Teaching Kindness and Training Warriors

As a momma-to-be, there are already so many things I worry about for this sweet child I’m carrying. Am I eating the right foods to help her grow big and strong? Am I picking the right bedding, toys, and accessories so that he’ll be safe, secure, and happy? How do I prepare for the unknown worlds of birth, feeding, and tireless newborn care?

My biggest worry, though, is the overall prospect of bringing this little one into a great big world that is so bright and beautiful, but can also be harsh and mean and scary. For a while she’ll be protected by the cloak of babyhood – being constantly supervised and surrounded by people who offer nothing but kind words for this tiny new being. But in a brief few years she’ll grow up and go out on her own – at pre-school, at the park – and someone will say something unkind to her or another child. And the thought of that shatters my heart…

So how do I teach my child to embrace kindness even in the midst of a sometimes unkind world? How do I let him know that, no matter how strong meanness may seem, kindness will always win? How do I encourage him to face each day, brave and strong, as a warrior fighting for kindness for all those around him?

With small daily acts and beautiful inspiring words.

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Fortunately, my lovely sister-in-law, Katie Moore, has recently published an incredible children’s book on exactly this topic. Her book – You Are A Warrior - tells a beautiful, whimsical, and truthful tale of a little girl who is doing just that – being a warrior by fighting back against bullying with seemingly small acts of kindness that yield huge results. What makes Katie’s book even more special are the delightfully happy illustrations that are a compilation of her four talented children’s artwork combined with her own wise words. Without a doubt, this is an inspiring book and a meaningful message for adults and children alike.

Since I’m fortunate enough to know this witty and wonderful author, I asked Katie a few questions about the book in hopes of absorbing some of her awesome, love-filled wisdom:

What was your inspiration for writing this book?                                                               

My inspiration for writing this book was to give my kids something to hold and read and know that they contributed to a real book. Something tangible that they helped to create and build and feel that they could put it in their hands and say that they were a part of. I’m working on a novel that is aimed for an adult audience so it was important for me to get this one out first. Also on my blog I write a lot of things that are adult humor that I would never (ever) want them to come across, but a book that is for kids helps confirm that their momma really is a writer. It gives me some street credit. Plus (and most importantly) I am a huge fan of children’s books that send out a positive message. I want my kids and kids everywhere to be kind and aim for good every single day.      

As a mother of four (incredible) kids, why do you think this is an important book and message for children?                                                                                                                 

I think that it is desperately important that children realize that small acts can make a tremendous impact on this world. Bullying is rampant in schools, playgrounds and probably the most detrimental of all, on all sources of media. Kindness isn’t a slight thing, costs nothing and has the potential to bring hope to every generation. Children of all ages have the power to bring change.

I love the artwork in the book! Can you tell me more about your process for creating the beautiful and inspiring images?                                                                           

Thank you! I am in love with collage work with mixed media. I wanted to create something whimsical with my own kids’ artwork and add some words and light to bring each page its own type of faithful magic. The process is really glue, hope, glue, repeat. Roll with the mess and the mistakes… perfection is overrated.   

What is the number one lesson that you hope anyone reading – both children and adults – will take away from your book?                                                          

Show up. Be kind. That really would be a dream if that was the takeaway. Oh and have fun too. Warriors are rockstars.                                                                                                                                                                            

Thank you dear Katie!

There is still time to get the perfect Christmas gift for kids of all ages (including those grown-up kids who may need a little kindness reminder) by ordering Katie’s book on Amazon: You Are A Warrior.

While you’re there, be sure to pick up a copy of her lovely inspiration journal – Dream a Bigger Dream – to spark your own creative potential.

For more of Katie’s wit, humor, and wisdom, check out her blog, The Naked Momma, at www.thenakedmomma.com.  Or get her daily dose of inspiration and fun on Facebook and Twitter @thenakedmommakt.

PS – it just so happens to be Katie’s birthday today, so share the love!

What small but mighty acts of kindness have you seen or done this week? Leave a comment below with ways to share some joy this season and beyond, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of You Are A Warrior – a beautiful gift just for you! Happy kindness spreading friends!

Weekend Wandering: The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas Tree

Though I’ve been in the Christmas spirit for a while, we still stuck with tradition and waited until after the joy and mayhem of Thanksgiving to start the Christmas decorating. But this weekend it was time, so we set off to find our shining beauty – the Christmas Tree.

To save time and money, we planned to go the easy route this year and pick from the pre-sorted, pre-cut selection of firs at a local lot. But when we pulled up and learned that even the puniest of trees on the lot were going to run us a whopping $80, that wasn’t going to happen… So we made a last ditch decision to continue our tradition from last year and headed out to pick and cut our own tree at Larson’s Family Farm.

We drove an hour west, leaving the suburban sprawl behind and winding through midwestern farms and cornfields. When we finally arrived, we has less than an hour of sunlight left with which to pick our perfect tree. Though the sunset made for a beautiful setting, it also served as a stressfully ticking clock on my indecisiveness.

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I darted frantically from the firs to the pines to the spruces and back again searching for what would be the perfect symbol of our holiday cheer. While Larson’s had a vast selection and beautiful variety, every tree I came across seemed too short or too sparse or too crooked. In my eyes, one tree was not full enough while another was not green enough. As darkness began to descend, I fretted that we had driven all this way and I would still not find “The One.”

Then my husband, in his simple but infinite wisdom said, “They’re trees. They’re real and living, so they’re not going to be perfect.”

Ah yes, how I so easily forget that to be real and living means by default to be imperfect. And that’s not only okay, but wonderful. Because isn’t it far better to have the type of beauty and essence that is real and living than to strive for some artificial idea of perfection?

This season more than any other, I think it’s easy to forget the beautiful reality of life in our quest for perfecting the holidays. We strive for the perfect tree and the perfect gifts, for the perfect house for hosting parties and the perfect treats to share with friends, for the perfect Christmas card picture and the perfect gift wrapping. We can become so blinded by the sparkling lights that we forget what this season is truly about – the birth of a grace and love that allows us to be perfectly imperfect as real and living humans.

So with the sun descending below the stalks of corn, I finally decided to forget perfection and pick a tree that had a beauty and charm that we loved. We went with a pine, mostly because I loved how Andrew called them the “furry trees.”

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It’s shaggy and sparse in areas and a bit wonky at the top, but in our eyes, it’s taken on it’s own kind of real, imperfect perfection.

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An Ode to Maternity Pants

There are many wonderful things about being pregnant – growing a child, indulging in favorite foods, being showered with gifts and love. But perhaps the most underrated benefit is maternity pants.

Somewhere in the middle few months of pregnancy you reach a point where buttons and zippers on pants become obsolete. For a while there’s your good friend yoga pants, that stretch with you as you grow. But eventually you might want to (or at least need to) go somewhere that requires slightly fancier attire than gym-chic. This is where maternity pants come in – a brilliant invention that allows you to feel like you’re headed to Pilates (or a Netflix marathon) while looking like a normal pants-wearing member of society.

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(Picking out my first pair. Ahh the comfort…)

So I ask, why must maternity pants be limited to the expectant among us? Sometimes you just want to be able to eat that extra slice of cake in comfort. There’s no better time than the holiday season to break out the maternity pants and indulge. Joey Tribianni of Friends really had it figured out.

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No button? No zipper? No problem! Bring on the elastic, baby.

Now many women would disagree with me. Most pregnant ladies probably sit around with a bulging belly dreaming of the day when they can squeeze back into their skinny jeans. I, on the other hand, dread the day when I have no reasonable excuse to put on these elastic paneled beauties.

I guess there’s always Thanksgiving…

Weekend Wandering: ‘Tis the Season

Generally I am a strict holiday purist, preferring to keep my holidays completely separate. I can’t stand when I walk into a store in July and holiday goods are already decking the halls (I mean aisles). To me, the Christmas season has always begun the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music, decorations, and shopping are held off until we can celebrate Turkey Day in all it’s gobbling glory.

But then I moved to a place where by mid-November I’ve seen snow falling more days than not, the temperature has scarcely risen over freezing, and one of the few radio stations I’ve found has already started playing Christmas music 24/7. So yes, it already kind of feels like the North Pole up here.

Still, I think I could have remained strong had it not been for this one magical Chicago Christmas tradition. A place that combines three of my favorite things: craft vendors from around the world, German food and drink and atmosphere, and Christmas (of course). Christkindlmarket. A mecca of all things cozy and Christmas-y and wonderful!

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The traditional German-American holiday market kicked off this past weekend in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, so of course I had to drag Andrew into the city to experience the joys of the holiday season, European style. Though the market was admittedly crowded – it’s a pretty small space, taking up just one square block – who cares when you’re filled with good cheer and Glühwein (alkoholfrei for me).

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We browsed the vendors, taking in the delicately crafted glass and wooden ornaments, handmade cuckoo clocks, and traditional German pyramids and nutcrackers. And of course we had to sample all of the delicious food offerings – from bratwurst and sauerkraut to potato pancakes and pretzels, and anything you could imagine dipped in chocolate – the options were endless.

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Once we left the Christkindlmarket, we continued in the Christmas spirit by heading to the Magnificent Mile Light’s Festival to enjoy their Christmas parade. The weather had warmed up a bit from the frigid temperatures of the proceeding week, making parade watching more bearable. We enjoyed seeing the fun floats, giant balloons, and talented performers.

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However, being at a big parade in person is a different experience than watching it on television; involving annoying street closures, lots of standing around, being packed into crowds, craning to see over others, and waiting a while between floats. So it was a fun experience, especially since we’re new to the city, but let’s just say next year (to avoid becoming Scrooges) we’ll stick with the Christmas Market and skip the crowds.

Though this week is still all about Thanksgiving, I have to say I enjoyed getting a little head start on the Christmas season. There’s no reason these two holiday siblings can’t share the love, right?

Happy (early) Holidays to you, friends!

It’s A…

With all the traveling and moving and settling in and exploring we’ve been doing the past few months, it’s hard to believe that just four short months from today is when our little one is expected to make his or her entrance into this world! Now that we’re over halfway there (eek!), without a doubt the most common question we get is: “Are you having a boy or a girl?!”

Well, since inquiring minds want to know, it’s a…

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Surprise!

Yes, we decided we’re going to do things the old fashion way and wait and be surprised when we meet our sweet babe for the first time in the delivery room.

Since deciding to wait to find out the gender, I’ve found people’s responses incredibly amusing. Of course there are those that made the same choice and encourage you, proclaiming: “Waiting and being surprised is the best!” Others are supportive and admiring, saying, “I wish I was patient enough to just wait, I think that’s so great.” But then there are those who so obviously disagree with your choice that it’s comical. Their reactions range from confused and incredulous looks to flat out stating, “You’re crazy!” Though most of these have come in good humor from great friends, I’ve found it funny that it actually seems to annoy people that they can’t know the gender of the baby.

Then there are the questions…

“How will you know what to buy?”

“How will you pick a baby name?”

“But if you can find out, then why wouldn’t you?”

Our reasons for not finding out our baby’s gender are both personal and practical. First there’s the obvious – the element of surprise. In this modern world of information overload, there are so few great surprises left in life. I’ve always loved surprises; never wanting to know the contents of my gifts before Christmas morning; insisting that Andrew not tell me where we are going on dates. So what greater surprise could there be than finding out whether we have a new son or daughter in that miraculous moment when we bring him or her into the world. The greatest gift of all.

From a practical standpoint, we’re hoping that keeping the baby’s gender a mystery will help cut down on what we acquire both now and in the future. It keeps me (and others) from going out and buying every pink or blue outfit, blanket, and accessory in the store. Instead we end up with a few carefully selected gender neutral items that we really love. And since we are hoping to have more children (perhaps of different genders), we don’t want to stock up on gender specific major items – carseat, stroller, nursery decor – only to have to re-buy everything the next go round. Besides, our style doesn’t lean towards the pink ballerina girl or blue sports boy. We prefer a mix of colors and styles as unique as our child – regardless of gender.

Additionally, not knowing the gender may just help keep unwanted opinions and assumptions at bay. It seems that one answer leads to so many more questions: “What are you going to name the baby?” “Do you think he will be into planes like his dad?” “Do you think she will like to read like her mom?” Rather than trying to define this little person with a name or personality before her or she even takes a first breath, we’re glad to let our babe spend these last few months in the warm womb relaxing without the opinions or expectations of the world. There will be plenty of time for that in years to come.

Our final and most important reason for deciding not to find out the gender of our baby is not really a reason at all. The fact is, it really doesn’t matter whether our child is a boy or a girl, we are going to love him or her just the same either way. It’s a baby, and its needs are the same regardless of gender – love and nurturing, attention and affection. Our lives are going to be turned upside down in wild and wonderful ways no matter what. So we are embracing the unknown that is a necessary part of parenthood.

There are so many reasons behind each personal parenting decision, and by no means am I trying to claim that others should make the same decision with their child. But for us, with this child, it’s what felt right.

I’m curious – if you’re a parent did you find out the gender of your child beforehand? Why or why not? 

First Flakes

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Over this past weekend we got to enjoy the first beautiful snowflakes of winter. I know I’m going to kick myself for saying this in a few weeks when the cold and snow become relentless, but I truly love seeing snow fall.

There is something so magical and peaceful about watching each unique flake float down onto the earth. Charting it’s own path through the sky. Living for a few moments with fierce individuality before melding with the other flakes on the ground or simply melting into the warm earth.

And who can deny the beauty of snow falling? White flakes flittering against a dark night sky. Or when a small bit of sun shines, radiating through these tiniest of prisms. Nature’s perfect decoration – snowflakes delicately adorning our hair as we stand still, looking upward in awe of this blessing from above.

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Then of course there’s the excitement and the pure joy that snowflakes bring. As I breathe in the cold air and taste the icy crystals, I’m inadvertently filled with something far greater – a swirling mix of hope and anticipation.

While leaving the grocery store this weekend, I saw a mother with a bundled up crew of small children trailing behind her. The mother trudged towards the car, but when the children saw the flakes that had begun to fall, their faces lit up, their steps slowed, and they exclaimed simply, joyfully, “snow!”

I hope I can hold onto that same childlike wonder whenever I see those miraculous little white flakes falling.

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{Via}

Tips for a Joyful Move

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Over the past few years, I have moved more times than I care to remember. From hopping around college housing (including a stint overseas) to apartments in the Washington, DC area, a travel trailer that took us to Florida and back to Tennessee, a few houses there and now up to Illinois. By now you would think I’d be an expert, addicted to the art of packing and unpacking and creating new abodes. In honesty though, while I love new experiences and places, I really hate the process of moving.

I’ve finally found that there are a few things that help me keep my sanity, and keep tears to a minimum, when drowning in bubble wrap and boxes.

  1. Purge Everything – Before you start packing, take a day and go through all of your stuff and get rid of anything you don’t absolutely need or love. Then do it again the next day. With a fresh eye, day by day go through your things until you’ve narrowed it down to manageability. I have to admit, this process is really hard for me. While I’d like to be a minimalist, I tend to err on the side of hoarder – finding it hard to part with that sweet birthday card or that shirt that I might decide to wear in a year. But it’s so refreshing… and you don’t miss the stuff nearly as much as you would think.
  2. Take the Time to Properly Pack  – In my younger years packing and procrastination went hand in hand, meaning that at the last minute I would just throw everything in non-sensical order into boxes. This caused a lot of heartache and shattered glass as things ended up, unsurprisingly, broken. Since we are now apparently adults and have acquired nice stuff and beautiful wedding gifts, with this move I took the time (and recruited my wonderful momma) to wrap and strategically pack breakables. Bubble wrap is your friend. Packing paper (more than you think you could possibly need) is your friend. And a mom who is much more knowledgeable in this field is most definitely your friend.
  3. Label, Label, Label – Again, throwing everything into unmarked boxes is not the most efficient or effective strategy (unfortunately it took me many moves to learn this). You will save yourself a lot of time and headaches on the other end (unpacking) if you take that little bit of extra effort to properly label. I prefer labeling specifics of a box, rather than simply “kitchen” or “living room,” so that I know where to find exactly what I’m looking for. This method helps to decifer which boxes actually need to be unpacked immediately in order for to cook pasta or sleep on clean sheets and which ones can wait patiently in a corner. Thus saving you from living in an endless sea of half-unpacked boxes.
  4. Unpack Everything - Unpacking is the more fun, but no less daunting, part of moving. This is where you get to organize and decorate and make your new house (or apartment or trailer) a home. I prefer to do this slowly, taking time to figure out where I want each piece. However slowly you do it though, it’s important to sort through each box. Confession: I failed to do this on our last move and we ended up with what we not-so-affectionately referred to as our “Room of Shame” – an unused bedroom that remained filled with unpacked boxes for the duration of our time living there. If there are boxes with momentos or seasonal items that you’re not using in the near future, fine, throw them in the basement or back of a closet. Otherwise, unpack those boxes baby! Anything you find you don’t need or have a place for, revert to #1 (toss it). Remember, just because you moved it hundreds of miles doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it now.
  5. Be Really Really Gracious to Your Husband and Father (or whoever helps you move) – This point is especially important if you’re pregnant and can’t actually move much and your role consists mostly of watching them do the (literal) heavy lifting. Both Andrew and my dad were a Godsend. They quickly and without complaint managed to Tetris all of our stuff into a couple trailers, then drove hours (through snow) and unpacked everything on the other end. So yes, I am endlessly grateful for the help of these two great men! All that to say, when people offer to help you, accept their assistance with gratitude (a few beers will usually do the trick) and no matter how haphazard the packing job may look (see image above), trust their superior skills.

Though we hope to be here a little while, this will surely not to be our last moving adventure. With each move we learn a little more and it becomes slightly less painful. Teamwork is everything. If moving with a partner or family – work together, be patient with one another, and chip away at it bit by bit. You’ll get to that happy home dear friend!

Weekend Wandering: Checking out Chi-Town

We’ve spent the last week in our new home getting slowly unpacked and settled in, escaping the house only for the occasional exciting trip to Home Depot, Lowes, Target, or Ikea. Lest we get sucked into the wide world of suburbia, we decided on Saturday it was time for a little break and an excursion to the city of Chicago.

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Just a couple miles from our house is the cute little town of Clarendon Hills, complete with a train station and easy access to the city. We met up with one of Andrew’s coworkers and his wife and hopped on the train for a quick (30-ish minute) train ride into the city. As we disembarked at Union Station, we had admittedly no plan.

I have to confess, for as much as I love to travel and explore, I am probably the worst tourist. Many of my friends are so great at putting in the time and research to discover the best restaurants to eat at and the best things to do or see. I, however, am far too lazy and usually go into a new experience with very little plan, choosing instead to wander and take it all in and just do or see whatever I happen to come across. The downside of this method is that I likely miss a number of interesting things.  In the case of Chicago though, it was a relief to not have to be a tourist and plan and pack it all in. While it was my first trip to the city, it certainly will not be my last. So I have plenty of time to see and do all the fun things this great city has to offer.

Since Saturday was probably one of the last great weekend weather days of Chicago before the cold sets in, we spent most of the day just walking around and getting acquainted with the city. It really is a beautiful place, with the sprawling waterfront and meandering canals, historic architecture, clean streets and green parks. A few of the highlights from our day:

  • Lunch at the historic Berghoff Restaurant – One of Chicago’s oldest restaurants and the first to obtain a liquor license once prohibition was repealed. It serves up delicious German fare (my favorite!) and their own freshly brewed beer and soda. I especially loved the Blackcherry Soda. And don’t miss out on trying the corned beef or a delicious wurst – yum!
  • Exploring the historic (and haunted?) Congress Plaza Hotel – Since it’s construction in 1893 the hotel has hosted countless presidents, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries; and Al Capone supposedly lived in the hotel for a time. The rich history plays into the tales of haunt. This weekend however, our little group was probably the creepiest thing in the hotel as we roamed the hallways and staircases, exploring the fading glory of this Chicago relic.
  • Visiting “The Bean” (of course) – If you’ve been to Chicago or ever seen anything about the city, you probably know about “The Bean” (official name, Cloud Gate), the large reflective sculpture that is the highlight of Millennium Park. We joined every other tourist to take in the stunning sculpture. We went in the evening and I’ll admit, it was pretty cool to see the lights of the city reflected on such a large scale.

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After a long day of walking, we made our way back to the train station to head back to our endless tasks at home (oh the joys of adulthood…). It was lovely though to have a break from it all and be quickly transported from our quiet neighborhood into the bustling city. Chicago, I’m look forward to many more dates in our future!

Have you visited Chicago? Are there any things you particularly love to see or do there? I would love to know as I embark on future city excursions! 

Settling In

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After a long couple weeks of packing and a crazy couple days of loading and moving, we’ve finally arrived at our new home outside of Chicago! Though we still face the arduous task of unpacking and making changes and improvements to make the house feel like home, we’re really loving this place already.

When we came to house-hunt, we spent a whirlwind couple of days seeing what seemed like every rental property within a 30 mile radius of the city. Though we know living in downtown Chicago would be an incredible experience, and I especially love the culture of city living, we decided that where we are right now in our lives (growing family, big dog who loves to run, desire for space, ease of parking and driving in the chilly winters, etc.) called for a more suburban locale. In the end, we decided on a little old house in Darien, Illinois, about 20 miles southwest of the city. (Fun coincidence: our landlord’s father built the house when he moved from Tennessee to Illinois).

We’re oh-so-happy with the location so far. At the end of our street is a lovely park with a walking path, sports fields, and playground – perfect for strolls with Bella or taking our little one to play. Just across from the park is a beautiful enormous library that just beckons me to come explore as the days grow colder. Within a few miles of us we have any convenience we could need – grocery store, Target, restaurants, shopping, train to the city – but our street is still quiet and feels tucked back from the hustle and bustle of it all.

And the neighbors – the wonderful neighbors could not be any nicer. Our first day moving, they came out and welcomed us with kind open arms and midwestern charm. They offered tips and recommendations on things to do and places to eat, and an endless supply of information on the area. Within 20 minutes I had been kindly provided with a guest pass to a local gym, offered a job, and met a potential future babysitter. Yes, I think we can be great friends. Moving to a new place and being immediately surrounded by a sense of community fills me with relief and hope and excitement for the future.

That’s what gets me through each box I slowly and carefully unpack – the excitement of making this unfamiliar place home. I can’t wait to share more about our adventures – past, present, and future. I have big hopeful plans!

Packing and Moving and Dreaming of Alaska

Last week was spent with a whirlwind trip to Chicago to house-hunt (success!) and this week will be spent in a whirlwind of sorting and packing (two of my least favorite activities). All this to say, there hasn’t been, and may not be for a little while, time to reflect upon, write about, and share our adventures in Alaska.

As I face the daunting, and rather stressful, task of packing and moving, I’m trying to hold on to the memories of the beauty and relaxation we experienced throughout Alaska. Trying to remember that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel in a few weeks where my floors are not littered with boxes and my brain is not cluttered with details of the move. Soon, I promise (to myself as much as you dear friends), I’ll sit down and write more than a couple of sentences and share something coherent.

Until then, I’ll share with you this brief, very roughly edited video “teaser” of our Alaska trip. Just a glimpse of some of the beauty and fun we experienced along the way. Be forewarned – I’m not  videographer or video editor – so please excuse the shaky hand and rough cuts. Nonetheless, the scenes make me happy, so perhaps it will provide a happy start to your week as well!

(Spoiler alert: The long snowy bit in the middle is when we flew up and landed on a glacier at the base of Mount McKinley / Denali. Story and pictures to come…)