Tag Archives: family

Nothing Much But Love

So there’s this guy I know, and today is his birthday, and it occurs to me that something should be said about him. But all the things I want to say have already been said; so I apologize in advance if this seems a little copy/paste-y, but y’know, when someone else already found the right words, sometimes it’s best just to shut up and let them steer the ship.

So this guy.

They say that you can tell the quality of a man by the company he keeps, and I reckon that’s true. So what do you say about a guy whose friends include social workers, musicians, poets, playwrights, costumers, service personnel (both active-duty and retired military, police, fire, and EMS), parents (whose children include biological kids, adopted kids, fur kids, step-kids, and kids who aren’t even technically in their lives anymore but they still check in on ’em from time to time), sign language interpreters, doctors, healers, domestic violence survivor advocates, suicide prevention hotline volunteers, and–fer cryin’ out loud–people who foster puppies?

They say a man’s character is revealed by how he treats those less fortunate, or those who have nothing to offer him in return. So what conclusions might you draw about a guy who, with a group of friends, adopts a needy family every year at Christmas and then completely loses his mind and all self-restraint when shopping for their presents? Or who also sponsors a Back-to-School Buddy each year, providing new clothes and shoes and school supplies and so many “fun extras” that it usually takes a half-dozen bags just to bring in all the stuff he tossed in the cart? And who does “just because” food deliveries for a widow a couple towns over, and donation drives for the local pantry, and takes cases of cat food to the local pet shelter, and chips in whenever possible for families who need a little cash boost to get through a tough time? He offered to buy a gal a house, y’all; to be fair, the idea is that it’ll be a duplex and we’ll live in the other half of it, but still. A house.

They say dogs can spot the good people a mile away, so you should trust a dog’s judgement. Behold:



They say you can tell a lot about a guy by how he treats animals in general:

The kitten booped him on the nose, so of course he adopted her.

The kitten booped him on the nose, so of course he adopted her.

They say you can tell a lot about a guy by how he does with kids:

We're not going to talk about how old the baby in this picture is now. *cries*

We’re not going to talk about how old the baby in this picture is now. *cries*

They say the good ones help their neighbors:

The fact that this particular neighbor lives 45 minutes away is't anyone's fault.

The fact that this particular neighbor lives 45 minutes away is’t anyone’s fault.

I guess a good way to sum up this guy is by quoting a friend of his, who said that “he’s the Higgs particle of human awesomeness – he not only has awesome in and of himself, he makes us all more awesome by his presence” (love ya, R. Hope you don’t mind my outright theft just there). This guy builds people up. He believes in them even when they don’t believe in themselves. He is kind and gracious and generous and funny and smart and sweet and sure, sometimes he’s thoughtless or forgetful or sticks his foot all the way in his mouth, but when that happens he apologizes and makes sure it doesn’t happen again. He is impeccable with his word, honest and clear, says the things that needs saying and lets the little things pass. He works hard to see everyone’s side even when he can only understand them academically, and he goes out of his way to make other people’s lives better.

Also he's dead sexy. Which doesn't say much about his character, but still. YUM.

Also he’s dead sexy. Which doesn’t say much about his character, but still. YUM.

Basically, he’s the sort of guy you can’t help but love…and the fact that I get to love him every day makes me officially the luckiest woman I know. Which is totally bragging, and I’m not even a little bit sorry.

So happy birthday, Moon Man. I flatly refuse to imagine life without you, and I am so, so honored to be married to such an incredible human being. Thank you, on behalf of all of us who know you, for being you. I–we–love you more each day.


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The Sharpest Knife in the Knife Block

It’s Thanksgiving, and you know what that means: a Facebook feed full of people waxing poetic about friends and family and blessings and family and jobs and friends and food and friends and family. And don’t get me wrong–all that stuff is really nice, and I’m sure it’s all completely heartfelt and yes, I too am grateful for friends and family and blessings and jobs and stuff.

But you know what I’m most thankful for today?

Today I am most thankful for all those boneheaded, dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks, foolish, ill-conceived, badly planned, poorly thought out, ultra-doofus choices that I’ve made since I hit the age when I was legally allowed to make all those herpaderp decisions and have to clean them up myself. Because sure, they usually made things exceedingly complicated and awful at the time; but today, when there’s bread rising in the kitchen and an amazing hubby sorting CDs in the dining room and a couple of dogs and a couple of cats snoozing in various sunbeams and life generally has that rosy glow about it, today I realize how easy and comfortable and  lovely my life has become as a result of those dunderheaded moments, and I have to honor them.

There was the day at the daycare center when I said “Ok, I’ll trust that the director submitted all the paperwork correctly for this employee, and I’ll process payroll for her without double-checking, because why would the director lie?”. That’s when I learned what it feels like to lose a job you love, and what it feels like to take a Job of Last Resort at the Call Center of Doom…which is what enabled me to arrange my schedule so that I could go back and finish the college program I’d quit halfway through.

And speaking of the college program, there was that day during my sophomore year of college when I met a guy and fell sooooo in looooove and moved him into my apartment six weeks later even though he had no job, no job prospects, and no money with which to support himself; so eventually I quit school to take a full-time minimum-wage job at a daycare center to support him–er, us–and learned that I loved teaching and met some awesome families but didn’t have a degree so I couldn’t advance very far, and then I lost that job anyway (see previous) and, because such is the way of things, the guy eventually ran off with a 19-year-old voice major, but that’s pretty ok because…

While we were together, he started spending an alarming amount of time with a gal he worked with (he did have some jobs, just not consistently or frequently), including ditching Thanksgiving with my family to spend it with her, and after several months of my being increasingly sure that he was cheating on me with her and wanting her head on a platter, I met her…and her boyfriend, whom my guy had just forgotten to mention all this time. I lost the guy (see previous), but she and I became BFFs, and she was the maid of honor at my wedding…

To a guy I met after having dated a string of progressively…um…well, I mean, I’m sure most of them are very nice people and will make someone else blissfully happy. However, that person was really, really, really not ever gonna be me, ’cause ohsweetbabyjesus were some of those relationships disastrous. Hoo boy. So one day I sat down on the sofa, said “Ok, Lord, I am sick of this malarkey. You want me to be in a relationship? You find the person and send ’em at me, because obviously I am not so whippy at finding ’em myself”…and the next day I got an email from Moon Man, via a dating website we were both on.

And he’d made his share of dunderheaded choices too–marrying That Woman comes to mind, but without that choice he would’ve ended up Chicago and we probably would never have met, so while she’s not really the first person I think of when I name folks who are invited to Thanksgiving dinner, I’m nonetheless grateful for her, because she brought him back to Kansas. And she made him buy this house which I don’t necessarily love, but lord lord is it ever a far sight better than the roach-infested apartment where I was living when we met, and it’s nice and roomy for hosting parties and we even have a guest room, which makes me feel terribly swanky and grown-up.

So there it is: this Thanksgiving I’m most grateful for all those moments when I was not, in fact, the sharpest knife in the knife block. The brightest crayon in the box. The quickest brown fox in a room full of lazy dogs. Because when you think about it, those slow, dull, drab fox moments are the ones that dragged me inevitably toward a life that I’m actually really proud of. They’re the choices that got me to a place where I’m safe, happy, stable, sane, and (honestly) rather too well-fed. They brought me my dearest friends (Moon Man introduced me to about 150 of the people on my friends list), my lovable heathen critters, my home, my college degree, and my husband. And I wouldn’t change ’em for…

Yeah, no, that’s a lie. There are some that I’d totally undo if I had half a chance. ‘Cause seriously now, let’s not be hasty. But I’d keep most of ’em…

And I’d totally keep all of you. Happy Thanksgiving, ‘Tracters. I love you each, and I love you all. Even when you’re not being the shiniest jewel in the crown.


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“Dad’s Fine. He Sends His Love.”

This is actually a revision and expansion of a blog post I published over on LiveJournal back when my father passed; but a dear friend is currently watching his mother as she prepares to transition to the leg of the journey she must make alone, and our own beloved Grandpa is also starting to show signs that he’s thinking of going to join his beautiful wife. So I thought now might be a good time to talk a little bit about these Helpful Hints, which I jotted down while we were neck-deep in preparing Dad’s funeral and surrounded by well-meaning folks, floral displays the size of furniture, and a steady stream of phone calls, emails, and (god forgive them) text messages. Sorry to get morbid here, guys, but some things are best discussed in advance.

Caring for the Bereaved, by the Bereaved

  1. “Let me know if I can do anything to help” is a lovely and kind phrase, but is itself not terribly helpful.  The person on the receiving end of the statement is probably up to the neck in miscellaneous tasks, feels like they must personally handle every one of them, and is not likely to be able to think of anything right off the bat.  While they may file your name away under “Potentially Useful People”, odds are good that they will not call you, because they will be mired in the run-go-do mentality–or, depending on how much sleep they have(n’t) had recently, they’ll forget you were ever there in the first place. (It’s not personal.)  A more useful phrase would be something like “Is someone arranging a dinner after the funeral?  I would be glad to help make the food for that”, or “Did all your bills make it into the mail this month?  I’m going to the post office, so if you have something to send, I’ll be glad to take it with me”, or “I know you’ll have a lot of running around to do.  Would it be helpful if I sat here at the house for an afternoon so that when people send flowers, there’s someone to sign for them?”.
  2. Casseroles, pots of soup, etc are wonderfully helpful–they’re heat-and-serve meals–but the person will need to continue to eat after the Week From Hell has ended.  Consider bringing nutritional shakes, frozen waffles, cans of soup, etc–anything that will keep for a while, and which the person can just put in their body without having to do any real thinking, or consider bringing your pre-cooked “real food”  meal preportioned in small, freezeable containers. This is especially true if you’re visiting a person who, having lost their spouse/loved one, will now be living alone–it will take a while before they learn how to cook for one, even after the long while during which all food tastes like cardboard so they are not at all interested in anything complicated.
  3. “I’m sorry for your loss” is an appropriate thing to say, and it is ok to add something like “I was shocked and saddened when I heard the news.  My heart is breaking for you”.  A ten-minute speech about how you’re feeling is probably best saved for sharing with another friend or family member–not the grieving person, unless they specifically ask. And it is never, ever, ever going to be ok to take this opportunity to lay a guilt trip–“You never even told me he was sick!” is just mean, and “You know, when I had my heart attack…” is rude.
  4. While it is absolutely fair to use comfort phrases from your faith–things like “I will pray for you”, or “Your husband has gone home to Heaven”–taking this opportunity to attempt to convert someone to your faith makes you a predator at best. Yes, you may leave a Bible “for comfort”; no, you may not hit them with the “let’s pray for your forgiveness now so when you die you can be with him again” hard-sell approach. Yes, you may tell them you will light candles at Church for them; no, you may not explain that you’ll be praying that their loved one repented in time to avoid Hell. You see how this works. If I could go back in time, I actually think I would punch the person who was guilty of these crimes during our grieving period. I don’t care what it would do to interpersonal relationships; three years after losing Dad, I am frankly more furious about this now than I had the strength to be then.
  5. “Don’t forget to call [name] and tell them–they’d want to hear it from you” is just hateful.  By the time you arrive, the grieving person is tired of calling people, saying hello, exchanging brief pleasantries, and then saying “Well, I just wanted to let you know that [loved one] is dead”, and then sitting through all the sympathetic expressions.  The grieving person is probably considering playing Will It Blend with their phone.  They do not want to add to their to-do list.
  6. The Horrible Day When It Happens is not really an appropriate day to go rushing over to visit the grieving person, unless you are close family or a long-time friend. Rule of thumb: if you have a key to the house, you are welcome; if the grieving person called you within the first hour or two of It Happening, you are welcome; if you were at the hospital when It Happened, you are welcome.  Third cousins twice removed appearing on the doorstep at 9:00 p.m., however, bring less comfort and more of a sense of obligation.  The deceased will still be dead tomorrow;  you can wait a day or two.
  7. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of you all day, but your cell phone was off” is not a good way to start a conversation at any point before the funeral.  The phone was probably off because the grieving person was making funeral arrangements, doing post-death business errands, or just crying their eyes out in their armchair.  It’s hateful to imply that they should apologize for inconveniencing you. Voice mail exists; if what you are calling about is actually important, leave a message. If you are just calling to express your sympathy, send a card. It is ok to write “I tried calling, but I know this is a terribly busy time. If you’d like to call once things have settled down, here is my phone number; otherwise, just know that you’re in my prayers”, and then be prepared to not take it personally if you don’t get a call back.
  8. Whether you noticed it or not, “you’re a strong person” actually puts a little pressure on the grieving person, because it sends the message that people expect them to grin and bear it.  Something like “you are strong enough to survive this, even if you do so with eyes full of tears” is perhaps a little better.
  9. They actually *can* feel it when you pray, send mojo, etc.  Go ahead and do it–often.
  10. The person who calls two weeks after the loved one’s death will be remembered far more than the person who called in the first 3 hours.  It’s ok to be both;  but if you can only be one, be the one who remembers that the family still exists when all the chaos dies down. And if you’re someone who was there from the very beginning–someone who was eligible to come visit on The Horrible Day When It Happens (see #6)–consider bringing a notebook that the family can keep someplace centrally located. Go ahead and label a few pages: “People Who Called”, “People Who Sent Cards”, “People Who Sent Flowers”, “People Who Helped With Arrangements”. The family will be supremely grateful later for those lists, because they will absolutely have forgotten a good 80% of the interactions they had.

And then I’ll end with the most important thing I learned during my time as The Bereaved: once you’ve expressed your sympathy, left your card or phone number or flowers or casserole, and hugged all the crying people, go home and hug everyone there. Hug your kids. Hug your spouse. Hug your dog. Hug the people you love, and tell them that you love them, because the worst day in the world is the one when you can’t say it to their faces anymore. Do it now. You can make the time.


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Perfectly Imperfect

In a fit of creativity, I have recently taken up (re-taken up?) embroidery. I remember watching my mother embroider–and beautifully, I might note–and I remember a delightful afternoon when I was 10 or so, when she brought me this little dove-holding-an-olive-branch project and taught me various stitches as we completed it together. I’m reasonably sure it’s still floating around in a box somewhere, probably in her attic.

And I remember a winter, maybe a decade ago, when I decided I would embroider again, and I bought these nifty little canvas messenger bags with plain front flaps and raided the craft store’s embroidery floss section, and made everyone personalized bags for Christmas. As I recall, that was also the year when it became abundantly clear to me that I’m not very good at drawing, so most of the designs were a little…abstract.

So then a few weeks ago, as I watched Seashell knit, I decided I wanted to take up a handicraft again, and embroidery seemed like the best option–I’d enjoyed it before, and it’s portable, easy enough, and lets you escape into that zen space where you can’t really worry about anything important because you’re busy making a million tiny decisions: do I have enough thread on the needle to finish this row? What color should this flower be? Why, for the love of all that is holy, does the bleepin’ bloopin’ floss keep bleepin’ bloopin’ knotting on me when all I am trying to do is pass it through this one bit of cloth which is exactly the same as the bit from the last stitch and so there is absolutely no reason why it should be fighting me? Have I done something wrong? Have I offended it in some way? Does the thread just not want to be a flower?

I’ve been working on my new embroidery project in fits and starts for a couple of days now, and while I can’t show you the entire project (I’m planning to make it a gift), I can show you a representative little piece, so you can see the magnificence and brilliance and frank artistry that is springing forth from my fingertips:


…So. Um. That happened.

In my mind, that was going to be beautiful flowing script. The way I drew it on the fabric with the washable pen, it was beautiful flowing script. The stitches were all going to align perfectly to create the illusion that someone had simply written on the fabric with thread, and they were going to lock and blend together like water in a stream.

Instead, …well, you can see the instead.

So last night I spent some time sitting and looking at my masterpiece, debating whether to continue (it’s a big project), debating whether anyone really wants to receive a gift that will look so very, very much like it was made by someone who had never done this before, debating whether it’s actually rude to hand someone something that’s so spectacularly imperfect and imply that they should look past its flaws to see the loving message that it is meant to carry.

And that’s when it hit me: that’s exactly what I should do.

It is said that the Japanese have a concept, wabi-sabi, in which the imperfect is prized as a reminder of the transience of all things. Nothing in nature is perfect; nothing in nature is meant to be perfect, because all things wither and decay, and it is only our attachment to the trappings of this world that cause us to feel sad or anxious about that. Some artists make sure to include flaws in their work as a way of embracing this ideal; others simply let the work happen as it happens, and accept graciously that imperfections will come either as part of the process of creation or as part of the object’s use.

Moon Man pointed out that a gift with obvious flaws means that it has to be unique–you can’t convince a machine to snag thread like that, or to pucker fabric. And I, being the sort of person I am, took it a step further: when we enter relationship with someone, we come in knowing that we are flawed, that they are flawed, and that those flaws are what make us beautiful. We talked recently about how violent processes can build for us the most amazing internal landscape, and I reckon this isn’t so very different–it is the failures that make the embroidery beautiful. It is the message that makes it beautiful. It is the gift, freely and lovingly created and given, that makes it beautiful.

So who cares if the “o” in “who” is a little boxy? Who cares if the “W” isn’t quite the right size? Who cares if the fabric has puckered a bit, or if the lady behind the needle is fat, or if I’m afraid of heights or still haven’t mastered crispy fried potatoes or have pontoon boat-sized nail beds so manicures never quite look right on me?

What matters is that I am creating a thing for a person I love. I am spending my time working on this thing, just to see that person smile. It is radically imperfect and utterly flawed, but that’s ok–so am I, and the gift’s intended recipient loves me anyway. I’ve already asked this person to look past my split ends and reluctance to go boating and fear of abandonment; I’m pretty sure it’s not going to collapse the whole thing if I add “…and the fact that I am not a master-level embroidery artist”.

Instead, I will embrace the wabi-sabi of my little bit of stitchery. And I will trust that the recipient will understand that the gift is made and given with love, in the same way that the recipient has already accepted me–beautifully flawed, utterly unique, and perfectly imperfect.

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Let Me Tell You That I Love You

There is something that I need you to help me with.

I need you to go to your Facebook wall right now and post the following message:

Hey, you.

The one reading this.

Yes, you.

I love you.

I just thought you should know.

You can copy/paste that if you want to. It makes life a little simpler. If you’re not on Facebook, you can email it. Or text it. Or call. Or write a letter. Or hire a skywriter, if you’ve got the cash for that sort of thing. Any medium works–just get the message out there.

Here’s the thing: two years ago today, at 11:11 a.m., we lost my father. I learned a lot of things on that day–that sometimes nurses cry when they lose a patient, that all my previous “worst days ever” were really only inconveniences at best, that friends will materialize out of the woodwork to come sit and cry with you–but the biggest thing I learned is that there is never, ever, ever enough time. There is always supposed to be one more day. There is always supposed to be time for one more conversation. There is always supposed to be an opportunity to say “I love you” one more time.

Until their heart stops, and the clock stops, and the world stops, and the story ends, and there isn’t any time, anymore, ever.

And what that means, at the core of it, is that we only ever really have this exact moment. You are living and breathing right this second, and the people you love are living and breathing right this second, and that’s the only guarantee you get–nobody’s promising anything about what will happen in the next second, or the second after that, so you’d better take advantage of this one.

Which means that this is an excellent time–no, it’s the perfect time–to tell your loved ones how you feel about them.

You can riff on the theme if you want to; you can embellish, or clarify, or specify. You can tailor the message so that it fits the circumstances of your particular relationship with a given person (“I know we haven’t talked in a while, but wanted you to know that I love you”, for instance; or “Don’t panic–this isn’t a marriage proposal or anything. It’s just me, saying that I love you because you deserve to know that you are loved”), but man, don’t let the moment pass without saying anything. Don’t put it off until after your coffee break, or after lunch, or on the next major holiday.

All you ever have is this moment right now, and in that moment is always–always–the opportunity to let people know that they are loved.

Don’t let that chance slip away.


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January 29, 1942

Tonight’s dinner will be steak and eggs and fried potatoes, just like you always asked for.

And cake, because cake is important.

And it will all be delicious and wonderful, and the only thing missing will be the guest of honor.

So happy birthday, Daddy. We’ll go ahead and celebrate without you, but please don’t think for a second that it means I’ve stopped missing you, because we haven’t yet. Frankly, I don’t think we ever will.

Love you.


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Waiting For A Sign

I admit: I’m a sign-seeker.

Maybe it sounds like crazy mystic hoodoo nonsense, but it’s been my experience that, at least for me, major decisions seem to go best if I do all the preparatory legwork in advance and then wait for the Universe to give me some indication that my idea has been approved and I’m green-lighted to go ahead with Making It So. If I strike out on my own, I get it right about 50% of the time; but if I wait for a sign, things work out about 90% of the time (the remaining 10% is reserved for when I notice the sign only after it’s too late to do anything about it).

Case in point: Moon Man. I’d left a five-year relationship with Mr Oh So Hot But Oh So Wrong, and had leapt right into dating the first fellow who came along, who was … let’s go with “not quite what I was dreaming of”. I’d emailed Moon Man a couple months earlier on a dating site but hadn’t heard back from him, but I’d found Rebound Fellow through the same site and was starting to think it was all just hokum anyway, and had finally hit that frustration point where I threw my hands into the air and said “Ok, god, look. I fold. None of the people I’ve picked out has worked long-term, so I give up. You want me to be with someone, you find ’em, ’cause I. am. done. with. this. nonsense”. Moon Man emailed me the next day, and we were married three years later.

Here’s another one, for the skeptical: I left college midway through, because at that point I was still with the Ex Who Refused to Get a Damned Job and I needed to go earn the rent money. Several years later, I was working at the Call Center of Soul-Crushing Despair on the 12:30-9:00 p.m. shift, and had realized that if I ever wanted a job with more responsibility and commensurate paycheck than you could get by just wandering in off the street, I needed to finish my degree. In the meantime, I had discovered an interest in hagiography–the history and stories about saints (I’m a Gemini. There’s no predicting where our minds will land). One afternoon I poked idly at the university’s website, y’know, just for kicks, to see what classes were being offered in the upcoming semester, bearing in mind that I needed morning classes…and the English Department had an 8:30 Saints Legends class, which had never been offered there before. Three of the other classes I needed were at equally convenient times, so I enrolled. And finished three semesters later. And here’s where it gets extra-fun: I graduated in December, got a promotion in January, and got another promotion–this one requiring a degree–in February, effectively tripling my income in two months.

And in case all that wasn’t quite enough, my other big concern about going back to school was the fact that my old advisor had retired. So I went to the General Undergrad Advisor for the English Department, and discovered that it was a lady whose son I’d had at the daycare where I used to work.

Now here’s why I’m telling you these stories: Dad died at 11:11 a.m., so 11:11 is an important number for me. And for the last two months, I have been noticing 11:11s all the bloody time. Not in any reasonable way, either–it’s not like I’ve got an internal timer that just goes off every 12 hours now. No, it’s popping up apropos of nothing. “My stomach is growling. Is it lunchtime yet?” I think, and check the clock, and it’s 11:11. “Do I have time to watch a DVRed episode of Project Runway before bed?” 11:11. “Man, that was the best shower ever. I was in there for, like, three days! …Seriously, though, how long was I in there? I went in at, like, 10:55.” 11:11.

As a sign-seeker, there is something in me that feels strongly that the Universe is trying to tell me something with all these 11:11s; but surely Dad cannot be trying to send a message about things like lunchtime and Project Runway. I thought briefly that perhaps he was encouraging us to go ahead with refinancing the house (another leap we took after getting a sign from the Universe, this time in the form of a dear friend who happened to come for dinner and tell us some things we didn’t know about refinancing just as we were starting to freak out about money), but the refinance went through and is finished, and I’m still seeing the 11:11s. Mom has money. My siblings are fine. We sent Bean a birthday present. There is nothing I can think of that Dad can be encouraging me to do, not do, redo, or otherwise think about.

So I’m left to conclude that maybe this sign isn’t for me. We’ve talked about this before, how sometimes the Universe gives you tools and skills that are irrelevant to your own interests, because someone else is going to need you to know them later; so maybe that’s what’s going on here. Maybe someone in my world–or someone in your world–needs a little nudge so that they’ll stay the course, chase a dream, stride forth boldly into the day, or ride out under a banner of world-changing excitement.

If that person is you, this one’s for you.

Dad was someone I turned to for comfort, so if you need comfort, here’s a sign that someone out there loves you and is keeping tabs on you.

Dad was someone who encouraged me to Get It Done, so if you’re not sure whether you should take the next step toward making yourself extra-awesome, the answer is Yes.

Dad was someone who took no b.s., no prisoners, and no excuses, so if you’re wondering whether this is a good time to kick the riffraff out of your life, the answer is “Be sure to bring a nice big box for all their stuff”.

In other words, this 11:11 is yours. Now take it and go change the world.

It's 11:11. Do you know where your dream is?

It’s 11:11. Do you know where your dream is?


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