Back From Abroad!

Back From Abroad!

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We’re home!! And it was wonderful, magical, challenging, expensive, enchanting, familiar, exotic, and as always, life-changing and perspective-changing. It was a terrific adventure.

But first things first, my apologies for being extremely quiet over the last two months. The updates dwindled because of extremely challenging, very precarious events taking place at work which came to a head, spilling fourth drama the likes of which I have never seen in my professional life before. It caused anxiety and stress that I also have never experienced in my professional life, and a lot of uncertainty regarding the future. HOWEVER. It seems the storm is passing and things are really looking up, so now that the flurry of crazy has died down, I’m looking forward to directing my mental energy back to the things that make me really happy, this blog being one of them!

OK. With that out of the way…

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It was marvelous, guys. I could write about the wicked financial hangover we’re nursing (…we knew it was coming, and feel it was worth it, but it still hurts!), or the inevitable let-down of returning to every day life (not as bad as last time!), or the very real challenges that the three of us encountered that make up the experience of travel…but I won’t bother, because all of those things pale in comparison to the graces upon grace that we were given daily, and the seeds that have been planted in our souls from these experiences, preparing to bloom and ripen over the coming months and years. I sincerely hope you don’t get terribly bored of seeing travel pictures and hearing travel stories, because that’s going to be a major theme of my blog for a long time to come!

We started our trip in London, staying in a beautiful apartment in an award-winning, eco-friendly building in Elephant and Castle, a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that won our hearts immediately. This was the view from our bedroom:

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We stayed in London for four days, and it was fantastic! We did a lot of sightseeing, catching up on sleep, walking, riding the busses and the underground…but the downside was that London was in the middle of the the worst heatwave they’ve ever had and we were hot as HELL. Poor London just doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with heat like that, and our apartment, the busses, the tube, basically everywhere, didn’t have adequate air conditioning. We were sweating buckets and remained sticky the entire time. Still, we did the best we could and saw some glorious sights:

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Possibly our favorite London experience was getting to eat at St. John, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by renowned chef Fergus Henderson. Who I met. Who I got to thank. Who I kind of fangirl-fawned over as I gushed to him, and who graciously thanked me and told me he hoped we enjoyed our lunch. Guys…it was basically the highlight of the entire trip. I almost cried several times after returning to my table, but forced myself to hold back the tears remembering I was wearing mascara. Oh, the food was outstanding, by the way! I’m planning to do a second food retrospective post for this trip, so you’ll get to see what we ate!

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We visited Stonehenge and Bath:

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Both were lovely. This was the most touristy thing we did, and it was fun but I wouldn’t do them again (at least not by chartered tour bus). This was a challenging day because we were all very tired and Sister was worn thin, but we still got many fun memories out of it and I will definitely remember it fondly.

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Husband and I got to do a day exploring London on our own while Sister rested, and we had the best time! We visited ancient tea shops and ancient perfume shops (surprise, surprise, Husband bought his very first grown-up cologne and it’s MAGICAL). We visited the London Transport Museum, to Husband’s delight, and we visited my beloved Twining’s tea shop, to my delight.

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Then in the evening we ate at this lovely place, a beautiful pub. There is so much beauty in the U.K., it’s almost unbelievable. Everywhere you look there is something ancient, eternal and charming looking back at you. The details make all the difference, and we were constantly looking at each other and saying things like “This is REAL! It isn’t Disneyland…it’s REAL!” It sounds so silly, but the beauty, the details…they fed us. They fed us right up, filling starving parts of our souls that we didn’t even know needed nourishment.

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After London we took the train to Holyhead (home of the Holyhead Harpies, for you Harry Potter fans!) and stayed in a lovely B&B. I took an evening stroll by myself and was rewarded with these vistas.

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The next day we took a ferry to Dublin and, after a near-disaster regarding return-ferry scheduling that Husband heroically solved, we spent seven hours in this remarkably and stunningly beautiful city.

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We decided immediately that next time, Dublin is where we’ll be coming, sorry London! We’ve had enough of you! Dublin was just…comfortable. Next to the hustle and bustle of London, Dublin was like your grandpa’s easy chair…we felt we could sink into it with a hot drink (a real Irish coffee, perhaps) and just stay indefinitely. Alas, we had to return to Holyhead…but thankfully we got a stateroom on the return journey, and one with a fantastic view:

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Mostly we slept, though. Then, of course, we got to Conwy. OH, CONWY.

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If you read my (long) post about Wales you’ll know my love for Conwy. I can’t possibly reiterate it here, but suffice it to say, Conwy is my most favorite place on earth. If any place feeds the starving parts of my soul, it is north Wales, and Conwy might as well be the capital.

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Of course, there are other stunning towns in north Wales, like the almost absurdly picturesque Llanwrst:

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We spent a few days in the north just taking in the splendor, and then said goodbye to Conwy at it’s lovely little train station:

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Now we are home, jet lagged, still needing to do laundry, unpack, prepare for the work week (I return tomorrow!). But I’m going to ease back into the grind, and I have a handful of changes that I’m going to be making to improve my quality of life. Last August I wrote a post called “First Fruits,” discussing the “fruit” that travel bears in the weeks after returning home. I’m already seeing these first fruits, but I’m looking forward to the harvest, which will come in time. Of course, it feels so good to be home. Traveling is exhausting and it’s wonderful to be in my own bed again, with my own sweet kitty curled up next to me. We are so lucky and so grateful, and we’ll definitely bask in this glow for weeks to come.

 

 

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Hi friends! Even though we’re well into summer, I wanted to do another book post! I’m changing up my seasonal book recommendations and instead sharing a guide to summer reading, rather than a list of titles. Summer reading is a totally different animal to rest-of-the-year reading. Instead, here’s my approach to what I reach for during the summer:

1. Mass-market paperbacks of New York Times Bestsellers (new…or decades old). Summer isn’t a dark, rainy, ponderous time of year for sitting sedentary in your armchair and contemplating philosophy (I mean, power to you if that’s your thing, but I save that for the winter months). Summer is the best season for tucking a paperback of something light and easily digestible into your purse while you head to the beach or the park; nothing that requires a ton of emotional energy, but good page-turners, nonetheless. Use summer to check out the bestsellers you’ve avoided while you were re-reading classic literature the whole year…(ahem…). My current NYT bestselling paperback is At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, a delightfully easy, summer read.

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2. Memoirs. Summer is a great time of year to read about something entirely new and different, and what could be more different than the first-person perspective of another person’s life? One caveat for me is that they not be too depressing– I love feeling uplifted this time of year (I can read depressing things in fall or during Lent). Memoirs or other first-person experience stories like Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen or Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes can be hilarious or evocative page-turners. I recently re-read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which recounts his experience walking the Appalachian Trail, a perfect summer theme!

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3. Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone genres and subjects. This really gets at the heart of what I reserve summer reading time for– all the things I just don’t feel like reading the rest of the year. I spend SO much time doing re-reads of books and genres that bring me comfort and familiarity during fall, winter and spring that if I’m ever going to try something new it’s usually going to be during summer. Never tried fantasy? Maybe sci-fi isn’t your thing? For some reason there’s less guilt if you don’t end up finishing a book you start when your days are so full of other outdoorsy things, so testing a new genre feels like less of a commitment. This summer I’ve picked up books about other religions I don’t know much about, and I’m dabbling in contemporary fiction which is unusual for me.

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4. Non-fiction: history. I spend a TON of time reading historical fiction but again, it’s a good time of year to learn things (I guess that’s true of every season!). History is kind of like time-travel, and as summer is the season for travel and adventure, it’s appropriate to be swept away to other times and places. Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton has been flying off shelves for the last few years, and is a good candidate for a summer read. Some of my favorites are Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraiser, and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.

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5. Non-fiction: other stuff. In the spirit of adventure, I’ve picked up a bunch of educational books on all kinds of topics, and though they aren’t the kind of books you read cover-to-cover, they’re the kind you can learn a ton from just by flipping through. Books on raising toddlers, nutrition, home decorating, dieting…not precisely self-help, but books that definitely help when you want to learn more about a specific topic.

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So, there you have it! Happy summer reading, everyone!

Hello July and Happy Birthday “A Room Full of Roses!”

Hello July and Happy Birthday “A Room Full of Roses!”

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“Answer July—
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?

Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
Answer Thee—Me—”

~Emily Dickinson

 

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I can’t believe July has finally rolled around. Summer in full swing, Fourth of July celebrations, hot dogs, fireworks, watermelons, and warm poolside days mark this festive month, at least for me!

 

Also, it’s officially the ONE YEAR anniversary of this blog! Holy cow, I can’t believe it! You all have stuck with me through so many seasons—not just the full four seasons of a year, but my seasons of grief, which have waxed and waned, and moved through me in the mysterious, often unfathomable way of grief. I really appreciate it. It feels so good to know that even one person reads my ramblings, let alone a good bunch! It has been quite a journey. Last year when I started blogging, I was in the midst of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, and due to family dynamics and challenges that other family members were facing at the time, I was utterly alone and isolated in my grief. I had wanted a memorial for Gram because I needed the support of people who loved her, but it was not meant to be. Instead, I just started writing. I needed to process my feelings, and I’ve felt such support from my dear loved ones who take the time to read what I have to say. I am so grateful to you!

 

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As you might have noticed, there have been a few changes around here in preparation for this milestone, namely that the name of this blog has changed ever so slightly, going from “Room Full of Roses” to “A Room Full of Roses” due to me caving, upgrading this blog and buying the domain. However, the morally corrupt people who devote their lives to buying domains and then accepting outrageous bribes for their release had, naturally, already purchased roomfullofroses.com, so adding an “A” was necessary. I don’t mind though, it works well! I’m hoping to spruce the place up a bit more in the coming weeks and months as well.

 

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Mom likes to joke about sharing her birthday with Harry Potter, and as her birthday falls on the 31st, we will likely do something fun with her the weekend before. Things are really winding down for our U.K. trip and I imagine we will be running around like chickens with our heads cut off, putting all the final details in place and packing that weekend as well!

 

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Here’s what’s on the calendar for July:

 

 3rd—Feast of St. Thomas

4th—Fourth of July

10th—National Kitten Day (!!!)

11th—Feast of St. Benedict

13th—National French Fry Day (sounds like a good excuse to eat fries for the first time in months)

14th—Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha

16th—National Ice Cream Day (so many good food days in July!)

19th—National Hot Dog Day (ok, I’m going to gain all my weight back…)

25th—Feast of St. James

31st—Mom’s birthday, Harry Potter’s birthday, Fest of St. Ignatius of Loyola

 

What do you have going on this month? Love to you all!

 

 

Hello Summer!

Hello Summer!

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It’s finally here!! Sweet, hot, delightful, joyful summertime! I’m so excited for summer this year. It’s normally not my favorite season, but I don’t know what it is…for some reason, this year is different. Living south of San Francisco, we get to enjoy summer heat, summer sun, outdoor swimming pools, and all the fun the beautiful South Bay has to offer.

We have adventures planned, and not just international ones. Husband recently went camping in the high Sierras, we have plans for weekend outings to Half Moon Bay and other stops along the breathtaking California coast…and even though I’m not a spontaneous or stereotypically adventurous person, I know we’ll be running off hither and thither to bask in the sun in various ways over the next few months.

My most favorite aspect of summer, far and away, is the heat. The Bay Area is notoriously mild– and when I say notorious I’m looking at you, Outer Sunset. This part of the city is blanketed in fog from June through September, and it was so depressing to survive winter and spring, just to have to spend all summer making stews because you’re still freezing! Now that we’ve moved south, we get to experience heat, and it is such a novelty to be sweater-free, and to feel comfortable in skirts without worrying you’ll get chilly. Another thing related to heat is food– it is profoundly easier to eat clean, light, raw and otherwise healthy foods when you’re hot. Cold weather invites calorie binging. Hot weather invites simple, clean eating. Many years ago when I lived in the Sierras and the weather was scorching, I would occasionally just eat fruit– maybe a few peaches in a day– and that was it! And I felt good! It was too hot to eat and too hot to cook, anyway.

A summer tradition in my family is our many summer “porch parties”– dinners on my parent’s deck, where Dad barbecues and friends gather around the table, the evenings illuminated first by a lazy setting sun, and then by white fairy lights and myriad candles. We have a few nice ones planned this year, and I’m going to revive some Moroccan recipes I used to make that have fallen by the wayside.

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What do you have planned this summer?

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James

 

 

What’s In My Cup?

What’s In My Cup?

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I’m sitting in my armchair. It’s early Sunday morning, the sky is unsure of whether to be overcast or to yield to sunshine, an ancient grey kitty snoozes on the sofa, and the ticking of the clock is the only sound disturbing a peaceful silence.

It has been a while since I’ve written anything upbeat, mostly because the death of Anthony Bourdain really hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’ve been feeling quite fragile about it. My tribute to him (while written in one sitting the day-of) took a lot out of me emotionally and it just hasn’t felt right to return to mindless chatter. I wanted to sit in silence for a bit, to mourn him.

But early grey mornings demand spiced tea, and I knew I had to share mine with you– today a loose-leaf masala chai by Mighty Leaf (another tin we got for free when Husband worked at Peet’s). I’m sweetening it with sugar and coconut creamer, but going easy on them because yesterday I officially reached my half-way mark for weight loss! Yay! That’s a journey that has been transformative (literally) and I’m looking forward to writing more about it in the coming months.

Husband comes back today from a four-day camping trip in the high Sierras with his best friend. We haven’t spoken in three days because they’re beyond service range. Usually I’m a big worrier in times like these, but this time around I focused on deep cleaning our apartment and lots of self-care, and I have to say it has been a lovely, quiet weekend with Puffy. I adore these kinds of weekends. I’m so, so grateful to have them. They give me my sanity back after the worries and stressors of the week. Not specifically Husband being away. Just weekends with no obligations except to myself– to tidy, to cook, to read, to putter, as dear Mama-In-Law says. All souls need puttering!

This morning I picked up Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime memoir, and only three pages in I’m already enjoying it very much! As it’s almost true summer, I’m attempting to read more non-fiction, and less re-reads of all types. This seems like a great one!

Hoping you have a blessed Sunday. What’s in your cup this morning?

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Pools, Pies and Other Happy Things

Pools, Pies and Other Happy Things

Hi guys! Hope you had a lovely weekend. It sure did feel summery for the first time in my neck of the woods. It was hot enough to take a dip in the pool for the first time, but I contented myself with reading by the pool yesterday evening instead, lounging luxuriously in a chaise, a bag of new library books at my side.

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I want to share what I’ve been up to lately, which isn’t terribly much, but even so makes me feel like life is moving a light-speed these days! It’s nuts. I remember the heavy, dragging, almost hopeless feeling of slogging through the winter months (reflected in many of my January, February and March posts), feeling like they would simply NEVER end. Now, the days are flying by and I’m trying to keep up with it all!

The main item on our plates at the moment is health and weight (I know, SNORE). I have good news on this score, finally! I know you have patiently read through many posts of mine where I complain about food, cooking, wanting to get fit and lose weight, and all kinds of thoughts on that topic. As it turns out, I’ve finally developed a food routine that works for me, and I’ve lost nine pounds in the last five weeks, just from altering my eating habits. Husband and I are both adding in regular exercise starting this week (expensive gym membership is cancelled and use of the free gym in our complex is being embraced!). This is a fun and gratifying journey, and I hope to continue until I hit my goal. I’ll share more about what I’ve been doing food-wise in a future post. 🙂

As you know, I have a weakness for things from the 1970s. I also have a weakness for embroidery, which I used to do often for fun while watching T.V. with Grandma, or listening to an audiobook. I’ve been wanting to start embroidering again, and happened to stumble upon the greatest find ever while browsing e-Bay last week: Jiffy Stitchery Crewel Embroidery Kits from the 1970s, unopened, listed by the hundreds online for delighted embroiderers/mid-century fanatics like me to purchase!

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Some designs are more complicated than others, some are PAINFULLY iconic of the ’70s vibe (brown and orange owls, anyone?) and most are just adorable. Because they’re very small designs (they all end up fitting into a 5”x7” frame when completed), they can be done in an evening or two. I ordered myself one for around $8 and completed it over two evenings:

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Oh! It makes me so happy! I can’t justify buying up a whole bunch of these at once, but as they’re inexpensive, I’m definitely going to be getting more here and there to do in the evenings. It’s so nice to have a fun craft to do while watching a movie or listening to music. It makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something while relaxing at the same time!

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After all those months of saying I was going to make a pie, I FINALLY did! I made the strawberry balsamic pie from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook. Husband generously said it was the best pie he’s ever eaten. As all I did was copy a recipe, I can’t take credit for that but it WAS unbelievably scrumptious and even amid this weight loss journey, I was happy to make room in my daily calories for a few pieces.

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Saturday I made homemade Thai iced tea with coconut milk, and visited two different libraries for all kinds of wonderful books and DVDs. While my stack of books is too huge to share in its entirety, these are two books I’m really looking forward to. I began The First Muslim this weekend and am finding it fascinating. I picked it up because I realized that I know almost nothing about Muhammad or the history of Islam, so I think it’ll make me a more educated person. So far, it’s beautifully written. I haven’t started The Year Without A Purchase yet, but it looks so promising!

The next four weekends are filled with get-togethers, camping trips (for Husband), friends, and summery activities of all sorts and I’m reveling in it. I feel more invigorated and motivated than I have in a long time, and so thankful for that. Husband and I have many other things going on behind-the-scenes that are strengthening our relationship, and it feels good to be in the midst of what feels like a renewal, of sorts.

What do you have going on these days? What are some things currently bringing you joy? Take care, all! ❤

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Hello June!

Hello June!

june2“Spring, being a tough act to follow, God created June.” ~Al Bernstein

June, the REAL harbinger of summer! After living under the characteristic duvet of Outer Sunset, San Francisco fog that settles in around June and doesn’t lift until October, I finally feel joyful about the coming summer, which thanks to our relocation can be properly enjoyed in skirts, short sleeves, and swimming pools.

Husband has heroically completed his third semester of graduate school, and was honored with an award and scholarship for his efforts, and I couldn’t be more proud and humbled. There were days there where I began to think that he was fused to the chair at his desk, and that we might never spend proper time together again. But like all things, it passed, and I can’t help being grateful to him for doing this hard, good thing. His paid internship ended so he’s no longer working and will be spending the summer months tackling his final research project. There’s always something to do!

The nice thing about June is that there isn’t a ton going on. Though I am still working full-time, the freedom of Husband’s summer break (filled with research though it may be) still fills my spirit with familiar last-day-of-school giddiness.

Father’s Day happens in June! Alas, poor Father’s Day never gets the attention Mother’s Day gets, but all the fathers I know don’t seem to mind. My father is very unsentimental about things like this. I send him a present, and visit if I can to kick off the barbecue season at their house, so we might do that.

As I mentioned in my “Hello May!” post, Sister and I have been celebrating our birthdays together on the second weekend of June for five years. Sister was born in early January, just close enough to Christmas that everyone is still recovering from the holiday celebrations, and during a season not known for warm weather in the northern hemisphere. Five years ago she announced that she wanted to celebrate her birthday on her half-birthday in June so that she could have an outdoor barbecue on Mom and Dad’s deck, and see what it was like to have a birthday far-removed from the shadow of the holiday season. A reasonable request! I suggested we lump our celebration together and pretend we were twins for a day, and she liked the idea! Now, the fun of a summer meal on the deck in the warm June air is now a highly anticipated event (much more for the company, food, and atmosphere than anything else).

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That first year I made Sister a strawberry and swiss buttercream birthday cake with rainbow sprinkles, inadvertently kicking of a back-and-forth cake making that each year has us subtly upping the ante in an attempt to delight the annual cake-receiver. She’s made me two spectacular three-tiered cakes (Earl Grey lavender, and “London Fog” latte with salted caramel sauce). My second cake was a replica of the cake Hagrid gave to Harry in the first Harry Potter movie. It’s my turn again this year, and while it’s going to be hard to top her last cake, I have an idea up my sleeve I’m hoping comes together impressively…we shall see!

Here’s what’s on for June:

June 3—Feast of Corpus Christi
June 4—Hug Your Cat Day (Oh! I thought that day was just called “every day!”)
June 8—Fest of the Sacred Heart; release of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” a documentary about Fred Rogers (I will cry from beginning to end!)
June 9—Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day (YUM!)
June 14—Flag Day
June 17—Father’s Day
June 21—Summer Solstice
June 24—Feast of John the Baptist
June 29—Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; release of “Woman Walks Ahead,” a costume drama based on a true story (that looks really incredible!)

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Not a whole lot of goals for June, except maybe get our spending under control. As I mentioned, Husband is no longer working and despite the inner desire to be more financially continent, we really haven’t been making a good deal of effort in that regard! I successfully lost eight pounds in May (yay!) so I am well on the way to being half-way to my annual weight loss goal, precisely on schedule. Phew! I think besides those two things, I’m going to skip other goals for June because why not?

I can’t believe how fast these months are flying by! Hope you all have a blessed, happy June! Love to you all. ❤