Time out

I am taking a time out from my family. My sister had a garage sale last weekend and we all were there to help. My mother took care of the kids all day and my sister was running the sale. My father and I set up chairs on her lawn and just kind of oversaw everything. I spent all of Saturday with my laptop, grading my students’ essays. My father spent all of Saturday making lewd comments about women’s bodies. I chose to ignore him, mostly because he talks incessantly and I just tune him out. However, he crossed the line a few times. Like when a teenage neighbor came outside in her high school cheerleading uniform and my father made comments about her body. I yelled at him and told him how gross he was being. I teach teenagers and he has two daughters and two granddaughters. It was just so inappropriate and disgusting.

By the end of the day Saturday, I really had my fill of him. When he isn’t being offensive, he is still annoying. There are times he is funny, but those times are sandwiched between him being lewd and also being demanding. We were all going out to dinner afterwards and I secretly told everyone else that I would not sit next to him at the restaurant.

On Sunday, I was unpleasantly surprised that he and my mom decided to come to my sister’s house again, but I didn’t say anything because I know she needed the help. Again, I got stuck with my dad most of the day, but I after a couple of hours, I knew I needed a break. I went home for a few hours and returned later in the afternoon in time to help clean up.

When the garage sale ended, we all helped clean up and I retrieved a table I lent my sister and put it on the curb to put into my car later. My dad asked who the table belonged to. I told him it was mine and that I needed to get my car. He either didn’t listen or didn’t hear me because one minute later he asked again. I told him I already said it was mine. “Scumbag.” That was his response. I was like, “oh that’s nice. I’m a scumbag because I answered your question?” I went inside the house and left shortly afterwards.

I texted my sister later: “I’m upset and disgusted about how dad behaved and how he talked to me. And I’m upset that I’m upset about it.” She agreed and had heard lots of his vile comments throughout the weekend, too. The annoying thing is that my mom is very dismissive about what he says…he’s always “joking” or “is getting dementia” or whatever according to her. None of us ever hold him accountable. There is always an excuse for him. And to be honest, for most of my adult life, I just shrug off what he says. It is just how we have all handled him for so long and since he has been better lately, we don’t really rock the boat. It is how it has always been. I know that does not make it ok, though.

Afterwards, I tried to explain to my boyfriend how I felt. He has only known my father sober, but he knows about my childhood. It isn’t even ancient history- it has only been about two years since he stopped drinking. It is REALLY hard for me to reconcile the person my father is today with the man he was two years ago. And it is also really hard that everything just changed overnight. My dad was an abusive alcoholic whom I only saw once or twice a year. He was hospitalized in a coma, recovered and stopped drinking. All of a sudden he is a “pretty normal” person and I have dinner with my family like four nights a week. But NOTHING has ever been discussed. We make zero references to “before”. He hasn’t been held accountable for ANYTHING. I know I am part of the problem, but I just go along with it. It is easier for my mom, it is too uncomfortable to bring up, the past is in the past, appreciate having a normal family while you have it, he’s wonderful with his grandkids and I want my nieces to have that relationship, etc. Those are all the excuses I tell myself.

I don’t know why he bothered me so much over the weekend. I think it was because it was SO much time together. Normally I see him for an hour or two and my little nieces a are there main focus and are distracting. It’s not like I sit next to him on the couch for two hours straight. I spoke to my therapist about creating better boundaries for my family, but also about me needing to say no. I don’t need to go to my sister’s house for dinner every night I am by myself. I can say no and stay home and have time to myself at my house. I feel this weird sense of obligation to always be there unless I have other plans. It was weird to be home alone Tuesday and Wednesday night, but it was also a much needed break. It made me realize how unhealthy and dysfunctional my family still is, even though we have the appearance of a “nice, normal family”!

Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

Lucky 21

Tomorrow begins my 21st year of teaching. I honestly do not know where the time went. This job is truly one of the loves of my life. I often say that it was more of a “calling” for me, because I never considered doing anything else. There have been A LOT of ups and downs throughout the years, but I love teaching as much as ever.

This is going to be a really difficult and unpredictable year. I pride myself on developing relationships with my students and it is going to be challenging to do so from behind a computer screen. I feel a lot of sadness…for the students who are missing out on a “normal” high school experience. For the kids who can’t play the sport they love or participate in the school musical. Several of my close teacher friends needed to work remotely from home, so it is depressing to think about going through a school day without seeing them, or really socializing with any of my colleagues. No more Friday night football games or happy hours or eating lunch in the teachers’ cafe or stopping in the office to chat with the secretaries. I feel like this is going to be a very isolating year. We are supposed to enter school, go directly to our classrooms, teach our classes and then go home.

On top of that, my niece is starting preschool and it is still kind of a shock every time I see a mask on her little face. It is so exciting that she is starting school, but I wish she was entering during a normal school year, so she could have recess and play and eat lunch with other kids her age.

No matter what, the show must go on and as a teacher one of the most important lessons I will teach this year is how to make the best of things. And I have a feeling I will be leaning a lot this year myself. Even on days where I might have to put in extra effort, I am going to try my hardest to be a positive influence on my new group of students. At the very minimum, they deserve that 🙂

Nice.

As an English teacher, I often stress to my students the importance of using creative words. Instead of the word “bad”, use “terrible”. Instead of the word “pretty”, use “gorgeous”. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to nondescript words is “nice”. The dictionary defines it as fine and satisfactory…not exactly the most flattering or sophisticated adjective.

I remember when I was in my 20s, I met a guy through a mutual friend. Afterwards, she asked him what he thought of me and his response was that he thought I was “nice”. I remember being offended by this and over analyzing it- “What does that MEAN…nice?!??” I thought it indicated that he wasn’t really interested in me. It felt like an insult.

I didn’t realize the significance of this simplistic, four letter word until I was 30. To put it bluntly, my ex husband was mean. After getting divorced, I remember saying to my sister that all I cared about when it came to meeting someone new was that they were nice. After experiencing my dad not being nice and my husband not being nice, that word took on a new, deeper meaning. I am very happy to say that my new boyfriend is truly nice. It took being with some unkind men for me to appreciate someone who is genuinely a good, kindhearted person.

I can honestly say that I am a nice person. I strive to be. I try to do things to make other people happy. I am thoughtful. It is kind of weird to write this because I feel like I am bragging (and trust me that I have many flaws). During the time my coworkers were teaching from home during quarantine, I mailed out 70 cards, just to say hi and keep in touch. I also sent congratulatory letters to the 120 graduating seniors who were my students from last year. This is one of the ways I know how to show love and appreciation.

Today, I gave my mailman a card and a $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card because tomorrow is National Postal Workers Day and clearly I love mail (who knew?!?!) My boyfriend was saw me do this and said, “you are SO nice. You’re the nicest person I have ever known.” I just smiled and accepted it for the lovely compliment it was. There are far more creative and glamorous synonyms that can be used, but I now understand the simple beauty of being nice.

Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

Teaching a different kind of lesson

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I shared an article on my personal Facebook page the other day that really resonated with me (I will include the link below).  It was about how having schools closed right now for the purpose of social distancing is not a “vacation” for teachers.  Throughout my 20 year career teaching English, I have faced many difficult situations, but nothing prepared me- or any of us- for this.

Yes, I am home in the comfort of my own house, wearing pajamas for most of the day.  I do not have children of my own and I live by myself.  It does give me flexibility in my day to binge watch a show for a couple of hours or take a short nap, but I sincerely wish I was at work instead.  I miss my school, my colleagues, the routine and my classroom.  I truly miss my kids.  I have 120 11th graders that I am responsible for every day, not to mention my “formers” (the students I had last year, many of whom I see daily).

I work in a very diverse school district.  This means that many of my students struggle in many different ways- some financially, some with social anxieties or other mental health disorders, some with language barriers, some with difficult family situations, some with learning disabilities, some with food insecurity, etc.  My school is using distance learning and luckily our students were provided with Chromebooks before the virus began to spread and I have been in touch with the majority of them, whether through our class website or email.

This is not a vacation for me.  I am worried about my students- now and in the future.  Are they nervous, scared, anxious, worried, confused, alone, eating, sleeping, healthy…?  I am a junior class advisor and planned the prom for April.  I am waiting for the directive to cancel that.  It makes me sad that students will miss out on milestone events in their high school experience.  I know a school dance is not important at all right now in the bigger scope of things going on in the world, but to a 16 year old, it kind of still is.

There is so much uncertainty right now and as an adult, I am overwhelmed by the fears and anxieties and stress I feel.  I can’t imagine being a child right now.  For some of my students, school is the only stability they have in their lives.  I worry what kind of lasting effect this will have on their mental health, their future economy, the world moving forward.

Yesterday, we found out the gender of my sister’s baby- a girl!  It was so wonderful for ten minutes to celebrate something, to forget about all of the urgent news alerts constantly lighting up our phones.  But then it was back to reality…my sister is twelve weeks pregnant during a pandemic and my niece is only two and a half and my father has compromised health and my mother is over 70 and my brother in law was laid off yesterday and I am struggling with agoraphobia and there’s no toilet paper and *deep breath*….

Every opportunity I have to interact with my students I am trying to be as positive as possible.  I made funny memes to make them laugh (or at least roll their eyes).  I sent a picture of my niece opening the box with bright pink balloons popping out at the gender reveal.  I tell them how I am doing with my new “coworkers”, who sometimes annoy me and step on my computer (aka my two cats).  I tell them I am here for them…anytime. I reassure them that we are all doing the best we can do right now and that things will be okay.  I am doing this for them, but also for myself.  I also need to be reminded that this “new norm” will not last forever, that things will go back to the way they were, that we will be okay.  It is much harder to convince myself, though.

Here is the article I mentioned above: boredteachers.com/…/covid-19-quarantine-isnt-a-vacation-for-teachers

 

20 Questions

1. Do you have any regrets?

Not seeing each of my grandparents one more time before they each passed away. My travel anxiety held me back from visit them and I will always wish I had one final chance to see them.

2. How would you like to be remembered?

As being kind, thoughtful, caring and funny. A good sister, daughter, aunt and friend. An inspiring teacher.

3. Have you ever broken a promise to someone?

Yes, myself. I swore to myself that I would never date or marry an alcoholic because of my father. I feel like a cliche that I did, but I am also relieved that I broke the cycle.

4. Was there one event that changed your life and the way you think?

When I was in elementary school, I saw a documentary on children in third world countries, specifically Ethiopia. I had never seen images like that before and I remember being shocked that there were kids starving in the world. It taught me to appreciate the life I had and I have thought of it often.

5. Would you sacrifice everything for love?

No. I have learned the hard way (twice) that love is not enough.

6. Are you afraid of dying?

I rarely think about dying myself; rather I fear losing someone that I love. Now that my parents are older, I am afraid of my mother dying more than anything.

7. Have you ever been abused?

Yes. My father was/is physically, emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive. He is still very verbally abusive, but I think the psychological abuse affected me the most, even more so than anything physical.

8. Have you ever been in love?

Yes, I would say three times. In college, I had my “first love”- where you love so naively and hopelessly. I loved my ex husband and I love (present tense) my ex boyfriend. With both my husband and boyfriend, it wasn’t because of not loving them that the relationships ended, hence my answer to #5. I think the true love of my life/soul mate is my ex boyfriend, but there are very logical reasons we are not together.

9. Are you happy with who you are?

Yes. I definitely have my flaws, but I think I am a good person. I care about other people and always try to do what I think is right.

10. Would you ever give up your life to save someone else’s?

Yes, definitely my sister or my niece…without even a second thought.

11. Have you changed at all in the last year?

This last year has been life changing. I experienced my boyfriend being in a coma…I don’t think I will ever be the same. He was so close to death. I am so, so grateful he survived, but I lost him anyway.

12. What is something most people don’t know about you?

That I suffer from agoraphobia and at one point years ago it was so bad that I didn’t even want to leave the house to check the mail or go to the grocery store. I just recently told someone about this and they didn’t believe me. I guess that’s a weird compliment in a way.

13. Do you like being alone?

I really do. I need time to decompress and just think. Sometimes I just lay on the couch without turning on the tv, just to be in silence.

14. Is there something you would never do?

Get married again. I felt very trapped. I definitely did not grow up with a good role model of what marriage should be and I stayed with my ex husband far longer than I should have simply because I felt like I had to try everything to make it work because we were married. I want to be with someone by complete choice and I want the ability to walk away if it isn’t the right relationship for me or if the person changes.

15. What makes you uncomfortable?

Confrontation. Although I have gotten much better at standing up for myself lately. I felt like I had to be an advocate for both myself and my ex boyfriend through his illness and it severed the relationship I had with his friends and family.

16. What is the meanest thing anyone has ever said to you?

My dad says so many mean things pretty much daily, but excluding him, after I got divorced, my ex husband wrote me an email saying he was sorry he couldn’t “fix me”.

17. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?

I can’t pick just one thing because any time I get a compliment from a student or they tell me I inspired them in some way, it is the best feeling. Recently, a student wrote me a letter saying that through my actions, I taught her how to be a stronger person and that meant a lot to me.

18. What is your prized possession?

A green diamond ring from my maternal grandmother. My sister and I used to try on all of my mama’s jewelry and we each had a favorite ring of hers. It was a joke in our family that she would leave them to us in her will. During one visit, my sister and I were parading around with our rings on and when we went to give them back to her, she handed us the empty boxes and said she wanted us to keep the rings so we would have the memory of her giving them to us, rather than it being a sad time when we inherited them. That is also one of my favorite memories.

19. What is something weird or unusual that you do?

Every year when I decorate my Christmas tree, I watch the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street”. I have no idea why there is a connection, but it has become a weird tradition. I love that movie 🤷🏼‍♀️

20. What is your favorite quote?

“Education is not preparation for life; Education is life itself.” -John Dewey

Meh.

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We had parent conferences at my high school last night.  Of the parents who came, there was a common reason as to why all of their children are failing my class: apathy.  Unfortunately, I have a lot of students who just don’t care about their grades.  Ten or fifteen years ago, if a student did not complete an assignment, there would be begging, pleading, tears, etc. for them to make it up.  Now, even in my honors classes, if a student gets a zero, they have little to no reaction.  They just accept it.  They do not seem to care.  Luckily, most of my students really do want to do well, but it is a recurring problem I have experienced and it is increasing each year.

I am experiencing a form of this in my own life right now when it comes to my relationship.  My therapist mentioned it a few weeks ago as an observation.  She said that I am in a “state of apathy” and I have thought about it a lot since then.  And I agree.  When I was getting divorced, I cried and cried and cried.  I cried until I literally could not cry anymore.  I was pure emotion and very little logic.  I lived in fear, uncertainty, sadness.

My boyfriend has been struggling with work, his alcoholism, his depression and it has been affecting our relationship and me more than I have really been willing to admit.  It is really hard to watch the person you love just self-destruct.  I feel helpless and oftentimes I feel like his caretaker, not his girlfriend.  I feel like because I don’t know what to do (even though deep down I know what I need to do), I have just gotten to a place where I feel like I don’t care.  He sleeps all day…whatever.  He drinks…I just leave the room and watch tv by myself.  I don’t cry, I don’t even really get mad anymore.  I just feel…nothing a lot of the time.  I don’t know if it is a self-defense mechanism to help me cope with it or if my feelings have truly changed.  Naively, like most other people, I keep  thinking (hoping, waiting) that things will get better.  But it has literally been years and I think I have sort of given up.

I don’t know what’s worse, being upset all the time or just putting a wall around my heart to not feel anything?

Atelophobia

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I just recently turned 40 and am currently in my 19th year of teaching.  It just struck me that I have now been an educator for almost half of my life!  I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and every decision I made about my future was a step towards achieving that dream.  I never even considered any other career and I have never regretted it for a minute.  There have been amazing moments and really, really difficult days, but I truly have a passion for my job and consider myself so lucky to love what I do.

On Friday, my principal came to see me personally to tell me I was nominated for a very prestigious award.  I was so in shock, so honored, so flattered, so overwhelmed.  But, I didn’t want to tell anyone, even though the majority of my best friends are teachers at my same school.  I was almost embarrassed and didn’t want to seem like I was bragging.  I called my mom (who acted like I won an Academy Award- she was so excited) and she told me I was being silly not to share the good news with my friends.  I am also not the type to shout good (or bad) news from the mountaintop.  I did end up sending a group text and they all congratulated me, which was very sweet.

I have felt like a failure a lot in my personal life, from my dysfunctional childhood to my strained relationship with my dad to my struggles with anxiety to my marriage and subsequent divorce, I feel like I suck at life sometimes.  The one area where I have always succeeded and felt confident is in my career.  I have won other local teaching awards and I know I am respected in my school.  But honestly, underneath all the excitement of this amazing nomination, there was a thought in the back of my mind..”why me?”…”I don’t deserve that”…”I won’t win that”.  I know I work hard and I care SO much about teaching, but I still felt…undeserving.

I wrote a blog around the time of my 40th birthday where I reflected on my fear that no one would come to my birthday party (which of course they all did).  I shared that fear with my sister and she said to me, “you do nice things for everyone else and are so thoughtful and generous, why do you think no one wants to do that for you?” and it is because I felt…undeserving. Why would anyone want to celebrate ME? I don’t have really low self-esteem, but I think there is some aspect of my childhood that is tucked deep into my brain that makes me feel like I am not good enough.  I guess that is common for children of alcoholics.  Maybe my 12 year old self felt like if I was good enough maybe my dad wouldn’t drink?

I am very excited and honored about this nomination and I am going to really try to push those negative feelings away and focus on being happy about it, because deep down under those thoughts of not being good enough, I KNOW I am a good teacher who truly cares about her students.

 

Thankful

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It is SO easy to dwell on negative feelings and problems.  I have had a very difficult couple of weeks lately .  My dad’s drinking has been out of control, my boyfriend is severely depressed and I just found out my ex-husband is having a baby.  I really want to try to stay positive, so I decided to make a list of some of the things I am thankful for to remind myself of how lucky I am.  So in no particular order:

  1. My 18 month old niece…the love of my life
  2. My pets, who always make me so happy
  3. My job- I truly love teaching and feel like I make a difference
  4. My close relationships with my mom and sister
  5. My Hyundai Tucson- it’s my favorite car I have ever had
  6. My friends- who are always there for me, no matter what
  7. The Office…best show ever (“that’s what she said”)
  8. My house- I am proud of owning my own house
  9. Being financially stable and having a savings account
  10. My heated blanket- it’s so awesome
  11. Being able to spoil my niece as much as I want
  12. My boyfriend- we have stood by each other through thick and thin
  13. My health and being able to afford a personal trainer
  14. Being in therapy with a psychologist that I really trust
  15. Decorating my house for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas
  16. Getting a card in the mail (or sending a card to a friend)
  17. Having a good relationship with my boyfriend’s parents
  18. Loving to read and having access to good books
  19. All of my cherished memories with my grandparents
  20. Cardigan sweaters- my wardrobe staple

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂