Rewind. Reflect. Revive.

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So a dear friend emailed me a one-liner: “love your blog”. I forgot that for more than a year my “Follow my blog” signature signed off every outgoing email. I hadn’t forgotten this LoudounCrazyMom blog, but I’d definitely stuffed it in the closet, way back behind the outgrown coats.

Yesterday, inspired by a Martin Luther King Jr. Day call-to-serve blog, I cleaned out that closet–and my 10-year-old son’s drawers–to fill three huge plastic bags with warm coats and barely worn clothes. I stuffed the bags in the backseat of my car and 10 minutes later was delivering these wearables to the local thrift store. Take the time, I chided myself, to pass on the blessings.

Take the time.

Michelle, my Tri-Sigma sister and beloved friend, your email encouraged me to go back and reread my posts–and to remind myself two things: Write, Martha, write. And this is a new year…take the time to write the 52 letters I never finished. Take the time to cuddle. Take the time to opt for the scenic route. Take the time to rediscover regular exercise and homemade meals. Take the time to pray and give thanks. Take the time to rewind, reflect, and revive. 

Life has changed dramatically since last I blogged in this space. I am teaching Language Arts to 70 sixth graders. I am months away from sending my eldest boy, Cullen, off to college somewhere. Our family will be in Boston on April 21 to watch Shelby, our daughter who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, run 26.2 miles in the Boston Marathon. 

This Loudoun Crazy Mom is back. I’m going to write here…and on my class blog, http://www.mrsrombachreads.edublogs.org. I can do all things through Christ who gives me (and you) strength. Let’s go, people! Be inspired to move the world forward. Inspire others with love, kindness, and generosity. Get out there and do something. For yourself. For your family. For the strangers who need you.

Take the time to fill a bag…take the time to fill your life!

Be blessed – and be a blessing,

Martha, One Loudon Crazy Mom

family

family

The loves of my life

Letters to Camp: Two Parents’ Mission to Fire Off Daily Missives

Sean joins Bryan for a photo on his cabin cot at Summer’s Best Two Weeks camp in Somerset, PA.

Our adventurous kids head to the same overnight Christian sports camp every year–Summer’s Best Two Weeks in Somerset, PA, a not-too-distant rural suburb of our beloved Steelers’ hometown. I could wax poetic about the picturesque location: pine-draped shoreline cuddled up close to a deep blue reservoir, two-story timber cabins reaching skyward, peeking through the pine needles to watch the sun rise over the breeze-tickled water.

With every trip to deliver and retrieve our camp-loving kiddos, my husband and I find ourselves standing in awe of the place our children are blessed to call home for two weeks of every summer. If only we’d had the chance to experience this camp, with its Christian foundation, its glorious shoreline location, its boundless sports activities, its mentoring counselors, and inspiring staff. We are hooked–which means we’ve become some of the most prolific writers of letters to camp–at least in our small part of this great big world. We’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way, ones I thought I’d share today on this blog.

AT SB2W, the only way form of communication between parents and children are letters–no emails or phone calls. Of course, if you’re worried about your flesh and blood (which happened to me in year one), you can call the staff office and have them check on your camper. That calmed my worries as a camp mom newbie. Now, after six summers, I know when to send mail, how often, what to include in care packages, and when to expect mail from my campers–so I do not succumb to another parental panic attack.  So here goes, with a top ten list:

(1) Mail delivery is a BIG DEAL at every camp. You must make time to write. Think Blue’s Clues’ mail time. Imagine every camper sitting on their cots waiting to see if the counselors will utter the most-wanted phrase of the afternoon: “You’ve got mail.” Recognize this, and get your pen and paper ready, with plenty of stamps on your desktop.

(2) Make sure that your first letter or care package arrives BEFORE your camper does. That way, he/she will have a letter on day one or two–depending on how quickly mail is dispersed.

(3) Add a family photo to the first delivery, whatever form that takes. Better yet, fill a dollar-store photo album with family pics and include it in your first care package (or even sneak it into their duffel bag without their knowledge). This little reminder from home will help calm the inevitable homesickness. Yes, they all get a little homesick–even the older ones. Don’t fret–it’s normal, and working through it empowers them even more.

Mike, Bryan and Sean pose for a quick photo on the cabin deck, which overlooks the Que reservoir.

(3) Take turns with your spouse, or another willing relative. My husband and I alternate writing letters to all four kids every single day–mailing our final letter on the Tuesday before Friday pickup. We know that any letters sent after Tuesday won’t land at camp before we do. Some days, we’ll both send something–but we know that at least one of us covers the duty daily.

(4) Invite grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, even neighborhood friends to write. I send out a family email with the camp address the week before they leave. This year, the kids received a letter from one grandmom, a package from another, a postcard from their NJ cousins, a handmade card from their Aunt Kathy with a $1 tucked inside, and several letters and packages from best friends and–in the case of my older teen boys, letters from their girlfriends.

(5) Zany, over-the-top  letters get the best reception. My husband tells outlandish tales with every missive–and includes an age-appropriate brain teaser that they discuss all the way home. Talking about the mundane stuff at home is tedious to write, and not so interesting to read. Channel your inner child; be wacky for a while.

(6) Pen a letter from the family pet. The kids always get a kick out of hearing from one of our four-legged critters, be it from Des, our pet gecko, Whimsy, Cady’s gerbil, or Jewel and Blossom, our nutty Snowshoe Siamese furballs. Taking on the voice of a household pet leads you down all kinds of imaginative paths. Just go there. You can be sure this will be one of the letters read aloud to cabinmates.

(7) Decorate the envelopes/packages. As a former Creative Memories scrapbooking addict, I have dresser drawers stuffed with stickers and specialty pens. During camp weeks, I pull out my treasure trove of colorful stickers and make nearly every letter an extra special delivery. I use alphabet letters to write messages, or add their names in big, bold colors. I create scenes with beach and zoo stickers (or what have you). A giraffe teeters on a surfboard. A spottted puppy leaps over a globe. My eldest daughter, home alone with the parents, likes to gripe that I spend hours prepping camp letters every day. Well, with four at camp for two weeks, I admit to getting slightly carried away every now and then. 🙂

(8) Customize a mass mailing. When you’ve got four letters to deposit in the mailbox before noon, there are some days when the handwritten letter just isn’t going to happen. That’s perfectly okay. Fact is, handwritten or typed, every letter delivers a hug from home. I’ll start with one Word-generated letter for Child #1, and then customize a paragraph or two for Children #2, #3 and #4. Sometimes, they’ll all get the same family update–and I still feel like Supermom when I lick the envelopes and beat the mailman to the box.

Maggie and Cady settle into their cabin surroundings, pulling out bracelet-making supplies within 15 minutes of arrival.

(9) Insert a riddle, brainteaser, word search or kid-friendly joke. Just Google what you need. There are so many sites teeming with camp letter-worthy inclusions.

(10) Be good for at least one amazing care package. SB2W, where our kids head every June, doesn’t allow electronics or edible treats of any kinds. So what do you put in a care package that can’t contain candy or cookies? Bandanas, glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets to share with cabinmates, nail polish, tattoos, frisbee, colored pencils and a small sketch pad, books, word finds/searches, colorful Mardi Gras necklaces, facepaint, puzzles, journal, inflatable beach balls, deck of cards, small boxed travel games like checkers or Uno, watercolors, crazy socks, outrageous shoelaces, pre-addressed stationery and stamps, pet photos, crafts like scratch art or friendship bracelet kits, baseball cap or visor, and so much more. For inspiration, visit www.orientaltrading.com. Every year, I end up shipping something to camp that’s necessary–like shorts this year for Bryan, my 6′ 14-year-old, or a second bathing suit to Cady. Amazon Prime is a great resource that always comes in handy at camp time.

As for kids writing home, go with the “under promise, over deliver” philosophy. Manage your expectations. Allow a week for the first letter to arrive. If it makes its way home before then, hooray! Small town post offices can be overwhelmed by the sudden influx of camper mail–and it takes a while to sort and distribute at camp central. Keep writing your letters even if letters aren’t coming home. They’re our children, after all. And we love them beyond words–even those we desperately want to see in their letters home from camp. 🙂

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Martha, Loudoun Crazy Mom

Hope and Joy meet on Miracle Street for this CF Mom

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Shelby jumps for joy.

I believe in miracles, I really do.

I know that I’ve been blessed with more than my share in my 47 years. I am beyond excited at the possibility of another miracle touching down in my life. Not even two weeks ago, when Shelby and I ventured to Baltimore for her regular three-month checkup at the Johns’ Hopkins Cystic Fibrosis Center, our family received incredibly good news.

Shelby, our college-bound 18-year-old, is eligible to begin taking Kalydeco, the new FDA-approved CF drug that does something no other CF drug before has done: it targets the CTFR protein (the underlying cause of CF), not just the symptoms of CF. For the six years since her diagnosis, my husband and I have operated on the knowledge that Shelby had the F508Delta mutation, the most common CF mutation. Not until I sat in that office chair, an arm’s length away from our doctor, did I realize the magnitude of his news. No, Shelby has G551D, the rare mutation that Kalydeco targets, the gene that only 4% of 30,000 CF patients have. And Shelby not only has one copy of this rare gene–she has two, something only .0004% of the CF population exhibits.

Two hours ago, our direct-mail pharmacy called to tell us that Shelby’s first 30-day supply of Kalydeco arrives tomorrow. This drug could represent the early stages of a super-sized miracle. Perhaps one day, CF truly will stand for CURE FOUND. Today, for me, it stands for CONSTANT FAITH.

This coming Sunday, May 6, our family will walk in our local Great Strides Walk to Cure Cystic Fibrosis–Megan’s Walk, we call it here locally, in remembrance of a friend and neighbor, Megan, who at 15 lost her battle with CF. If you can support the ever-hopeful search for a cure, please visit my walk page and make a donation. At the very least, keep the faith. Hope and joy are plentiful; miracles happen daily. Open our arms wide and receive them.

Be blessed–and be a blessing,

Martha, LoudounCrazyMom

Oh Snap! Gotta Love A Five-Minute Drive-By Shoot

Sometimes, the best date nights are those spontaneous adventures Mike and I share in our sunshine yellow Jeep Wrangler. After the post-dinner clean-up, we like to put a little gravel in our travel, rolling over Loudoun County’s winding backroads. We always discover a tucked-away visual treat, like a fading sunset melting into a verdant pasture or a tattered old barn, fighting to stand tall against the inevitable decay of time and weather. Last week, we took a side trip off one of our well-worn routes and stumbled upon this barn, its metal roof peeled back by the power of a tornado that touched down a few years back. I didn’t have my Nikon 35mm or one of the family’s Canon point-and-shoots. So these photos were shot with my hubby’s iPhone camera. Oh snap–gotta love a drive-by photo shoot.

Be blessed–and be a blessing,
Martha, LoudounCrazyMom

Letters #14 & #15 of 52 Handwritten Letters: The Gift of a Good Friend

“A faithful friend is a steady shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.” — Sirach 6:14 

 I believe that God brings people in and out of our lives for a purpose, and I am grateful He knows who I need in my life, and when, far better than I do. Today, I’m writing letters to two of the precious friends who are on my heart today.

When my husband’s job was eliminated, I had to find a job fast–after 13 years of staying home with my little people. I landed in the role of front office secretary in a brand new elementary school, surrounded by an incredible staff, superb adminstrators, and one priceless new friend, the school nurse, Alyson, also back to work after a stay-at-home sabbatical. Like me, she was mom to a chronically ill teen. For the year that we worked together, we shared countless heart-to-heart conversations, laughter- (and tear-) filled lunch breaks, brisk walks around the bus loop, dark chocolate and coffee, and plenty of spontaneous prayers. I know God put Alyson in that office for me–she was the gift that kept on giving every day of the ten months we worked together.

And then there’s Jaime, who I first met when my daughter Shelby was nine and a student in her husband’s third-grade class. It took us years to really get to know each other–so well that we can finish each other’s sentences. Her husband Jeff taught three of my children; Shelby was fortunate enough to have him twice. Jaime, a career switcher, taught my middle guy, Bryan, in her inaugural year as a third-grade teacher.

But it wasn’t until we worked together that we discovered God had an even bigger friendship planned for us–the kind that spans a lifetime. My hubby’s job was eliminated the summer after I left my school secretary position. We found out the morning we were headed to Hershey Park.  A mild panic set in–health benefits would be terminated (not good news when you have a chronically ill kid). As we drove north, I scrolled through my voicemail messages and found one from Jaime. I listened, and my heart raced with the phenomenal news. She was taking a part-time kindergarten teaching position. Would I be interested in being the teaching assistant? Half days with health benefits. Within 30 minutes, we’d traded phone calls, talked to the hiring principal, and set up an interview. We started work together that August, just as my husband accepted a new post–in Orlando, Florida.

God delivered a paycheck when we needed it most, and He gave me Jaime, a faithful friend to support me, a stressed-out wife and mother, through 15 heart-breaking months of epic commuting separation. Jaime kept me smiling through all the craziness. She poured out love and praise. She listened without judgement. We shared Subway lunches and long conversations. Her smile and wraparound hug never failed to renew my spirit. She was my prayer warrior in every sense of the word. Nowadays, though she moved on to a different job, we still work hard to get together when we can–whether it’s an early Saturday morning breakfast at Pine Grove Restaurant or an afterwork glass of wine at Magnolia’s.

I am forever thankful for my treasured friends who steady me when life gets a little rocky, who buoy me when I am sinking, who recognize when I need honest feedback (even if it is difficult to hear) and deliver it with grace and wisdom. How blessed my life is with the addition of such incredible women–supportive, loving, faithful, encouraging, prayerful, and wise. Not to mention, quirky, witty, and adventurously fun. I’m one lucky girl.

Be blessed–and be a blessing.

Martha, LoudounCrazyMom

Click above for this week's inspirational tune: "I'll Be Your Friend" by Amy Grant.

There’s Nothing Routine about Traveling in the Slow Lane

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Lucky me. I pass this beautiful church on my way to and from work each day.

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast–you also miss the sense of where you are going and why. ” –Eddie Cantor

I drive the same winding stretch of a hilly, two-lane highway every workday morning.

I pass the same two pick-up trucks, parked at the end of their long street, waiting for the yellow bus to scoop up their invisible children, their presence shrouded by tinted glass.

The barns. The cemetery. The houses and farmettes. The horses and cattle. The stone church, its white steeple soaring skyward.

Some mornings, I race down this track, tearing through the landscape, not noticing much beyond the time ticking away on my dashboard clock.

Other mornings, like today, I take notice of little changes. A fresh bouquet of red roses stretched out across a grave. A real estate sign, erected overnight. Horses, typically far afield, today pressed up against the split-rail fence nibbling on high grass. The palette of hues–nearly all some iteration of spring green–that now dresses the landscape. The way the sun bounces off my bug-splattered wind shield.

I travel this route day in and day out. As I drove in today, I realized that this road is remarkably like my life–somewhat predictable, winding and a little bumpy, slow when there’s a large obstacle ahead of me,  warp speed when the path is clear.  And on the road, as in my life, when I widen my view beyond the white and yellow lines, there is always something breath-takingly beautiful to witness. Benign, perhaps. Unimportant, according to the world. But in my soul, I feel God stirring.

In that instant, I want to slow down and notice the treasures He’s blessed me with. The postcard-perfect ancient oak tree that waves its muscular arms at me. The fawn and its mother scampering across in front of me. My five children, babies no more, who are making their own journey, bumps and all, down the road of life.

I want to push pause. Stop the acceleration, the race to the finish line. I think I might move over to the slow lane for a while, become a Sunday driver in life. Take in the view. Opt for the detour. Map out the longer, more scenic route. Sure, much of my life is routine. But the way I live it doesn’t have to be.

Be blessed–and be a blessing!

Martha, LoudounCrazyMom

Click above for this week's inspirational tune: "Slow Down" by Third Day.

Letters #12 & #13 of 52: Afghanistan Bound

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…Ephesians 1:16

Today, not unlike most days, I woke up in my extremely cozy queen bed, snuggled up against my always-toasty husband of nearly 22 years. The alarm went off at 6am, but I was lazier than normal and stayed tucked under the quilt until 6:45am, when I finally marched into the bathroom.

I took a steaming hot shower, the kind that peels the wallpaper from the walls.

My husband, Mike, was downstairs already, making sure the earliest risers, Cady and Sean, had everything they needed to head back to school today. We’ve been out for spring break for 10 glorious days. I could smell the coffee brewing as I hurried downstairs, greeting them at the counter and doling out kisses and quick hugs. I grabbed a banana, my ready-to-go travel mug–filled with my made-to-perfection-by-my-husband coffee–and hit the road for work.

My 15-minute drive each morning is along one of the most scenic byways in Loudoun County–Harmony Church Road. Up and down hills I roll, passing pastures flush with goldenrod on one side and rustic stone barns and cattle on the other. I never stop marveling at the view, except of course to navigate that winding country road as oncoming traffic instantly resets my focus.

When I finish my half-day of work, I stroll out and collect my mail. I make myself  lunch–today it was grilled chicken and a sprinkling of feta on field greens. Nothing fancy, but everything was fresh and delicious. Then comes the dogs’ walk, as I have a couple of rambunctious canines always itching to head towards the park for a romp in the lush grass of spring. And now, I’m sitting at my computer typing away, free to say or think or believe or post or pray whatever I want.

I don’t think I ever give that truism enough thought.

The innumerable freedoms I have. So many things I take for granted each day which for millions of people around this world are unattainable luxuries. Running water. Hot showers. A big, comfortable bed. Grass beneath my feet. A roof over my head. My husband and children with me, sending me off to work in the morning and gathered around the dinner table at night. A pantry and refrigerator teeming with foods from which I can choose. Electronics beyond yesteryear’s imagination. A car to drive anywhere I want to go, provided I can afford the $4/gallon gas. Do I have an attitude of gratitude at all times, in all circumstances?

How easy it is to forget that there is a war raging half a world away.

We push aside the unpleasant thoughts of the military men and women stationed at far-flung bases on dangerous foreign soil, with few, if any, comforts of home. For many, their lives are at risk 24/7. We don’t know the families they’ve left behind for three or four tours of duty, some of which last 18 months a piece. Nothing that we incredibly blessed civilians can do adequately expresses the gratitude we must have for the sacrifices military volunteers make for all of us. Yet we can do something, and it costs as little as 47 cents.

Correspond with a soldier and his/her unit. Send a card or handwritten letter. Have your children draw pictures. Assemble and ship a care package. We can make our thoughts and prayers tangible.

Here’s how:  Visit www.anysoldier.com and request a serviceman or -woman’s address. Every branch of the military is represented, so you may choose by service branch, or the state from which the service person hails. Those listed have agreed to receive packages to be shared among all the members of their unit. Once you decide on a recipient or two, you can read their most recent posts, which typically include an update and a wish-list of items. Please, go to www.anysoldier.com today, and show your gratitude through a letter, care package, or donation.

Today, letters #12 and #13 of 52 go inside of two care packages, one for Shane and one for Joseph. both Navy men stationed in Afghanistan. Shane and Joseph, you are each in our prayers. May God protect you from harm, provide for and watch over your families, and return you safely to where you belong, the home of the brave, the land of the free. 

Be blessed–and be a blessing,

Martha, Loudoun Crazy Mom

This care package goes to Joseph in Afghanistan. Before we shipped, Cady decorated every side of the box with special messages and illustrations.

Click above for this week's inspirational tune: "Love is Here" by Tenth Avenue North.

Seeing the Beauty beyond the Weeds

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

After school today, Cady raced in from outside to announce that our yard has been invaded by an alien weed–oh no. Last year, we dug out our entire front bed to eradicate a nasty weed that had taken up permanent (and deeply rooted) residence. I followed her outside to inspect the unwelcome intruder, whose wispy greenery and tiny white flowers belied its true nature. Wandering around the yard, I started pulling up the weeds one bunch at a time.
 
Only a few minutes had passed when Cady and I both realized our focus had completely changed. Instead of rooting out the weeds, we stood marveling at the abundant beauty decorating our yard–a world now bursting in springtime Technicolor. We hurried inside and found our cameras. For 15 minutes more we wandered around the yard, forgetting about the dastardly weed and instead focusing on God’s glorious creation. The tiny purplish-pink buds fluttering on the red bud limb. The pale pink cherry blossoms like a cloud of hope above our heads. The dogwood tree, each tender bloom pregnant with anticipation for a season of rebirth.
 
Our yard is still blanketed by those annoying weeds. But my mind…it’s basking in the beauty of God’s breath-taking creation. Weed out the worry. Rejoice and be glad in today.
 

This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes.  Psalm 118:23

Be blessed–and be a blessing!

Martha, LoudounCrazyMom

 PS– Check out this link (after you take a peek at the photos):  When Weeds Grow-Scripture Nuggets

Letters #10 & #11 of 52: Hi Fives to the Young & Fabulous

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt

When you’re a working mother of five children ages 9-18, and the spring track, baseball, soccer, and travel basketball seasons are in full swing, your day-to-day life–what you expect to accomplish and what you actually do–is anything but textbook. Surprises creep in. Mandatory phone calls must be made to fight for your CF daughter’s right to self-carry enzymes. A child comes home from school sick with a nasty stomach bug. The laundry piles grow vertically and horizontally as school clothes and sports uniforms inextricably co-mingle. Longer hours at work to complete a couple of projects means less time at home.

No matter how you slice or dice them, there are only 24 hours in a day. At least seven during which I personally prefer to be snuggled beneath my cotton sheets and Amish quilt. When life is on overload, something has to give. Make that plural: Some things have to give. Over the past couple of weeks, it’s been housework, daily exercise, and this blog. Today, I’m giving myself one hour to write.

So here goes…fast and furious.

Letter #10 is my High Five to sweet niece Charlotte.

For this week’s mission–hand penning Letters #10 and #11–I am making and sending out Hi Fives, bright and cheery hellos to the young and fabulous.

I start with a blank sheet of white paper. I’m using printer paper–but use whatever you have. Grab a colorful Sharpie or Crayola marker and trace the outline of your hand. (Word to the wise: Remove your rings or risk looking like you crack knuckles for a living.) Inside each finger, write a brief message to your most-worthy recipient. No need to labor over the words. Everyone loves mail–especially a child. Have some fun–be visual and vibrant. Add designs or stickers around the page. And be sure to make your Hi Five one that encourages, praises, and loves. You never know…your simple Hi Five may be folded up and stowed away in a sock drawer, only to be pulled out years later when the self-esteem is fragile, but your words are strong and reaffirming.

I’m sending out Hi Fives this week to two young and fabulous kiddos. My first Hi Five goes to the ballerina in our family, my adorable niece Charlotte who, after sparkling in her role in the Nutcracker ballet,  earned the privilege of dancing on pointe this winter. We don’t see her or her two dashing and brilliant brothers, Alex and Andrew, nearly as much as we’d like–as we live three states away. That’s why today’s mail carries a high-five to New Jersey, for the curly-haired brunette who enjoys a Starbucks girls run just as much as her Aunt Martha.

The second Hi Five goes to Cade, my favorite 10-year-old New Yorker.  We met Cade for the first time last summer, when he stayed with our family for two weeks in a visit coordinated by The Fresh Air Fund. The Fresh Air Fund, a NYC non-profit,  pairs awesome inner-city kids, ages 6-18, with volunteer families who welcome these amazing youngsters into their lives and hearts–year after year.  The kids leave the big city for more suburban and rural destinations, where trees are plentiful, bikes roll down paved neighborhood streets, and outdoor play is safe and inviting. Cade will return to our bustling family again this year–packing up his huge smile, adventurous personality, boundless energy, and gentlemanly manners–for another two weeks in this zany household of ours. Five kids. Two dogs. Two cats. One gerbil. One gecko. Plenty of fresh air and wide-open spaces. We intend to make certain we deliver another great summer vacation for a boy who roared into our lives and etched a smiley face on our hearts.

Sean and Cade show their Fourth of July fireworks spirit in matching t-shirts tie-dyed at home.

Find out more about the Fresh Air Fund by clicking on the links in this blog. There’s a boy or girl waiting to steal your heart, and get you back on your bikes, around Monopoly tables, in backyard tents, and rediscovering the simple joys of being young and fabulous in the summertime.

Time’s up–dryer buzzed. and it’s off to the elementary school so I can retrieve my youngest son and deposit him at his afternoon pulmonologist appointment.

Be blessed–and be a blessing.

Martha, LoudounCrazyMom