little laughter, sunlight, or warmth.

I sat outside in the afternoon sun, feeling the breeze and enjoying the flowers we’ve planted.  A little Vitamin D can go a long way after a horrible long day.

We let our big boy Jack out so he could get some sun (and a good brush).  Hearing him purr and watching him hop-skip-jump to catch moths is a singular pleasure.

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My G got the last 2 pudding cups out of the fridge for us, topped them with some whipped cream, and we had dessert.  Just us.

A coworker was having a rough week and her birthday is coming up – I got to be a part of making her day really special and memorable.  Buckets – filled!

More sun, more flowers – madly thriving purple iris are the last of our beds to bloom and they make an impression that lasts.

 

This post – I love this blogger and the way she writes so much.  Today’s post was just golden.  The lady in 18F had great advice for parents of teenagers.

An apology from my boss, to all of us, for a misunderstanding.  Do you realize how rare it is for bosses to apologize for, really, anything?

Quiet laughter, good food, Lego minifigures (even though I didn’t get the Queen)…  My bucket feelss a lot more ready to take on the world now.

What can you do to fill your bucket today?   Or fill someone else’s?

 

 

 

Never a Good Time for Goodbye

There are times that every pet owner dreads, and today was one of them. Precious was nearly 17, had thyroid issues and some form of kitty dementia on top of tummy issues and possibly kidney failure. His dementia was probably the worst of his issues, but he also suffered from arthritis due to his special-ness.  Today, we did the humane and the right and the appropriate thing – and said goodbye.

Today, tonight, my G and I will wrestle with doubt and guilt and questions because even if it was “time,” this is quite possibly the hardest and worst thing that can be asked of us.

Let me tell you a little bit about Precious, our sweet old man. He was born to a pure white Mama kitty who belonged to our across-the-street neighbors when Big G was just 6 years old. All of the kittens were white, and we saw them before their eyes even opened. Precious, a boy, was named by this family’s 9-year-old daughter. He had what the vets later called a “radial dysgenesis,” meaning his radial bone grew over his elbow and curved around his foreleg. His toes on that foot were merged, so he had fewer than the norm. Before we had him declawed (for medical purposes), his claws grew wildly, curling around those pink toes. His eyes were the purest mint green, and his fur was rabbit-soft and long. The tips of his ears were pink as the finest shell.  Precious ran like a rabbit, hopping and catching himself on that bad foot – he ran faster than any of our other cats have.  Visitors would always comment on him, both because of his limp and because of his beauty.

Precious has always been my husband’s cat. My G brought him to us the first time, having heard about the kittens after visiting with our neighbors. He carried Precious in  his Army soft cap, curled up tiny as could be and too small to be away from his Mama kitty for very long. We later brought him home to stay, trusted with his care by this sweet family, in that same cap.  Precious would sleep in my husband’s sandal, face scrunched under the top strap. He did this until he was too big to fit, but always had a special bond with the man who loved him first.

It had to be my G’s decision, this last trip. And for that reason, maybe it took a little longer than it would have for me to make this choice – I’ve been down that lonely road, bringing home an empty cat carrier or pet blanket. My G has not. This is a hard thing, to purposefully, deliberately, and finitely affect something in such a way. It is so final. We prayed he’d pass away peacefully in his sleep, but cats are not known for doing things the easy way. Despite knowing it was the right choice and the humane act, it is still an impossible decision and for that reason we have taken many months to come to this day.

Precious was always a noisy cat, meowing  his welcome and calling to us if he got lonely. Part of his illness included an inability to settle, and a confusion that would result in more cries, more yowls.  When his thyroid went bananas, he would cry like a newborn babe and wake even my half-deaf self from a full sleep.  The house is quiet now, despite my attempts to fill it with dishwasher noise and music and other things. It’s quiet, because no one is letting us know their deep hunger/confusion/loneliness/restlessness. Never has quiet been quite so loud.

As I’ve said, I’ve been down that road before and returned with my arms empty. My cat was the first to go, then Big G’s, then my mother’s dog. When hard times repeat themselves, such as deployments or death or decisions that hurt – they don’t get easier for the repetition. Each time builds on the one before, so the grief is huge and fresh inside us. The scars overlap, and reopen wounds we worked hard to close. Tonight’s pain is dark, and heavy.

Today we went down that road together, though, and we returned home together. Little G used her love language of acts of service, and helped take care of some of the cleaning details that come with having a pet who was ill. We came home to a fresh house, cookies that she saved for us, and the knowledge that we would get through this. One thing that is true about going through hard times, is that we learn how to manage our grief. We learn how to push through, how to hold tight, and how to keep fresh and dear the memories of those we’ve lost.

Tonight I am remembering Precious, of the noisy meow and the fierce insistence that he could do anything and go anywhere any other cat could go. I will remember his sweet soft fur, his funny messed-up foot, his surprisingly strong purr. I will laugh at how he used to bite My G’s toes under the covers, and I will think of his first night home with us when he could not sleep so I cuddled with him on the couch. I will remember his first purr that night, and the fat little kitten tummy he had. I will imagine him with my cat, whom he loved. I will picture him at peace.

 

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And it will both hurt and heal to remember it all.

 

 

 

Traditions

One of the first things that people note about the military is that there is a rich history, full of ritual and tradition. The uniforms, the medals, the salutes and ceremonies.  Ah, don’t we all just love a man in uniform, after all?

Thanks to my friend R, I have learned even more about Army tradition. There are certain colors that should be worn to balls and other formal events, depending on the type of unit (cavalry, infantry, etc). The colors of the roses that are given to the spouses (formerly always female) also mattered, as well as the numbers of the roses that were presented. R could tell you all about these things, and heaven help the unit that doesn’t keep with tradition if she is a part of it.

I’ll admit that I have enjoyed many aspects of this Army life over the years. The snappy salutes, the traffic-stopping respectful  pause when Retreat is played on post…  I love that the National Anthem is played before every movie on post, I love that there are right and wrong ways to wear uniforms, and I love the spit and polish of “what right looks like”.

However. And you probably knew that was coming, huh?

The Army has a way of making it impossible to have firm, or sometimes even repeatable family traditions of any kind. We are really good at keeping dates flexible (Christmas Day in January? Sure, why not?  Valentine’s Day date the day after “Christmas”?  Well, ok to that too.)  But sometimes it is easier or even necessary to let a day slip past and softly mourn a little bit as we just get on with life. Sometimes, the traditions we would like to keep are those that are lost the soonest.

This year, My G was home for the second Valentine’s in a row – which never, never happens. From the time we were married, he has been at Gunnery, STX, NTC in California, deployed, in Korea, on TDY (temporary duty not earlier named), in the field for something other than Gunner or STX, or simply not home because the unit had stuff going on.  We joke that the Army hates our birthdays, our anniversary, and Valentine’s especially. One memorable year on Valentine’s, he received orders to Korea that changed our entire retirement plan – so romantic.

We have had absolutely no romantic tradition, no way to consistently touch base with each other just to remember romance or even friendship. We’ve had date nights (thank God for friends who have loved our kids), we’ve had time that we’ve grabbed together when kids were at school and we had unexpected time off, we’ve had the odd lunch together. We’ve created that time – but really, no tradition at all. Not just for us.

Our Christmas traditions are always ones that can be done without my husband, without the girls’ father.  Viewing the lights, making Christmas mints, hanging stockings.  No matter what house we have or where he is, there are things that “we’ve always done” but that usually have been created by us and that include him when they can.

There’s a certain sadness to that.

This year, the thought occurred to me that we might be able to really create and keep some traditions now. This post-Army life may, depending on our individual career choices, offer more tradition than we’ve ever been able to enjoy before. It’s been a long time coming, and it feels tinged with a little bit of bittersweet.  Some family traditions are meant to be created when the children are young, so they become part of the family foundation when the kids are older or when they bring home their own families. Some family traditions seemingly build upon each other like bricks, forming safe barriers against the world outside.

But here we are, heading into a new life. Kids are older, so are we, and some things have passed their golden time. Our foundations of tradition are, perhaps, not as strong as in other families – but they are there.  And now, perhaps a little hesitantly and unsteadily, we are able to consider what we’d like for this post-Army family of ours. And what traditions we want to create, keep, and cobble together from all that we’ve seen and lived through before.

For us, the first step came this year on Valentine’s Day – or, actually, the day before. Everything is too busy the “big day,” so last year we went out to breakfast together on the 13th.  This year, we did the same. And as we made our plans, as we realized the Army was not going to be able to call him away this time (or ever again), there was a bright flicker of something besides romance in our eyes –

Hope.

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A neat little sign I hung in my work cubicle.

 

 

 

 

The Slings and Arrows of a Teenage Girl

I’ve heard that it can be easier to raise boys during the teenage years, and watching most of my friends with their sons leads me to suspect this might be true. While boys are rowdy and dangerous and slightly smelly during their little-kid years, our daughters took baths and read books and held our hands as we shopped together. Boys – got into the margarine and the baby powder and ran out into traffic. Girls – talked our ears off and dealt with school-yard drama on a daily basis.

Now those same boys play sports or instruments and write sweet notes to their long-suffering mothers, and those of us with daughters have only begun our journey into the true slings and arrows of parenthood. These years, ages 13-18, can be the most harrowing and uniquely painful to mothers of girls.

Why do I say that? I firmly believe that anyone with a teenage daughter has felt the sting, the pang, the outright onslaught of emotion. There is distrust, there is fiery passion, there is insolence and sometimes panicky rage. And all of that just before bedtime! Both our daughters have felt a new breath of energy and emotion just as we are ready to go to sleep.

And then there are days when I find coffee, freshly prepared and ready for me, plus a little note and smiley face. There are days we laugh together at the same show, or we turn up the volume on a song we both love. Raising a teenage daughter is a whiplash ride on a teeter-totter, and neither of us is truly in control.

Offers of help can be met with suspicion, or accepted with great thanks and appreciation. Cat-like, they sweetly gather close to us – then (metaphorically or literally) hiss and dart away. Perhaps because I have been so close to both of our girls, maybe due to the military’s fickle willingness to allow us to all live together, this is especially painful. The ties are closer, the bond is stronger, and this is the time during which she must tear away and find her own identity and separateness from us.

And oh, Lord, sometimes it really hurts. The occasional snide disdain, the glance of “who are you?”, the casual shoulder-shrug that says “don’t touch me” – these are the ‘thousand natural shocks’ that Hamlet described. Like abuse victims, we hang in there during the rough moments because we have such faith that the sweeter days are just around the corner. Sometimes, the sweeter times follow on just moments after the barb is fired!

This is our second time around with the outrageous swing and fall of raising a teenage girl. With Big G, our difficult times began earlier, but also seemed to be less passionately negative. Maybe my memory glosses it over. We loved her through it, and then as she began transforming into her own funny and unique self again, we loved (and liked) her more. This time around is both more difficult and yet somehow easier than before – though the road is rough and the weather unpredictable, we have a feeling for what is on the other side of the journey if we can but hang on long enough to endure the ride.

I think about my mother’s blessing, that is also a curse, wishing my children were just like me.  Some days I think this girl is my reward, and other days my penance.  I am reminded of Hamlet’s frustrations with Ophelia, too: ‘Nymph, in thy orisons. Be all my sins remembered’.  All my sins?  Am I to pay for them this way?

Then the day changes, and a new morning comes.  There is a coffee cup with “Mom” and a smiley.  Or she has rocked an audition and flies through her day.  Or there is some sign of the little girl we loved, the woman she will be, and we remember this is a journey and not a destination.  We don’t get stuck in teenager-ville forever.  This too shall pass.

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Thinking Thursday: Halloween

This Saturday is Halloween, and I am looking so forward to seeing all the little costume-clad visitors at our door.  In years past, this was one of my few “decorating holidays,” and the girls would help me decorate inside and out. Spiders, black cats, ghosts and goblins – they were everywhere we’d look.

Holidays change as our girls are growing. First Big G moved away to college, and now Little G is more interested in her group’s get-togethers and plans.  We don’t decorate anymore, except for the front door.  (My G likes to put a cover on the door that lights and makes creepy noises…he is the candy-giver when he is home.)  I still buy candy, though, and we still leave the light on so little trick-or-treaters will know our house is ready for them.

Here is this week’s question –

What is Halloween to you?

To me, Halloween is usually the first major milestone on the way to the blessed relief from the heat. I grew up in the Southwest, and we live in Texas – it often stays hot right up until and often past Halloween. Even here, however, the nights have usually begun to cool and we have sometimes seen the first “cold snap” (if an evening that reaches 50 degrees can be considered a cold snap).

Halloween is socializing, quick visits with neighbors and strangers. It is the humor of the costume, the awesome and the absurd.

Halloween is candy, and I definitely do have a sweet tooth.

Halloween is family, whether we trick or treat or not – there is a pause as we stop work or school and do something just a little different from the norm.

How about you?