July 22, 2015

Chocolate-Covered Popcorn...and 5 Other Habits of a (Mostly) Happy Family

(Just here for the popcorn? It's at #6.)

The other day, I asked my children a Very Important Question.

"Do you think we have a happy family?"

(Insert holding breath.)

After several interminable seconds, my offspring--one teen daughter and one tween daughter--got back to me. Actually, they looked at me incredulously.

Then they both said, "Of course. Why would you even ask?"



Well.

That's a relief.

I asked the question because I wanted to know my girls' take on the topic. I mean, I think we're pretty happy. But I wanted my daughters' off-the-cuff perspective: no time to think about it, no mulling it over, no hedging. Just "yes" or "no."

Listen, we are such a normal family, I can't even talk about it. We try to love each other, but sometimes we don't even like each other. We fight. We snap. We have total meltdowns. (And by "we," I mostly mean "me.")
But if my adolescent daughters can unequivocally answer the question, "Do you think we have a happy family?" with a ready "yes," something we're doing must be working, by the grace of God.

Here are six habits our family has put into practice, by the grace of God. (A recurring theme, BTW.) Some have been deliberate choices, while others we've just fallen into, by the grace... If these aren't already part of your family's modus operandi, give one or two a try and see if they take.

1. Tradition! Tevye's tribe had it right in Fiddler on the Roof: traditions help keep life in balance, and we are big into them around here. We have family pizza night and Sunday-night "party" (snack food in front of the TV). We have our annual at-home Christmas Eve service planned and hosted by our girls. We have our vacation in a cottage on a lake for a week, during which we do the same things every year. We have our last-day-of-school ritual of "What Time Is It?" from High School Musical 2 blasting at top volume out the front door when the girls get off the bus. 

These traditions anchor us. They give us something constant and consistent to anticipate. They bring us together and hold us there. They smooth the rough edges of life. Not long ago, when we sat down for our pizza-night practice, my 16-year-old sighed with contentment and said, "I love family pizza night. I look forward to it all week." When your teenager makes a comment like that, you know you've got something worth keeping. (FYI, if you need a go-to dough recipe, here's my favorite from the inimitable Alton Brown.)


2. The Faith Hub. I grew up in a church-going family. We prayed before meals. We went to church camp, Sunday School, and vacation Bible school. I am beyond thankful for this foundation of faith, and I'm so grateful to my parents for giving it to me. But looking back, I can see that God was a spoke on the wheel of life more than He was the hub.

Making God central in our life is something my husband and I have tried to be deliberate about doing. I know we have failed over and over again. But we have worked to weave faith into the fabric of our family life rather than just having it be a fringe element. We try to pray even if we're not sitting down to a meal. Going to church on Sunday mornings is not a decision we have to make every week: it's just happening, most of the time. We talk about the Bible. We worship and serve together (by the grace...). We don't do these things to put ourselves out there as pious. We do them because we want our girls to know this sometimes-wonderful but often-messed-up world is not as good as life gets, and it is not their ultimate home. 

One of my favorite quotes is by Karen L. Tornberg in The Best Things Ever Said About Parenting: "To some this world may seem like no place to bring up a child. And in some respects they are right. But we take that risk anyway with the comforting knowledge that it is not for this world that we prepare them." In a culture of constant change, we want to give our daughters the security of an unchanging God and the hope of knowing there is more to this life than what they can see.

3. The Low Bar. Our family has very humble standards for what is "good" and "exciting" and "worth looking forward to." This is because my husband and I have intentionally established a low threshold for expectations. If a trip to Disney World is the base standard, disappointment over "normal" life is sure to follow. But if a ride on the penny pony at the grocery store is the bar for satisfaction, pretty much anything can be billed as thrilling. As demonstrated in #1, above, we've done such a good job at this that my girls think having homemade pizza on the floor while we watch Tiny House Hunting is something to plan a week around. Score one for the low bar.

4. Selective Scheduling. In comparison to many families with children the ages of our girls, we are an under-achieving (and possibly lazy) family. Overall, our daughters do the following: school, band, dance, church, home, family, friends. Also, their hair. Which, to be fair, must be counted as an activity. We don't do travel-this or competitive-level that. I am NOT saying there is anything wrong with those activities. But being home together is crucial to our little family's happiness and our level of contentment with life at large. So we keep a pretty tight reign on our schedule, because it's hard to be home together if we're never home. Or together. 

5. Home as Safe Zone (Or: We Welcome Weird). The truth is that none of us can just be who we necessarily feel like being all the time. The same goes for only doing what we feel like doing or saying what we feel like saying. We can't. For the good of others, we have to practice self-control and self-sacrifice.

But living beyond ourselves is a lot of work. Which is okay: most things worth doing are. At home, though, I know that I am accepted and treasured in spite of myself. And I want my husband and daughters to know that grace, too. I want our home to be a safe, secure refuge where joys are doubled and sorrows are halved (quartered?). I want it to be a place where we can unload and be refreshed. 

So at our house, it is okay to be grumpy sometimes. It is okay to be introverted. It is okay to not always be okay. And we do not automatically try to "fix" grumpy, introverted, or un-okay.



We welcome weird. Okay, some of us welcome weird more than others. Some of us ARE weirder than others (and by "some of us," I mostly mean "me"). Whatever. Weird is welcome in this house, and that's all there is to it. 

We also welcome (or at least accept as part of life on this earth) sad, moody, complicated, worried, angry, frustrated, and confused. If there is something to be done about these, we try to do it. But sometimes these emotions and experiences need to run their course, and we try to make our house a safe place for them to do that.

6. Oh, and About That Chocolate-Covered Popcorn (CCP). I think every family needs an "if all else fails" coping mechanism, and in our famly, CCP is it. If you're picturing plain popcorn drizzled perfunctorily with melted chocolate or, heaven forbid, "chocolate confectionery coating" (repeat after me: bad, bad, bad), think again. This is more like popcorn entirely encased in gooey, chewy chocolate, and honestly, I don't want to see the family problem this sweet standby can't help at least a little. Here's what you need to know if you want to make CCP one of your family's happiest habits.


Chocolate-Covered Popcorn

(New and improved! Now you can print this!)

14-16 cups plain popped popcorn (I use an air-popper and make 1 ½ batches)
½ cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter (no substitutions), cut into chunks
Dash salt
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 300°. Place popped popcorn in a large roasting pan or other extra-large baking pan coated with cooking spray. (If you do not have an extra-large pan, you can use 2 9x13-inch baking pans and divide the popcorn evenly between them.) Bake at 300° for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes; this removes extra moisture from the popcorn so the finished product will be crisp. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and chocolate in a 2-cup microwave-safe measure or small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on High power 2 minutes or until boiling, stirring after 1 minute. Watch carefully unless you want to create a chocolate volcano in your microwave! Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla. Carefully pour the very warm chocolate mixture over the popcorn and toss gently to coat using a large spoon or spatula. Serve immediately or allow to cool in the pan. Makes about 14 cups. Which sounds like a lot but is in fact usually just barely enough.

Looking for more habits to up your family-happiness quotient? Here are some great ideas from other mamas...

Talk to each other. Are you thinking "about what?"? (I once dated a guy whose family did not speak to each other at the dinner table, and while nothing--nothing--makes me lose my appetite, this came close.) Click over to Faith Along the Way, where you can download a whole set of printable Family Conversation Cards.

Bucket lists and days of fun. I'm thinking Holly at While I'm Waiting has a very happy family if only based on the creative--but doable--ideas she puts up on her blog. 

Find out how much your kids know about you. (Other than your name, of course: "Mom. MOM! MOMMMMM!!!!!!!!!) Find 23 Questions for a Kid Perspective on Your Parenting at Joy in My Kitchen.

Play a game. I mean, besides than the ever-popular "Find the Remote" or "Can We All Pretend to Get Along for Five Minutes?" Whether you've got toddlers or teens or someone in between, check out this "Big List of Favorite Games For Families" by Jen at Being Confident of This.

Embrace the joy and the jungle. This "Day in the Life" from Jennifer of Mommy Tries hilariously captures what one wise mom recognizes as "the essence of life with small children in all its chaos and glory--which is where the happiness resides (or resides-slash-hides, as we all know to be more accurately the case)." 

Watch a movie together. After you've had plenty of deep conversations and checked some items off your bucket list and played games and made it through a gloriously chaotic day, hunker down and cue up the DVD player. Mustache and Princess Mom has a great list of 10 kids' movies to get you started. 

If you're living in tween/teen land, as we are, my focus group chimed in with National Treasure (both), For Richer or PoorerCheaper By the Dozen (both), Father of the  Bride (both), McFarland USAAkeelah and the Bee, and Glory Road. I also was unwilling to marry my husband if he did not show at least satisfactory appreciation for The Man From Snowy Riverand now our girls are fans, too. In the non-movie-but-fun-for-all-to-watch genre, we tend toward anything from Tim Hawkins, HGTV, and Food Network. What can I say? We like to laugh, and we like to eat. 

Now it's your turn! What's your #1 secret to a happy family? Tell me in a comment, by email, or over on Facebook. I'll be eating my CCP and waiting for your wisdom.

Happily linked with Fellowship FridayThoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop, and Works for Me Wednesday!

49 comments:

  1. I love this post!!! I totally agree with #3. I think that to many people believe in a crazy fairytale world and are not happy with real life. My favorite thing is to have a night at home with my munchkins doing a whole lot of nothing! Thanks for including me in your blog! I am truly honored.

    Kristen

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    1. Thank you so much, Kristen, a.k.a, Mustache and Princess Mom! :) I'm so glad I "found" you and look forward to following your blogging journey. As for the low bar, I can tell you that the older my girls get, the more I simply long for my little family just to be in the same place together, going nowhere! Thanks again for letting me link to you!

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  2. Great post (and thanks for including a link to me!). I love your traditions! We are a tradition-rich family too! Thanks again for sharing your heart! We might not be happy all the time but we try! :)

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    1. Thank you, Holly! It's interesting: when my girls were little, I used to say that their happiness was not my main concern. I was more intent on shaping their malleable little hearts. And I'm still concerned with that. But the older they get, the more I long for them to be happy. And more than that, to know joy. Thank you for being willing to let me include a link to your lovely site...blessings on your day (happy or otherwise!). :)

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  3. Wonderful post. Filled with humor and common sense. Thank you for this. I have one boy and he keeps me busy. We try to stress simplicity. The smaller things in life are worth remembering.

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    1. Thank you, Cherrilynn! You are so right that "the smaller things in life are worth remembering." The longer I walk the parenting road, the more I see that the "smaller things" ARE the big things! :) Thank you for taking time to stop by and to comment!

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  4. Excellent post Elizabeth. It is all about unconditional love, attitude, a sense of humor, and common sense. Thanks for putting what makes us happy into perspective. BTW very brave of you to ask the question!

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  5. Excellent post Elizabeth. It is all about unconditional love, attitude, a sense of humor, and common sense. Thanks for putting what makes us happy into perspective. BTW very brave of you to ask the question!

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    1. Thank you so much, Lori! And I will admit I posed the question to my daughters with some fear and trembling. But on the other hand, they are 11 and 16, and if they don't think we're happy at this point, I figured we'd better make some adjustments. I'm grateful for their answer...and long live, family pizza night! Thank you for stopping by from Moms Together...one of my favorite places! :)

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  6. I loved this post. I love tradition and as our family has grown older, some of the traditions have been lost with the younger ones. And I love just being home with family. Love sitting around and talking about past experiences and learning from each other.

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    1. You are so right, Tammy! Just being home, in the same room with my sweet ones, bring such joy to my heart. I'm already looking forward to extending this in years to come. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of that and for taking time to stop by today! :)

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  7. Well, I definitely need to come back and read through this more thoroughly again, Elizabeth. My husband and I are both task focused and "fun" doesn't come naturally to either of us. Bad combination, but we're realizing it and working to change that, so this is a great post for me to mull over. And I too loved Man From Snowy River, though I've yet to have Harrison watch it!

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    1. Thank you, Abi! Listen, I am, in my own nature, the least "fun" human being alive! :) Sometimes, I settle for weird and call it good! So glad to meet another "Snowy River" fan. Thank you for stopping by, and thank you for being part of my little project...love your blog!

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  8. I love this, especially number 1! Traditions are so important. I'm slowly building traditions into our lives as my children get older, and it feels so special. Also, that popcorn looks divine. My chocoholic 4 year old would go crazy for it!

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    1. Thank you, Allison! Have I mentioned that those almond waffles of yours are calling to me? :) Mercy...must try those soon! And you are a wise mama to see the importance of traditions as your sweet ones get older...I cherish ours even more now that my girls are a tween and teen than I did when we started them. And it makes my heart happy that those habits matter to my girls now, too. Thank you so much for stopping by...can't wait to make your waffle recipe! Think I'll go sniff my almond extract as a prelude...:)

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  9. Hi, this is such a great post! In our house, we love traditions. My husband grew up with them, I didn't and I want the kids to have them. Our 4th of July ritual is to go hiking and at dusk go to the local ice cream shop and sit outside with other families and watch fireworks. I think that many families are forgoing traditions, which is a shame. We also enjoy playing board games and a new one my son introduced us to called Jack in the Box that you play with your tv!

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    1. Thank you so much, Tiffany! What a joy to hear from another tradition-lover! I agree: families who don't observe them are missing out on a treasure. Your July 4th plans sound delightful...no doubt your children look forward to them every year. Thanks so much for taking time to stop by and to comment! :) I truly love to hear from fellow mamas who are trying to do their best while they do the next thing!

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  10. Excellent advice.

    We always have popcorn for movies at home and rarely at the movies.

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    1. Thank you so much! It IS painful, isn't it, to pay for movie popcorn? I so love watching movies at home with my family...actually, I just love being home with my family, period. Thank you for stopping by!

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  11. Wow….LOVE the CCP! So glad to be popping by here again! Your tips are wonderful! I love welcoming weird. So important. Humor is our biggest stress reliever…and sharing amusements over the dogs. It can cure the biggest teen angst and soften hearts. Blessings from #EspressosofFaith via #Mom2MomMonday!

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    1. Hello, Bonnie! I'm so glad you "popped" by again, too...love the pun, intended or not! ;) I'm delighted you stopped in from Mom2MomMonday not only because your kind words encouraged my heart but because it gave me a chance to visit your site again and to figure out I had liked you on FB but somehow did not have notifications on. Well, I fixed that but quick! :) Blessings on your day, fellow welcomer of weird!

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  12. Joining you from Coffee and Conversation, I think as a first-time visitor. Love this list. "It's okay to be not okay" and "we welcome weird" - you might as well be in my house! Great post!

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    1. Thank you, Angela! I'm so glad you stopped by! And it sounds like I was LOVE to be a guest at your house. ;) So happy to meet a fellow Coffee & Conversation mom!

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  13. I really love this list. I feel like our family is on the right track as each point resonated with me, but I was a little convicted about #5. I need that reminder that it is okay to not be okay!

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    1. Thank you so much, Natalie! I'm glad something made sense, because each item on my little list is really proving its worth the older my daughters get. As for being okay with not being okay: this is an ongoing challenge requiring wisdom from Abba. We cannot only be who we are in our own nature all the time, or what is the power of God for? And yet: God makes us unique and gives us a range of emotions other than happy. Also, in this world, we will and do have trouble, so there truly are things that are not and never will be okay. As I said, working out all the twists and turns in this winding road is a daily challenge. Thanks so much for stopping by...blessings to you, sweet mama! :)

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  14. I love this list! We do have some traditions, but not weekly ones. Maybe that is something we will have to talk about and work on this fall. Thanks for the ideas! Sharing!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement! I've just left a comment on your Facebook page after I tracked you down there! :) Clearly, I am a tradition-nut, but the older and busier my girls get, the more I treasure these ties that bind us together. Blessings to you as you seek out habits and practices that will become part of your family fabric!

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  15. I think that it is important to understand what makes your family happy. Then you can use this knowledge when thing go off the rails. I visited from your link at cronicallycontent and enjoyed your thoughts.

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    1. Thank you, Fran! I love your reference to "when things go off the rails"! :) Indeed! Thanks so much for taking time to stop by!

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  16. What a wonderful post. Having a happy family is different for each family, yet it's the same in the most important way: time together. Thanks for writing so personally :) and for sharing at Together on Tuesdays!

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    1. Thank you, Lisa...your kind words make me happy! :) And you are so right: the older my sweet girls get, the more I just want our little family to be in the same room together for more than 5 minutes! Thank you for so graciously hosting Together on Tuesdays. I'm grateful I found you and am already looking forward to coming back each week!

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  17. The low bar and selective schedules are were we find our happiness. I am very glad that we never focused on lavish expectations and living through our children (which is what a lot of over scheduled child, parents are doing). God is our focus and enjoying each other. I love this post and the popcorn sounds divine.

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    1. That's so encouraging to read, Jen! This seems to be working for us, so it's very uplifting to see that it's working for someone else, too. Thanks for stopping by!

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  18. Ooooh, I love this - AND I love that your teenaged daughter looks forward to family night! This is encouraging me to spend a little more time and focus on our family traditions. Or, as I will be singing the rest of the day...TRADITIOOOOOONNNNNN! ;)

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad, Mary! And, yes, having my teenager look forward to family pizza night is pretty much money in my mom bank. Or, in keeping with the theme, "If I were a rich mom..." :)

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  19. All great suggestions. We make sure we never go to bed angry and still spend those precious few minutes after the lights go out and before slumber sets in talking with each kid individually about the ups and downs of his or her day. I sometimes get the best insights and the toughest questions then...

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    1. Thank you so much, OverAchiever Mom! :) Love your great additions to the list...no doubt, you are sending your children off to sleep each night feeling loved and listened-to! Thank you for taking time to stop by and to comment!

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  20. such a great post. Thank you for sharing with OMHG Wordless Wednesday linky, Have a great weekend!! co-host Evija from @Fromevijawithlove xx

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    1. Thank you, Evija! I'm so glad to have found Wordless Wednesday! :) Thank you for hosting so graciously.

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  21. I clicked over for the popcorn recipe and got so much more! My son is only 15 months old, but I would love to start making traditions with him. I love that you allow your girls to share all of their emotions. You are right sometimes those emotions just have to run it's course.

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    1. Oh, thank you, Emily! So glad you stopped by...for popcorn plus! :) What a sweet time you're in now with your son...and so much to look forward to. Lovely to meet you, and I look forward to keeping up with you now via your blog!

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  22. Elizabeth, Thank you so much for sharing about how your family works toward being happy. When I was a new believer, I read a book called The Secret to a Happy Christian Life. That is definitely a book I need to re-read. There was so many good insights shared, but sadly, over time, we tend to forget what we have read.

    You, however, are applying "secrets" to a happy life in your every day life. What a wonderful legacy you are leaving for your children. Tradition, Christ-centeredness, low-bar, safe zone are all wonderful ways to encourage happiness within a family. And of course, chocolate covered pop corn!

    Thank you so much for sharing! Your exuberance for life shines through your posts! :-D

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    1. Aw, thank you, Karen! I must get that book! I know that "happiness" can be fleeting and that as believers, we pursue joy that goes beyond happiness. But creating a refuge at home where those joys can be multiplied and sorrows divided is near and dear to my heart, so I am grateful that my family seems to feel we have accomplished that at least some of the time! So glad to have met you...one of the sweetest blessings of this week!

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  23. This is such an awesome post! I can identify with it all - especially the we=me bit. That chocolate popcorn concoction looks fabulous. Pinning so I come back! Thanks, Elizabeth. :)

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    1. Thank you, my dear! So glad to hear I'm not the only we=me! :) Let me know if you try the popcorn...we do love it around here. Thanks for taking time to read and respond!

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  24. Awe, sweet post, Elizabeth. :) I love that you point out that home is a safe place where "It's okay to not be okay." There's so much freedom in that. Thanks for sharing. ((blessings))

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    1. Bless you back, Brenda! I'm glad the "safe place" idea made sense. As Christians, we have to live beyond ourselves, and God helps us do that. But sometimes, we need a place where we can just be who and what we are/feel at that moment, and I want our home to be that place. Thank you so much for stopping by today!

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  25. This is lovely! Somehow I landed here!
    #5 Home is a Safezone is my favorite.
    Thanks for this resource!
    Blessings to you Elisabeth

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    1. Heehee, Ifeoma! However you got here, I'm so glad you did! Thank you for reading and commenting...and I share your love for #5. It feels more and more important every day. Blessings to you!

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I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!