Book Review: If the Shoe Fits

If the shoe fitsI scrolled through the unread books on my Kindle app, looking for something light, and spied If the Shoe Fits: A Contemporary Fairy Tale by Sandra D. Bricker. Perfect! I’ve read a few of Sandra’s books before, and so far they’ve all been lighthearted and funny, yet not purely fluff due to a spiritual undertone.

In this book, Julianne Bartlett just opened a law firm with her lifelong best friend, Will Hanes. But for all her expertise in law, she’s a bit…quirky? scatterbrained? the embodiment of Murphy’s Law? in everyday life. After narrowly missing being part of a multi-car pile-up, she witnesses a devastatingly handsome man rescuing a hurt dog from the road. When she discovers a boot and toolbox fell from his truck before he drove away, she rescues them and takes them as a sign that she’s supposed to find him again. She places an ad and they do meet, but he’s not quite the Prince Charming type. But she’s so focused on her fairy tale ideal that she’s in danger of completely missing the opportunity for a real, true relationship right in front of her.

There are some subplots with an ideal receptionist with a shady past, Julianne’s archenemy rival, Julianne’s mom and Will’s dad, and various cases as well as several bumps along the course of true love not running smooth. But it ends up in a satisfying way. I enjoyed the way Sandra wove in spiritual truth in a natural and not heavy-handed way.

Just a sample of Sandra’s writing:

She couldn’t hold a tune if it were packed up for her in a handy little box, but he sure did love to hear her try.

He waved a mug close enough to Will’s nose to bring him around, like caffeinated smelling salts.

“Apologizing.” Rand spoke the word as if it had been dipped in spoiled milk before crossing his lips.

Romantic comedy is not usually my first choice of genre for reading, but every now and then something light hits the spot. I could easily envision this as a Hallmark movie.

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What’s On Your Nightstand: April 2017

What's On Your Nightstand

The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Though there are still a good many days left in April, it’s the fourth Tuesday, and thus time to talk about what we’re reading.

Since last time I have completed:

Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, reviewed here. Excellent study of how to apply the Titus 2 instructions for women.

Middlemarch by George Eliot, reviewed here. Long, a little slow in places, but ultimately very good.

Snapshot by Lis Wiehl, reviewed here. Based on a real photo, but not a real situation, a man arrested for killing someone at a civil rights march has reached out for help in finding the real killer, and one clue is to find the other girl in the photo, who may have seen the incident. Good historical fiction.

If the Shoe Fits: A Contemporary Fairy Tale by Sandra D. Bricker. Just finished this yesterday – hope to review it soon.

A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Just finished this yesterday as well – review coming soon.

I’m currently reading:

When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz

Love of the Summerfields by Nancy Moser

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. I had originally chosen The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett for the Back to the Classics challenge category of a classic either about an animal or with an animal in the title, but there was too much bad language. So I laid it aside and chose Old Yeller instead, and am loving it. Plus it was nice to have a much shorter classic after the lengthy MIddlemarch.

Up Next:

I’m carrying these all over from last time since I haven’t gotten to any of them yet..

The Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Waiting for Peter by Elizabeth Musser.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior and Eric Metaxas

Eight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin

That wraps it up for this edition of Nightstand. Are you reading anything interesting?

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“That’s Just the Way I Am”

When my youngest son was small, he was a real chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But on the other hand, no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife and mother of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him, and he kept chatting merrily on. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

I’ve heard variations on that response from time to time. I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was not good with details: when he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

When my middle son was in about the 6th or 7th grade, he was lamenting that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades, and a classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously happened to have an aptitude for spelling. He brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t really have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person had to extend himself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers — even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there  – as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

However, sometimes God does call people to do what doesn’t come naturally — Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” — but he goes on to say, “but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5). Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed….by beholding Him.

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See also: The means of change.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday. Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday)

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I Need Thee, Precious Jesus

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain
Where I can always flee,
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner’s perfect plea.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am very poor;
A stranger and a pilgrim,
I have no earthly store.
I need the love of Jesus
To cheer me on my way,
To guide my doubting footsteps,
To be my strength and stay.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need a friend like Thee,
A friend to soothe and pity,
A friend to care for me.
I need the heart of Jesus
To feel each anxious care,
To tell my every trouble,
And all my sorrows share.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need Thee, day by day,
To fill me with Thy fullness,
To lead me on my way;
I need Thy Holy Spirit,
To teach me what I am,
To show me more of Jesus,
To point me to the Lamb.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
And hope to see Thee soon,
Encircled with the rainbow
And seated on Thy throne.
There, with Thy blood bought children,
My joy shall ever be,
To sing Thy praises, Jesu,
To gaze, O Lord, on Thee.

~ Frederick Whitfield

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Can you believe we’re 2/3 of the way through April already? I’m not ready for spring to be passing so quickly! But that’s one thing the Friday’s Fave Five is good for, stopping to treasure those special moments, hold on to them for a while, and be thankful for them so we don’t forget them. Here are the best parts of the last week:

1. Timothy’s 3rd birthday!

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I think his dad may have caught him with a mouthful of cake at that moment. 🙂

2. Family outings. I mentioned last week that my oldest son was in town, so we had the family all together for Timothy’s birthday and Easter and went to a petting zoo and the WonderWorks museum as well as to Jason and Mittu’s house for a meal. I wrote about it all more extensively here.

3. Easter was a lovely day. Our church just has one service that day with some extra  music numbers which I enjoyed. Then we took the opportunity of being all together to get some family photos – somehow we missed doing that at Christmas.

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Then we had a great lunch and an Easter egg hunt.

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Then everyone went home and Jim and I crashed for the evening after an enjoyable but busy few days. 🙂

I forgot to mention in my earlier post a funny thing that happened on Easter. For years I’ve made resurrection rolls with Easter breakfast or lunch (originally with frozen yeast rolls, but knowing when to take the dough out to thaw, how long to let it rise, etc., was a little tricky, especially overnight, so later I saw an idea to use crescent rolls, which worked well. Also since that post I saw the idea to dip the marshmallow in melted butter and then sugar and cinnamon, symbolizing the spices used in burial then – but also because it tastes good – before wrapping the marshmallow in the dough.) The marshmallows are supposed to get absorbed into the rolls, making them sweet and leaving a big hole in the roll, looking like an empty tomb. That’s always happened before, but for some reason this time the marshmallows didn’t melt, so I had to say when I served them that our tombs weren’t quite empty. 🙂

4. Ham leftovers. Well, it’s great the first time around, too, but I like the leftovers for Swiss Ham Ring-Around, to put in scrambled eggs, to make a ham and cheese omelet, to have as a side item with an over-easy egg and toast, and finally using the hambone in Ham and Potato soup. The guys like it in sandwiches, and Jim usually makes a ham salad with it that we use on crackers or in a sandwich, though we didn’t have that this year.

5. The first rose bloom and hummingbird of the season showed up this week!

We’ve had a lot more rain this week, but I can’t complain (not that I should anyway), since last week was gorgeous.

All in all a lovely week with good memories.

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Book Review: Middlemarch

I had not heard of Middlemarch by George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) until the last several years, and whenever I looked at a description of it, it sounded rather vague – something about a community in pre-Reform-era England. That’s like saying Jan Karon’s Mitford books are about a community of people in the fictional town of Mitford, NC. They are, but that’s a pale description of the richness and depth of the characters. Yet it’s hard to know how else to describe the books in just a few sentences to someone unfamiliar with them. As I planned for the Back to the Classics challenge for this year, I decided to give Middlemarch a try, trusting that since I saw it recommended so often, it must be worth reading.

There’s not a single overarching plot to the book: it’s about the journeys of several people in the town. So it might be best to try to describe it a little by discussion some of its characters.

Dorothea Brooke is the main character, a teen-age orphan with her younger sister under the care of a benevolent older single uncle. Dorothea is ardent, serious, and pious. Though wealthy, she dresses plainly and is only interested in wealth as a means of doing good. A neighbor, Sir James Chettam, is very much interested in her, but she’s not interested in him at all except as a potential match for her sister, Celia. When a much older clergyman, Edward Casaubon, takes notice of her, everyone she knows protests against the match, but Dorothea is drawn to the marriage as a means of doing a great good by helping him in his work and a means of growth as she can increase her knowledge by sharing in his. She is sadly disappointed, however, because Casaubon is aloof (on their honeymoon in Rome, he leaves her alone while he’s off doing research for his book: he even suggested that Celia come with them as a companion for Dorothea!) and doesn’t allow her into the realm of his work until he becomes ill later on.

Tertius Lydgate is a young doctor new to the town. He was orphaned and cared for by wealthy relatives, but there was no closeness between them, and they were miffed when he chose a career in medicine, so he’s basically on his own. He’s ahead of his time medically (one source pointed out his use of a stethoscope, which was available but not routinely used at the time), but the older, established doctors don’t like the new guy coming in with new ways, and he unwittingly offends them, so he has an uphill battle starting out. But his success and availability with the people he does treat gives him an inroad into the community.

The Vincy family consists of two parents and four children, two of them grown. The father is the mayor, and he and his wife tend to live beyond their means and spoil their children. They want their son, Fred, to become a clergyman due to the position’s respectability and are paying for his education; however, he has no interest in or aptitude for it, so he drops out. But he has no other talents and is counting on getting an inheritance from an uncle. He’s in love with Mary Garth, but she won’t have him if he goes into the clergy (because she knows it would not be a good fit for him) and if he continues to be idle. The daughter, Rosamond, is beautiful, cultured, proper, genteel, and charming, which over-shadows her thoroughly self-centered nature. She sets her sights on Lydgate, thinking he is wealthy and of a higher social standing due to his family connections. He had not planned to marry for a long while and at first enjoys just flirting with Rosamond, but eventually he succumbs to her charms, and they marry.

Though things start out well for the Lydgates, they soon run into trouble when their expensive habits exceed Lydgate’s income. He insists they should economize, something totally unheard of for her: she insists he should find more or better-paying work or appeal to his family. She finds out he’s not as wealthy or well-connected as she thought; he finds out the selfish core under her beautiful exterior. Her unwillingness to bend and his extenuating financial circumstances set him up for trouble later in the book.

Will Ladislaw is Edward Casaubon’s younger cousin whom he is helping financially. Will is an artist who doesn’t know quite what he wants to do with his life, so he is traveling and painting. At first Will doesn’t like Dorothea, but as he gets to know her better, he’s grieved at her “wasting” herself on Casaubon. Will also becomes friends with the Lydgates, which leads to some trouble later on.

Nicholas Bulstrode is a banker and pillar of the community. He’s quite religious, but in a way that rubs others the wrong way. Much later in the book, an old associate comes to town for other reasons, discovers Bulstrode lives there, and blackmails him with the threat of sharing some shady dealings in his past which would destroy his reputation in the community.

There are multitudes of other characters, but these are the main ones, and their lives and situations intersect at various points. The plot moves fairly slowly by modern standards, though the book does contain riveting moments of suspense in places. But Eliot’s main strength is her pathos in getting into the heads of her characters and sharing their hearts. We know minutely what they are thinking and groan, laugh, or cry along with them.

Multiple themes emerge throughout the book. One of the top ones is marriage. The two main marriages are fraught with trouble, but others by contrast exhibit great sharing and warmth. Those who weathered great trouble on their way to marriage seem to fair better than the ones who encountered it afterward. Another theme is what some sources called “self-determination.” This was an era when there were pretty strict expectations upon people, especially women, and those who bucked the system weren’t looked kindly upon, but in this book those seemed most likely to succeed.

Eliot’s vast knowledge in a number of areas shows up here, mainly in literary references but also in politics and science. There are quite a number of biblical allusions throughout: I read in one source that Eliot started out as religious but “lost her faith” after reading about “higher criticism” of the Bible.

I think my favorite character is Dorothea. She seems a little stiff at first, but eventually she grows into the warmest, most human person in the book. Another favorite is Mr. Garth, Mary’s father, whose kindly and wise ways permeate all his actions, and I enjoyed the warmth of his family’s home scenes. The one I sympathized and ached with most by the end was Lydgate, but I can’t say why without revealing too much.

One source said that the book was kind of an anti-fairy tale, that the characters didn’t ride off happily in the sunset with all problems solved like many other books of the era. But I disagree: several found some degree of happiness, though they still had problems. Another said that Dorothea never reached her full potential, but I disagree again. In one of my favorite quotes of the book, Eliot seems to me to be saying that though some of the characters wanted to do “great things,” they found instead greatness in the “little things”:

Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

A few other favorite quotes:

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.

And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it.

What we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.

We are all humiliated by the sudden discovery of a fact which has existed very comfortably and perhaps been staring at us in private while we have been making up our world entirely without it.

Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

A prig is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions.

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

‘You must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, and think it would be more honorable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying, There’s this and there’s that—if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is—I wouldn’t give twopence for him’— here Caleb’s mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers— ‘whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn’t do well what he undertook to do.’

I feel like I am not doing the book any justice, but I hope I have given you a little picture of what it’s about. I listened to the audiobook, superbly read by Juliet Stevenson. Later on I got the corresponding Kindle version, and some of the notes there would have provided me with more detail, especially to Eliot’s literary allusions, if I had been reading it all along, but I wouldn’t trade it for the experience of listening to Stevenson’s narrations. Her voice for each character as well as her intonations and expression truly enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

I’ve spent over 35 listening hours with these characters, and I am going to miss them.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

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Family Happenings

We’ve just finished up a happy but very busy time with family, and I’ve been catching up on sleep and laundry the last couple of days.

First of all, my oldest son, Jeremy, came for a visit. He’s not usually here this time of year, but, if I remember correctly, I think he or Jim had some free airline miles, so he was able to come for Easter and some of the week’s other events.

His first day here, we went over to Jason and Mittu’s for lunch. Over the last several months they’ve painted all their rooms, their kitchen cabinets, made headboards for their beds, a kitchen table, and a coffee table. So it was fun not only to visit but to see what was new, especially for Jeremy, who hadn’t seen their house in a while. They came over to our house that evening for dinner and more visiting.

Then, it was my grandson Timothy’s 3rd birthday! We went to the Little Ponderosa Zoo, as we did last year. I wasn’t quite as impressed with it as I was last year, but it’s still a good size for young children, and the animals are more accessible for petting and feeding than the big downtown zoo. It was fun to see him more into it this year, feeding the goats and even riding a pony for the first time.

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Riding in style. 🙂 He’s big into construction vehicles just now, and Mittu found him a birthday shirt with an excavator on it that says, “I’m digging being 3.”

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Timothy riding

We had a picnic lunch there, and Timothy enjoyed the small playground. He even went down the big slide by himself!

Then we went home for naps. They came to our house again in the evening for Timothy’s birthday dinner (nachos, or, as he calls them, cheesy chips), cake, and presents.

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A lot of his presents had to do with construction vehicles, but one of his favorites was this blender set.

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Mittu decorated his cake herself and found this really cute cake topper:

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The next day we went to WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge, TN, or, as we call it, the Upside Down House (Timothy couldn’t quite master that and called it the “Up down up down house.”) Ever since we passed by it the first time not long after we moved here, I wanted to see it some time, and Jim found a deal on tickets that expired before Jeremy was due to come back in the summer.

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Though we did have fun, it was a disappointment in many ways, starting with the person at the ticket counter. We hadn’t known that our tickets included the magic show, and Jim asked him what the magic show was like. With a barely perceptible shrug, the guy said, “It’s a magic show.” Duh. So Jim asked more specific questions, like was it in a separate room with seating, etc., or was it like one of the exhibits. The former, it turned out, which might have been fun except the only shows were in the evening and we were only there for the morning. The rest of the building was very dark and very loud. There were a few hands-on exhibits, which is what we mainly wanted to see, but a good part of it was arcade-style games. But even the exhibits were hard to get much out of because everything was crowded, frenetic, and noisy. But Jesse got to ride the gyroscope, he and Jeremy rode a roller coaster simulator, everyone enjoyed the big bubble stations, and everyone found several things they enjoyed doing. One of my favorite moments was watching Timothy walk up and down the giant piano keys.

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I always wondered what it was like – and now I know. 🙂

We stopped for lunch at Mellow Mushroom on the way back, which has become almost a tradition when we’re in the Pigeon Forge area. I appreciated that Great-Grandma’s caregiver was able to stay a little extra these two days.

Home for naps again (I love toddler schedules. 🙂 ). Then we got together again that evening for more visiting and a bit of game playing (or the game playing may have been another night…). I made some gluten free sugar cookies to snack on and Timothy helped a bit.

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Then Sunday was Easter. We had a nice service commemorating our Lord’s Resurrection with some special music and communion. We got in some family photos before everyone changed out of their dress clothes.

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Then we had a scrumptious dinner, then an Easter egg hunt, which the big kids like, too. 🙂 Some of the eggs are filled with candy, but most with change, and a few with paper money.

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Then Jeremy’s flight left and everyone went home and we crashed. 🙂 Our church didn’t have evening services on Easter, so it was nice to just rest, catch up on computer stuff, nap, eat leftovers, and read off and on the rest of the evening.

I was planning to give myself the day “off” more or less on Monday, reasoning that during holidays all the men can take some vacation days and set aside their regular work whereas the wives and moms usually have a bit more at those times (not complaining – that’s just how it is). It didn’t work out to a total day off as there were some errands needing tending to in the morning, but it was a fairly light day. I don’t usually do freezer meals, but Jesse reminded me I had one in there from a time when our leftovers were more than we’d likely take care of, so I pulled that out for an easy dinner.

Usually Jeremy is here for a week or so, so we have some down time in-between outings. But even though this was a busy few days, it was enjoyable and memorable. I’m planning to take down the Easter decorations this week and get a wedding gift ready for the weekend, but otherwise I need to sort through things that need to be done to decide what’s next.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter weekend as well.

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