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The kids are all home this weekend. Kacey, because she’s done at school for the semester and is home for the long holiday break. (Yay!) Brad came home, honestly, because he wanted to make sure he saw his Grandpa while he still had the chance. And Jake has stuck around more than usual for the very same reason.

After Thanksgiving, we didn’t expect Brad home again before Christmas. But my father-in-law’s health took a distinct downward turn over the past few days. He was better yesterday than he was Thursday and Friday, but clearly he is growing weary. His face lit up when our boys walked into the room with us. (We’d decided Kacey should stay home. She came back from school with a nasty head-cold and we didn’t want to expose Bob or anyone else to her illness.) Bob looked at Brad in surprise and asked, “What are you doing home?”

“Just felt like coming for a visit,” Brad told him, because really, there’s no tactful way to say, “I’m here because I’m afraid I don’t have many more chances to see you.”

While we were there, Bob was quieter than he’s been. He sipped on water and a half cup of coffee. Mark asked him if he wanted us to bring him some more of the meat loaf he’d enjoyed so much last week. Bob held up a finger as if to say, “Hold that thought.” Finally he said, “Not yet.”

We spent an hour or so with other family members, circled around Bob’s bed, talking with each other while he reclined, seemingly distracted. He’d answer when asked a question, sometimes without words, simply signaling with his hands. Otherwise he stared out the window into the woods outside his room. At one point he told us he saw a boat go by. We all turned to look out the window into the trees, as if we’d actually see a boat out there. Bob’s kids have learned to just go with it. Everyone just nodded. Someone said, “Oh, yeah. How ’bout that!”

It’s obvious reality is beginning to blur in his mind, but he usually catches himself.

Mark’s mom is Mary Jane. Bob has always simply called her Jane. He’s the only one who ever calls her by this nickname. As the minutes ticked by yesterday morning, he said to her, “Well, Jane? You ready?”

“For what?” she asked him.

“To go,” he replied.

“Where do you want to go?” she gently questioned him.

“Home.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” she asked.

“Yep,” he said, remembering.

We left the hospice facility as Bob was drifting off, each of us squeezing his hand and promising to see him later in the day. From there we went to get our boys fitted for new suits. I was impressed with how good they each looked all cleaned up and was struck with the irony of why we were shopping for suits. It’ll take a while for alterations before we can pick them up. I worry we should have done this sooner, but upon learning of our situation, the salesman assured us that if we need to put a rush on things, he can make it happen. All we have to do is call.

Mark and I did go back to visit in the afternoon and spent time with another of his siblings and a niece, as well as some family friends. Bob’s favorite nurse, Bruce stopped in. Bruce has been such a friend to Bob. And he bears a resemblance to Mark’s brother, Jim. I understood then why Bruce is Bob’s favorite.

Bruce had earlier explained to the family that Bob’s downward turn is just part of the natural progression of things. There are no ups and downs anymore. Just gradual steps down. But we felt comfortable enough that Bob was stable for the time being. We had earlier thought we’d skip our bowling night this weekend, but with Mary Jane’s encouragement, decided to go after all.

We’re all more aware these days of the importance of spending time together when we can. And so last night found all three kids with Mark and me at the bowling alley. Jake bowled with us, as a sub for our absent partner, Jim. Brad and Kacey served as our cheering section. They didn’t do a great job of cheering us on, and instead, scrolled through the photos on my phone, deleting some they felt I no longer needed. Brad replaced my scenic background photo with one of himself. And I, having recently realized how few pictures I’ve taken the past couple of years, decided it didn’t matter how we were dressed, that we were in a bowling alley, or how our hair looked.

We laughed at these afterwards and decided we didn’t care that there were beer bottles in the frame, a deep-fried green bean, or that Jake was being silly. We like silly Jake. He should come around more often. And as we watch the life of our father and grandfather slowly come to a close, we’re so much more aware of how important it is to hold onto each other every chance we get.

Hospice

When I left for the gym this morning, I noticed the air wasn’t quite as cold as it’s been lately. I made the short drive from home to the gym in a haze of fog, and when I stepped out of my car to go inside, I noticed it was a sort of frozen fog. I could feel the tiny little crystals hitting my face as I walked from the parking lot to the door. It wasn’t until I’d returned home, cleaned up for work and left the house again that I noticed the trees. I wish I’d been able to take a picture, but you’ll have to take my word for it. They were beautiful – all frosted in white. Every tree lining the roads along my drive to work was a work of art. It took me a minute to remember to appreciate such a beautiful scene.

This Christmas season has been a bit somber considering my father-in-law, Bob is now passing his days in a hospice facility. Mark visits at all hours of the day, depending on what his work schedule allows. He and his siblings tag-team with the responsibility of driving his mom to and from each day. I’ve spent many nights visiting after work as well.

Bob continues to look much more himself than he did while he was in the hospital. While in the hospital, he received some radiation treatments in the hopes this would shrink his tumor and provide him some relief from the pain. The radiation put him through the ringer, and once his doctors made the decision to stop – it wasn’t having the intended effect anyway – his mind and spirit improved drastically. It’s good to see the old Bob back again, but the fact remains, he is still dying.

The hospice facility is a beautiful place. Bob has a big picture window with a view of a wooded area and a few deer passing by now and then. His room has plenty of comfortable seating and most evenings will find at least a few of his sons and daughters and in-laws hanging out. The family has put up a couple of little Christmas trees and the room is as festive as possible, considering it’s not home.

And Bob seems to have this dying thing figured out and is making the most of it. Early in his stay, he learned that he could have a strawberry shake pretty much anytime he asked. When I’m visiting, I usually see him put in a respectable effort on his dinner, but then, he wants that shake! And he finishes it. Every time.

Yesterday, he was told that the kitchen had run out of ice cream. That didn’t sit well with Bob. While Mark’s mom was home taking a short break from visiting, her phone rang. It was Bob, calling to request that she bring ice cream when she came back. Now there’s some significance to the fact that Bob called home for ice cream. Apparently he hasn’t picked up or used a phone in a pretty long time. Mark’s mom couldn’t get over the fact that her husband, who now does little more than lay in bed and watch television actually picked up the phone and dialed home. I guess ice cream is a pretty compelling reason to use the telephone!

Mark and I stopped at the store to get the ice cream, then picked up his mom. When we arrived at the hospice facility, Mark handed the bag with the ice cream to a nurse who greeted us at the door. She laughed and said, “Someone’s going to be very happy! I’ll go get his shake made.”

Mark, his mom and I then walked down the hall to Bob’s room, and just before entering, we could hear another member of the staff tell him, “Your ice cream just arrived!”

Wow! They are really on top of things there. They are taking great care of him. His strawberry shake was delivered in minutes.

Bob’s maintained his sense of humor too. He finished his shake last night pretty quickly. He always does. The shake is clearly his favorite part of the day. Last night Mark asked him, “How was your shake?”

“Eh. It was okay,” Bob deadpanned.

Tonight he told us a joke.

A man went to visit his sick friend in the hospital. After they’d visited a while, the man said to his sick friend, “Hey, I’m sorry. I just ate all of your peanuts.”

“That’s okay,” said the sick friend. “I just finished sucking all the chocolate off of them.”

Like I said, it’s kind of hard to believe he’s actually dying sometimes. But then he’ll ask to have the bed reclined to provide some small relief from the pain from his tumor and we’ll remember. Or he’ll sleep overnight for twelve hours, and we’ll remember. Or he’ll ask for more pain meds forty minutes after the last dose and we’re reminded.

Oddly enough, the chance to spend so much time with Mark’s parents and family has been a real blessing. And the fact that I’m saying that is monumental because none of us goes out of our way to spend much time together otherwise. And it’s making me notice and appreciate the little things within my own little family so much more than I normally would. Strange, isn’t it? How such a sad situation can bring good things?

So if I’m not caught up in the Christmas hype, if I’m not that worried about how little shopping I’ve done or the fact that there won’t be any Christmas cards this year… well, you’ll understand.

Onward Ho!

I’ve been sort of lamenting the fact that Thanksgiving week has passed us by already. Normally, by this time of year, I’ve got my mind all over Christmas. But having had most of last week off to prepare for the family Thanksgiving, and then reveling in some well-earned down-time afterwards, my focus just didn’t stray that far ahead.

Not to mention, it was a rare long weekend during which all three of my kids were at home. I love how cozy everything feels when they’re all under the same roof. Meals and conversations are so much more lively than usual. And my grown kids are such better friends than they ever were in their younger days. We watched movies together (or more accurately, we fell asleep in front of movies.) We played with the dogs and laughed at their antics. Lucy just loves when Dacotah comes to visit and they’re pretty much attached at the hip the whole time.

Someone suggested on Friday that we put up the Christmas tree, but no one was motivated enough to go haul all of the Christmas boxes out of storage until Saturday. I’m not sure why, but it feels like Christmas is barreling at us too quickly this year, and had the kids not been so enthusiastic, I probably would have procrastinated with the decorating altogether. But since, as I mentioned, all three kids were home, and since that won’t happen again until Christmas is already here, the tree went up and so did all of the decorations around the house. The kids each have a huge box of their own ornaments, received as gifts throughout the years. Our fully decorated tree has so many memories attached to it! And truth be told, once we got started, I got in the spirit. It does feel pretty festive around here now.

Logan came barreling into our front yard on Friday, all bundled up in his snow gear and calling at the top of his lungs for me to come see the inflatable penguins and Santa Claus his dad had put up in their yard. We all gladly slipped on our boots and jackets to go out and accommodate our little friend’s request. He ended up playing coy with Kacey and getting her to chase him around in the snow. He’s such a cutie!

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Kacey took some time to go celebrate milestone birthdays with friends on Friday and Saturday night. Mark and I had our bowling league on Saturday, and both Brad and Jake came to watch us for a while. Brad’s  buddy, Joe met up with him at the bowling alley and they hung out while we bowled. They’ve been pals since they were six years old, but don’t see each other much anymore now that Brad lives a few hours away. It was great to see them “yucking it up” again just like in the old days.

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Mark’s dad was moved to a hospice facility this weekend. He had some really bad days last week in the hospital as different treatments and medications were tried in order to provide him some relief from his pain. It was so hard to see him in such bad shape, and I honestly wondered if he’d continue to be with us from one day to the next. His doctor finally put a stop to the things that clearly weren’t helping at all. The hospice facility is a beautiful place and now that he’s no longer subjected to drastic treatments, he seems more clear-headed, more like his normal self. It was almost harder for me to see him looking so “good” and still know that he’s dying. But it was good for the kids to see him that way before everyone left again after the weekend.

So I guess it was more than just a reluctance to go back to work that had me wishing I could slow down time and stop the coming days from arriving. But it’s just not possible.

Anyway, reality was calling – and I know myself too well. Too many more aimless days at home and away from routine would have me going a little stir crazy. And there’s something to be said for the rhythm and productivity of the office. Even as I was wishing for more of the kind of time I’d had all weekend, I knew it would be good for me to get back to work. And it was. Work is the place where I can test the limits of my brain and feel like I’ve really got something to contribute. How lucky am I?

Besides, if I didn’t have to get up before the sun, I’d have missed this today.

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Thanksgiving was just perfect!

Everything came together so nicely and I really could not have asked for a better day. I’m so happy!

First, I managed to pull the meal together so that everything was done and hot at the same time without the kitchen falling into disaster. In the past, I’ve struggled with trying to get the turkey carved, the potatoes mashed and the gravy made all at the same time. And then what to do with the mess of pots and pans afterwards? Our house is not that big, and even though the kitchen remodel a few years ago gave us a little more space, coordinating a large meal is still a major challenge. Not to mention the fact that everyone, whether assisting with the cooking or not, just seems to want to hang out in the kitchen!

But I planned better this time. I cleared off the countertops and temporarily stashed things like the toaster and fruit basket, my kitchen radio and coffee maker. This was to make space for serving food buffet style. I researched “make ahead” recipes and had the potatoes and extra stuffing done early and kept them warm in crock pots. I roasted the turkey and stuffing in the electric roaster out in the garage so I didn’t have that monstrosity taking up space on the countertop. Three casseroles of vegetables finished up in the oven just as the turkey was carved and gravy made, and I could wash and put away most of the big pots and pans before dinner was even served.

But more important than the food was the time spent with family. Over the past few years, one or more of my kids have divided their holiday time between us and the families of their significant others. The past year was a little rough on a couple of their love lives, but that meant that we got to have all three of our kids with us this holiday.

And we really enjoyed our extended family this time around. Everyone seemed relaxed and at ease, and the conversation was fun and filled with laughter. The term forb was born (meaning to stab someone with a fork.) Yes, a forbing actually occurred, all in good spirit. This is the kind of fun my family is capable of having and I love it when we do!

I was too busy keeping up with the serving and dishwashing, (and the eating,) to take any photos of the feast or the family enjoying it. That’s okay. I’ll be happy with the good memories in lieu of photos.

The day after was appropriately lazy … if you can call it that. I tackled a project I’ve been meaning to do forever. Years ago my sister gave me a blank recipe book, meant for writing and saving favorite recipes. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never written anything in it before, even though some of my go-to recipes look like this!

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And now I’m happy to say that most of my favorite recipes are nicely documented in the lovely book from my sister! Better late than never, eh?

While I was productively writing recipes, Mark and Kacey hit a Black Friday sale. He found a good deal on a pressure washer. She scored some fun speakers.

The day included a good amount of lounging around and dog-spoiling.

We enjoyed eating leftovers all day long, and then later, an evening of cards and fun at the neighbors’ house. All in all, it’s been an amazing holiday weekend so far. And I am beyond thankful.

In spite of what I’ve said before …

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year for (most of) the whole fam damily. Even though in the past years, I believe I’ve said more than once that I would never again. Ever. Because …

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But in my own defense, I think I’ve added a disclaimer to my no-more-family-gatherings rants, that as adamant as I wasI probably shouldn’t take my insistence too seriously. Good thing because here I am, doin’ it again! I’ve been off work since Tuesday, cleaning house, running errands, cooking and baking ahead anything that could be done prior to the big day. It’s actually been really nice to have a break from the office and spend time around the house, leisurely preparing.

And seriously? I am glad to be doing this. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past year, about how I relate to others, and how I allow myself to be impacted in ways both good and bad. My siblings and I have grown up to be different people with lives that have gone in different directions. We’ve each made choices that are right for ourselves and it’s not for us to judge each other. (I know this, but I also have to remember that not everyone is so aware yet.) We’re at varying levels of contentment in our lives and sometimes our differences bubble to the surface, sometimes in really ugly ways. We’ll probably continue to unintentionally hurt each other at times. As for me, I’m finally beginning to understand the importance of forgiveness. I’ve heard it a million times and never really grasped the concept before. It’s not about avoiding getting hurt. It’s about letting go and preventing that hurt from poisoning me from the inside out. I used to think that letting go meant I was weak. Now I know that it’s just the opposite.

There’s also something much bigger contributing to my change of heart this year. I think I have a fairly good sense of brevity of life, but never has it been more apparent than now. Mark’s dad is in the hospital. His health took a downward turn over the past few years, but worsened significantly two weeks ago. He won’t be joining his family for Thanksgiving today. In fact, it seems unlikely he’ll ever go home again. We are all so sad and it’s been extremely sobering to watch his daily decline. It’s been an eye-opener, to say the least, about what is really important.

When I said never again would I host or participate in an all-family gathering, I thought I would feel good about it. But I never would. It’s not so black and white. If I walk away in an attempt to never be hurt again, I won’t be just making a clean break. I can’t just take my hurt feelings and go on my merry way. My absence would actually cast a shadow, not because I think I’m so important that I should be missed that much, but because the reason for my absence would be obvious. And not only would I have allowed myself to be hurt, but I would have spread those dark feelings around to everyone else.

And so hopefully, with this realization, comes a better ability to have reasonable expectations, and to speak up calmly when it’s justified instead of adding fuel to the fire. I will strive to be level-headed, to walk away when possible, to be more understanding, and to refuse let the bitterness of another seep inside of me and stew. Better yet, I will work harder to promote good will instead of just expecting a melee to ensue at every gathering.

Of course, it helps that the one I butt heads with the most has other plans today. :-) Mark asked me yesterday, “What would you do if he called at the last minute and said he was coming after all?” I thought for a minute and said, “I’d welcome him.” And I meant it. I don’t really want to be forever at odds with my own brother. Heck, he probably doesn’t even realize that we’re at odds!

So today I am thankful for my crazy and appropriately dysfunctional family. I am thankful we have each other and will be happy to welcome them into my home which I’ve just spent days and hours cleaning and which will probably look like a bomb went off not long after everyone arrives, gets settled and the feast begins. This house is small and no matter what I do, we’ll feel like it’s bursting at the seams once we’re all here. And I am especially thankful for my sister, who makes me laugh and keeps me sane and who is is helping to cook a good portion of today’s meal. Not to mention, her willingness to arrive early to help me pull this thing off, if not in a Martha Stewart manner, at least in a way that might please Larry the Cable Guy. (I didn’t buy any wine. No one drinks it. It’s a redneck Thanksgiving with plenty of soda and beer!)

And besides, these people make for good stories! ;-)

Seriously, though. I have it good. And I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Changes

Until the past few days, it’s been a relatively warm fall. But this morning, as I was out driving around, I really felt the shift in seasons. I had the heat on in the car. I noticed other vehicles that obviously hadn’t spent the freezing night in a garage. Windshields bore scraper tracks and still held remnants of the overnight frost. I passed a runner in long pants and long sleeves, with gloves and a headband to cover her ears. I saw a man on a riding mower in his front yard, mulching leaves, bundled up in a heavy, red and black plaid flannel shirt, a knit hat on his head.

But it’s not just the weather that’s changed. Another of my kids’ lives has taken an unexpected turn and I’ve been worried.

Kacey spent last weekend here at home. On Sunday evening, she drove back to school while I went off to see a concert with my sister and niece. After the concert, as we were just pulling into my sister’s driveway, my phone rang. It was Kacey.

“So… guess what,” she said in a slow, sort of flat voice.

“What?” I asked, hesitantly.

“Connor and I broke up.”

No! I didn’t know what to say and I felt just awful. We’d only recently learned what it’s like to watch one of our kids suffer a broken heart, and I wasn’t ready to see it happen again. I asked her if she wanted me to come be with her, but she insisted I stay home. “I promise, I’ll be okay,” she said, sounding a little shaky.

Four years they’d been dating, since their senior year of high school. They’d come through so much together, in particular, the death of Connor’s mom. I think that brought them closer than most kids their age would otherwise have been. And maybe because of that too, Connor was like one of our own. He spent endless days hanging around at our house. A few nights too. He’s been a part of our family celebrations and vacations. He ate countless meals here and was comfortable enough to help himself to snacks and drinks. He is in bunches of our pictures. Kacey so often referred to him as her best friend. And so many times, he’d make reference to “when Kace and I get married.”

When. Not if. As young as they still are, (they’re only twenty-one,) I guess I’d sort of come to think too that it would eventually be true.

I couldn’t sleep Sunday night and didn’t do much better Monday night. I kept imagining the worst, my daughter unable to smile, crying. She didn’t seem to want to talk, so I texted her frequently in the following days just to check on her. She’d respond, but not surprisingly, her words were much fewer than usual. I asked her to come home again for the weekend and she first said she was thinking about it, then later confirmed she was definitely coming home. I planned to spoil her rotten, try to help her start healing from the hurt. I bought a couple of fun movies to watch and stocked up on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Kacey’s last class of the week is on Thursday mornings. She planned to drive back after that class and would be home when I got back from work. Thursday felt like the longest day in the world to me. I just wanted to come home and take care of my daughter. When I finally got here, she and Mark were in the kitchen, having just returned from picking up Chinese food for dinner. Kacey was talking and laughing with her dad and I experienced such an immense feeling of relief. Laughter! I hadn’t imagined she’d be capable of laughter. Still, I went straight to her and wrapped my arms around her. She hugged me back tightly, and laughed again, assuring me, “Mom! I told you I’d be okay. I’m fine, really.”

“Yeah, she’s fine,” Mark agreed absently as he unpacked the cartons of food from a plastic bag.

I looked from Mark to Kacey and asked her if it was true. “Are you? Are you really okay?”

“Yeah,” she said! “I mean, I’m gonna be a little sad for a while, but this wasn’t really a surprise to me, or anyone else.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No,” she said. “Connor and I have been in different places in our lives for a while now. Maybe  somewhere down the road when we’ve both grown up a little more, our paths will cross again. But right now, this is probably what’s best. He was the one who made the decision to break up, but I didn’t exactly fight him on it.”

Um. Okay. I hadn’t even considered my daughter would be in such a healthy place.

“So…,” I said. “You’re really okay? I mean, you sound so much better than I thought you’d be about this. So, are you going to date other people eventually?”

“Not for a while, ” she said. “But, I mean, yeah, of course.”

I felt like such a weight had been lifted! I thought my baby girl would be beyond consolation and here she was doing the best thing I could hope she would do in a situation like this. Clearly she’s got a great sense of self. She knows who she is as an individual. And her self-worth isn’t tied to her being one half of a couple.

All week long I’d been praying for her, for comfort, for strength, for healing. And now, all I could do was pray, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

We were laying on the living room floor Thursday night after dinner, she and I, watching one of the new movies. I couldn’t help but keep looking over at her and checking to be sure she really was okay. Finally, she caught on.

“What?” she laughed at me.

“I’m just so proud of you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re being mature, and handling this with such grace.”

“Don’t get all weepy on me now, Mom,” she laughed.

“Can’t help it,” I said, wiping a tear that had escaped.

She is just everything I could ever have hoped for in one of my kids. She’s doing it all so much better than I ever did. She has an amazing ability to embrace life, have fun, know what’s important, and still not take things too seriously all the time. Sometimes I wonder where she came from. She certainly didn’t get this stuff from me – someone who has been as dysfunctional as I’ve been in the course of my life at times. I guess that’s what we all want as parents, though. To see our kids manage at least a little bit better than we did.

All I know is that I’m so very grateful – that she’s okay – and that she’s my daughter. She is such a gift to me!

And life will go on. Seems like she already knew that.

Gratefulness

This week…

An actual phone call from Brad. Hi Mama. Just calling to talk. Mom is for getting my attention. Mama is his term of endearment and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. He renewed his lease on the apartment in Fargo for another year. Maybe this time next year he’ll look at moving closer to home again, he says. As much as I want him closer to home now, he wants to give his job at least another year and establish a good work history before moving on. Smart boy! He’ll be home for Thanksgiving. The old Brad is resurfacing after the heartache of the past months. I’m happy. And relieved.

2014-10-17Another phone call from a kid, this one from Kacey. She was pretty sick last week, with a fever, chills, spots in her throat and a rash on her body. And as someone who has rarely ever been seriously ill, she had to make her first all-by-herself decision to see a doctor. Her symptoms mirrored those of strep throat. It wasn’t strep throat. She was tested for mono and it wasn’t that either, thankfully. But she was treated with antibiotics and feels much better now. It was good to hear the energy back in her voice and know that she was able to get back to her old self, focus on studying again, and have a little fun with friends again.

Jake and his new girlfriend, Alysha. Introvert and private person that he is, it took him awhile to bring her around and make introductions. She’s sweet and he’s clearly enamored with her. She’s bringing out good things in him and I love the results of the ego boost he’s feeling. He hangs out at home a little more often, and talks to me more, giving a long-missing bit of insight into his world.  He’s maturing, realizing how good it feels to think of someone besides himself for a change. And he’s visibly happy. I love it!

Fall. The color of the sky. The smell of dried leaves. The red, orange and gold hues in the tree-tops. Geese in a V-formation flying over the house, honking, making Lucy stop sniffing one of the many invisible-to-me trails in the backyard to gaze up in curiosity. Temperatures just cool enough that Lucy is willing to snuggle again. Doggie snuggles are the best!

New guy at work – blowing me away with his skills and adaptability. New girl at work – provides frequent opportunities to remember my patience and shows me where my training skills need more work. And gratefulness that all three of our new teammates are so personable and willing to learn.

The weekend. So glad it’s here. While Mark is off on a hunting jaunt, I’m going with my sister to do some hunting of my own – for bargains at the new outlet mall.

Hope your weekend is happy!