Friday, October 31, 2014

Ditched On Halloween!

Happy Halloween! What a fun holiday, especially if you have kids who still dress up and go TOTING (Trick Or Treating), like all youthful candy-hoarders do. I'll admit, I've really enjoyed the annual excuse to eat too many Twix bars and Butterfingers. I have very little willpower.

When the kids were younger, we had them dress in coordinating costumes. How much say should kids under five really have about their costumes, right? My favorite year, our boys were the brave Prince and cuddly Gus-the-Mouse to match Bella's Cinderella costume. (Photo reference above...SO CUTE!)

When the kids were younger, we used to determine exactly how many pieces of candy they could ingest on Halloween and each day after, for roughly one week. At that point, the Candy Fairy would visit and magically whisk the candy away (except the Twix bars and Butterfingers), leaving a delightful treat in its place, sure to bring just as much joy to our candy-addicts' sugar-overloaded hearts.

When the kids were younger, we'd share a pre-TOTING meal with friends - chili, salad, cornbread and some sort of Autumn-blend, micro-brewed beer. Then we'd take pictures with ALL the neighborhood kids before setting out through elaborately decorated streets, dodging ghouls and collecting goodies, all the while capturing photos and video at each doorstep and reminding them of their lines: "Trick or Treat" and "Thank you!"

When the kids were younger, we had a little more control of the Halloween festivities. But now that they're older, the holiday has taken on a new feel. Today, our kids have their own thoughts on costumes and there's no way you'd find them in any sort of coordinating set. Dorothy, a Ninja Turtle and the Headless Horseman don't go together, and that's okay. Today our kids have their own hidden stashes of their candy favs and they don't have to ask for permission to indulge, and that's okay. Today our kids have their own plans for Halloween - parties and hanging with friends - and none of those plans include mom and dad following closely behind with a video camera, and that's okay too.

Today is a different Halloween and I'll admit, I'm a little sad about it. Not simply because they're growing up, but because the festivities lack the luster when the kids aren't around. So friends, keep those kids close and gobble up those Halloween memories. You never know when it's going to be the last one with them.

Happy Halloween! I'm going to make myself a cocktail and have a Twix (and maybe a Butterfinger.)

{J}

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blog Tour Excitement and GIVEAWAY!!!

We are so excited to participate in our first Blog Tour and giveaway, especially because the book deals specifically with WRITING and our genre-NEW ADULT!

Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson is a masterpiece to budding new adult writers like us. We have found her advice and simple insight into revising, character building and finding your “hook” to be exceptionally useful and, although she focuses on the emerging genre of fiction that involves protagonists ages 18-25, we feel it applies to any piece of fiction.

As writers of contemporary fantasy that blends elements of historical fiction and romance, our challenge is capturing the motivation, conflict and emotional development of several different characters while making them authentic and age-appropriate and keeping our plot compelling. Writing New Adult Fiction is the perfect guide in our endeavor, and here are a few reasons why.

In Chapter 2, Creating Your Premise-NA Style, Ms. Halverson discusses the importance of having a “Hook Statement” and all that it entails. A hook, she shares “describes what the story’s about, how it fits into the NA marketplace, and what makes it stand out from all the other books in that market, all in a single sentence.” Just a little pressure! But, pressure aside, being able to describe the premise of our story in such a concise way has saved us HOURS of time. Her suggestion of printing out the “hook” and keeping it above the computer to keep our story on track and acting as our compass, is priceless. She stresses how using a hook will prove to be invaluable throughout the writing process from editing, to pitching, to marketing and publishing. Although we have gleaned so much information from this book as a whole, this chapter stands out for us especially as we revise and outline several other books in a hopeful series.

The other chapter we continually reference is Chapter 12, Revising in a Speed-Driven Market. In it, Deborah gives an in-depth look into revision techniques that, again, can apply to any genre though she gives specific examples that pertain to new adult. We especially appreciate the Stop Looking Test which: "reveals weaknesses in characterization, plus generic language and missed opportunities in dialogue narrative beats. The revision work you do as a result of this test can significantly improve the story and your writing overall." No lie. Using the seek and find tool in MS Word, we found 497 instances of the word "looked" in our first draft. That's borderline obscene! But, with this test, we can easily correct the abuse of some of our favorite words, and we all have them. The first step to correcting the problem is admitting you have a problem. And the Stop Looking Test has helped us do just that.

The other very helpful revision tool that Ms. Halverson offers is the Story Evaluation Questions sheet. The guide, as she says, "will take you into the process of deep, meaningful revision, giving you the tools you need to revise your story effectively as well as efficiently." How can these questions help you with your work in progress?

"Where is the story’s heart—in the action, in the characters, in the relationship?"

"Do the characters talk like real people?"

"Which scene first pulls you into the story?"

"Can you predict the ending?"

"Are the words dynamic?"

With these, and many more, the editing process takes a relevant and directed approach and will produce a better book, every time. We're counting on that!

We have truly enjoyed being able to preview Deborah Halverson's Writing New Adult Fiction and if we had more space, we could showcase useful tools and nuggets of wisdom in every chapter, but you will be much better served to get your own copy and discover the magic yourself.

We thank you, Deborah, for your insight and your skill and for composing a masterpiece about the craft of writing this bold, new genre. Writing New Adult Fiction has been priceless in our writing journey and we hope to work with you very soon to make the final tweaks to our manuscript.

Writers: GO GET THIS BOOK!

{H & J}

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Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson Publication Date: August 21, 2014 Genres: New Adult, Non-Fiction, Writing Craft

Tour: Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson

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Synopsis

Foreword by Sylvia Day "For the writer who wants to become a new adult author, or the new adult author who seeks to enrich her craftsmanship and stand out from the herd.” –Tammara Webber, New York Times best-selling author of Easy and Breakable From Sylvia Day’s Bared to You to Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, new adult fiction has arrived—and it’s hotter than ever. But there’s more to this category than its 18- to 26-year-old characters: The success of your story depends on authentically depicting the transition of your young protagonists from teenhood into adulthood. With Writing New Adult Fiction, you’ll learn how to capture the spirit of freedom, self-discovery, and romance that defines the new adult experience. -Create memorable characters that act and sound like new adults. -Sculpt a distinct personality for your fiction with POV, voice, tone, and word choices. -Build a unique, captivating plot that satisfied your audience from beginning to end. -Learn tools for revising effectively and efficiently in a speed-driven market. -Weight the options for your path to publication: traditional, indie, and hybrid.
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About Deborah Halverson

Deborah Halverson spent a decade editing books for Harcourt Children's Books before becoming the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, Writing New Adult Fiction, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, a picture book and three books in the Remix series for struggling readers. She is now a freelance editor, author, writing instructor, and the founder of the popular writers’ advice site DearEditor.com. Deborah also serves on the advisory board for UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program. She speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For more about Deborah, visit www.DeborahHalverson.com.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Livin' La Vida Loca

I don't know about you but this summer, I didn't get nearly as much done as I had planned, mostly in the writing department. I had expected to finish revising my WIP (work in progress in writer's speak, but it can really apply to anything), draft some blog posts--IN ADVANCE, conduct research, network with other writers and accomplish a hundred other items on my to-do list.

But what happened was quite the opposite. I played with my kids, I hung out with my teacher-husband, and I read a dozen books. I balanced summertime easy-living with my part-time day job, and managed only the essentials. After a few weeks, I sat down to write and nothing. The well had run dry. Completely. I panicked and cried and consumed many summertime cocktails, for a good week. Then I put my fingers to the keyboard again. This time...IT WAS WORSE! So I took a different approach: denial. I tried to ignore that uncomfortable feeling, the nagging sense of a hidden block, because it's SUMMER! You can't have have anxiety during the summer. You have to RELAX!

So I forced myself to be calm. I was completely committed to enjoying my days at the beach with the family. But come evening, when I cyber-stalked all the writers I admire and witnessed their extreme productivity, I felt guilty for my underachievement. Pretty soon, I was overtaken by a crisis of confidence and I felt like a failure.

To my always-patient husband and my stalwart writing partner, I began to say things like, "Maybe this isn't the season for me to try this writing thing. Maybe when the kids are out of the house and I don't have SO MUCH STUFF to do. Maybe that's when I can pick it up again." I tried to convince myself that the sinking sadness in my gut was just part of the writing-dream-on-hold mourning process.

Holly totally understood. EVERY writer goes through this at one time or another. EVERY ONE. My husband thought something was really wrong with me and worried for my family. He had a more holistic approach. "You NEED to write. Because you're scary when you're not writing. Writing is like your Diet Coke addiction...it would be BAD for everyone if you quit." So I decided to let go of the guilt and panic, to lower my expectations and put the stalking on hold, and essentially wait the summer out. Really, what choice did I have?

A couple of weeks before the kids started school, when they were enrolled in prep classes and working on summer assignments and getting organized, when I'd finally stopped trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the voices, I mean, characters, in my head, something happened. I wrote a list of blog post ideas down. And I even drafted one. Then I hid it because it could be an anomaly and I didn't want to get too excited. I read it the next day and made some revisions. Huh. When I took out my WIP, I made some easy edits there too. Then I added a few paragraphs. And outlined! And HOT DAMN! It all came back! Four blog posts drafted, two chapters revised, hope renewed!

The very best part of it all: I felt like ME! (My husband even noted that the borderline-crazy look in my eyes was gone.)

Today, looking back at the summer from the vantage point of a productive weekend writing retreat, I'm a little embarrassed that my resolve could be compromised so easily. I almost didn't have the guts to share this, but then I wouldn't be able to offer this take-away: With any project, whether we're thinking about going back to school or trying to switch careers or figuring out who we want to be now that all the kids are in school, we have to be three things. Flexible, forgiving and brave. We have to take things one day at a time, as long as the movement is forward. We can't let guilt for not doing enough have a louder voice than the drive. We must keep at it until we land at that ever-changing, often-blurry, imperfect finish line.

So next summer, when there's more sand in my toes than words added to my WIP, I won't panic. I'll simply remember that there's a time for leaning into the rhythm of the process and there's a time for taking a break.

{J}

(Photo courtesy of KeepCalmAndPosters.com and enhanced by the ABM app.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Our B2B Campaign, Like in the Olden Days

Okay, the other day I was writing on the beach - definitely one of the most inspiring settings for me - and my iPad lost all power. I should've known that streaming my favorite Alternative Endurance station on Pandora while doing research AND writing, would quickly drain my battery but what's a girl to do? I was in the zone!

Well this girl, with power lost, almost pitched a fit. How would I possibly write my blog post and finish editing chapter 17 without my precious iPad!?!? I felt lost and helpless and a bit pissed off. Until I made a shocking revelation...YOU GUYS! Guess what I had in my writing bag? Real paper and a ballpoint pen! The kind that writes really smoothly. Soooo...I carried on and wrote this blog post the way they did it (as Bella says) in the olden days. (See evidence in exhibit A.)

Exhibit A

Friends, please tell me when you last used a pen and paper. Was it for a list? A thank you note? A check to the PTA for the hundredth time? I so rarely write anymore. Almost everything has been automated these days and you know what they tell us? "Automation makes things easier. More convenient. It simplifies things." Guess what...that's a bunch of S#@&! What automation really does is make more room in our busy schedules (that we've piled high, by the way,) so we can shove more crap into each day. We've been conditioned to think that if we have free time, we're slackers. We're missing something critical. Life simplified makes us uncomfortable. We prefer to call ourselves "CRAZY-busy" when in fact, we're responsible for the constant spinning of wheels. We're at fault for the "CRAZY."

So when I say "WE" that completely includes me. And maybe I'm not describing you. You may have that balance nonsense all worked out. In that case, please feel free to disregard this entire post. But if any of this sounds familiar, please read on.

Now I would never suggest we abandon technology and things that make life in these modern times more convenient...no way! I love my easy-access, immediate-gratification, check-it-off-the-list-faster-than-you-can-write-it electronic devices too much to consider such a drastic measure. But what I suggest is that we preserve some of that time that we create by using our time-saving tools, to slow things down, to relax, to get back to basics. We work hard and efficiently to earn those few extra moments and they should be used to restore not detract. (Although this writing with a pen and paper thing is requiring me to sllloooowwww down, my hand is beginning to hurt from this antiquated mode of recording, so I endorse Apple products for all of your writing needs.)

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about what a "Back to Basics" philospophy entails. With the new school year underway, carpools and activities pouring in and over me, balancing family and work and writing and life, it can sometimes feel overwhelming, right? I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. Not one of my friends has recently said to me, "Hey Jenn, isn't life easier now that the kids are growing up. Isn't the three-schools-thing a breeze? And they hardly have any homework! What are you doing with all your free time?"

Nope...NO ONE says that!

But we, as the parents, are responsible for that often-insane calendar. True, some things are out of our control but it is our job not to overcommit ourselves, or our kids. Be it volunteering, sports, work, school, social activities, whatever! It's our job to save/find/create some time, for our kids to learn about the importance of TIME. If we introduce some semblance of peace in their busy lives, they will learn how to slow down; they will understand the intrinsic value of downtime; they will learn how to evaluate what's essentia; and when necessary, how to get back to basics.

So here's a small sampling of what I'm going to attempt to implement in my home as we transition into this new, sure-to-be-busy year:

1) Family dinner. It's not just for weekends and restaurants, friends! I'm going to find at least two weeknights where we can get six butts in seats, at the same time, for a home-cooked meal. (Home-cooked may come from a bag or a box...just being real here.)

2) Bedtime stories. For the young and the old, I'm bringing them back! As we tuck them in, even when we're so whooped we can barely see, Michael and I are going to read with our children, FROM A BOOK, at least a few pages. The books may be in electronic format, but they will be real books.

3) Tucking in. The love and patience will OOZE from us as we read the pages, tuck the covers, kiss the faces and share the "something specials" that happened during the day. We will listen and soak in these sentiments because friends, we are running out of time. I've done the math (WITH A PEN, not my iPhone calculator - see exhibit B) and I only have around 1460 tuck-ins with my girl, assuming she goes to college and doesn't allow me to be her roommate, or if local, let me come over every night to tuck her in, which might freak out her roommate. And I don't want to miss the opportunity to remind her how important she is to our family. So tuck-ins, with great love and appreciation...they're on the list.

Exhibit B

4) Date night. Twice a month. It doesn't have to be fancy, or at night. In fact, a trip to the beach with just the husband counts. I want to connect with the man who, half the time, is the better part of our duo. And the investment is worth it. After all, in roughly 2555 days, it will be just us. (More math with a pen. I'm pretty good at multiplication however, I'm losing feeling in my fingers from all this real writing.)

5) Slow down and savor. Family time, conversations with friends and little, everyday blessings, like the beach without my iPad. It's amazing what you see when you pause for a moment and lift your face from the screen to admire the beautiful ocean, or really look into your partner's eyes, or take in your child's face, their features change so fast you can miss it. My grand plan is that numbers 1-4 will all lend to the success of 5. It's a lofty goal...I'll keep you posted.

So that's it. My "Back to Basics" campaign. Feel free to adopt one in your home if needed. I can tell you, the change won't be too drastic. We need technology. Not only do we crave the convenience and the immediacy of the electronic age, but it allows us to be connected in ways that are invaluable. My plan is to alleviate the congestion in the airwaves, and resist the urge to fill up that precious time saved with more to-do's. Instead, we will fill it with more moments that matter.

How about it? You in?

{J}

Friday, September 12, 2014

On the Move

I am feeling melancholy tonight. My tinge of sadness and unrest stems from a personal decision we've made recently as a family. We are moving. It feels so strange to type that, it makes it REAL. Although it was announced on FaceBook a little too early (just because I wasn't quite ready to talk about it), somehow, announcing it here ON PURPOSE makes the anxiety in my chest palpable.

Our blog will continue, all from the West Coast, but once a week you'll hear from Jenn here in California and my viewpoint will be from Oregon! Quite the change of scenery. I am all at once excited, nervous, hopeful, doubtful, scared, sure-footed, and a little in denial. I love a good adventure and I think if it were just hubby and I, the sadness would still be true but without the level of anxiety. With three kids in tow, one almost 15, I can't help but wonder what this will mean for their future. Will it be the best decision we've ever made? Will they all want to move back when they graduate? It’s definitely the hardest decision we’ve ever made. I must leave the questions that pop into my head on an hourly basis in the hands of the One I trust the most. I am told to lay my anxieties at His feet and I am purposefully doing that, although I'll admit, it’s minute by minute.

This decision has been one that we have talked about for years. I can’t say why now is the right time, only that we know it is. I haven't been sure where to start. My dream was to raise our family here and I have completely immersed myself in getting involved in the community and knowing the people that make it the kind of neighborhood we love. I am slowly saying goodbye to that and grieving what will not be.

As I walk this new path, I am given little “hugs from Jesus” as a friend of mine calls them, telling me that it’s all going to work out, our blessings will be abundant and that I will find that sense of belonging again. I’m trusting in that and moving into the planning stages. Checking out schools, making sure credits transfer, deciding where to rent something and looking for a church. I've learned a lot about the area just from looking at Zillow every day, but we know that it’s best if we actually see it with our own eyes. So Mike and I will travel up there in November to fill out paperwork and take one step closer to this new chapter in our lives (knees shaking...a little).

The hardest will be leaving some of our family and best friends. I can't really think about saying goodbye. My heart breaks when I think of taking our kids out of the only home they have ever known, but expanding their knowledge of the world outside of "The Bubble" is one of our reasons for leaving. We have discovered that everything is more affordable in Oregon and that is something we need right now. We will be back for trips and vacations and feel so blessed to have already been offered places to stay. It's good here. Some of our favorite people are here, and as I shared on FB, part of my heart will remain.

I'm excited to write and share about our adventures! I'm not sure exactly what to expect, but I know it will be full of ups and downs. I'll bring you with me to the best of my ability and with a heart full of HOPE! When I look at the BIG PICTURE, even though it’s through teary eyes, I see good things.

{H}

Monday, September 8, 2014

Summer of Limbo

The Hale house was a stew of emotions over the last few months. Hope, fear, anticipation, worry, excitement...typical for a soon-to-be-high-schooler. But the roller coaster for Bella was even more bumpy. We're calling it her "Summer of Limbo."

Bella was one of the many students denied admittance to San Juan Hills High School due to the newly enforced neighborhood boundaries. The School of Choice process with CUSD had never denied a student admittance to SJHHS before, but due to its rising enrollment and the deferral of many San Clemente High (an impacted school) students to SJHHS, this was the year that much of Ladera was denied. And like many, she was devastated.

It's not that we had anything against Tesoro, it's just that SJHHS was what we knew. Almost all of our neighbors are/were students at SJHHS, her BFFs were soon-to-be-Stallions, her dad had even taught summer school there and she had performed there with her choir. We just thought it was a given. That was our mistake.

Needless to say, we did everything in our power to appeal the decision. We joined a group of other parent advocates, collected data, attended board meetings, wrote letters, etc. In July, the Assistant Superintendent met with us and explained that the numbers needed to drop by approximately 50 students for them to let anyone on the wait list in. At that time, they were down 16, and since Bella was number nine on the list, it seemed she had a good chance of getting in. We would just have to wait. So we did. And we were hopeful.

In the meantime, and because we were officially Titans, Bella went to three weeks of Tesoro volleyball camp and came to really like the school and the students. But since there was also a chance she'd get in to SJHHS, she spent two weeks with her BFFs at volleyball camp there too. We were covering our bases, trying not to get our hopes too high and trusting that what was meant to be, would be.

I must admit that at times, this seemed easier for her to do than for me. Each time she asked if we knew anything yet, it made me mad that she couldn't just have a summer of excitedly planning for the fun of high school with her besties. But that period in limbo really did turn out to be the best thing about this (originally) crappy situation. Bella was able to spend time at both schools. She met really nice girls from neighborhoods outside the Ladera bubble. She worked with coaches and upperclassmen who took the time to invest in her and make her feel welcome. And when the final decision came, she was able to just as easily, and comfortably, see herself as a Titan as she could a Stallion. And so could I.

A few weeks ago, Bella tried out for the Tesoro volleyball team and made it!! (Which is a HUGE accomplishment considering she's never played volleyball and couldn't even serve the first whole week of camp. It goes to show that you don't have to play a sport all your life to make a high school team, but that's a post for another day.) Two days later, she found out there'd be no room for her at San Juan Hills. She cried and said "high school is going to be horrible" but those feelings didn't linger. After listing the pros, one of which was (her words) the cute surfers on the surf team, she embraced her new identity as a Tesoro Titan. (Did I already mention the roller coaster?)

The benefit of being "on hold" for three months was that the final decision, any decision, was better than limbo. And as my brave girl embraced the direction that her new adventure was taking, in rushed the excitement and joy that we'd been waiting for. I'm happy to report that her first week of high school was better than she expected. Her summer of limbo proved that when things don't go your way, they can still turn out great. It's all about ATTITUDE and PERSPECTIVE. And I know with every ounce of my soul that that was all part of the plan.

Go Titans!

{J}

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Today officially marks the last day of summer. Tomorrow morning we will wake at the crack of dawn, throw snacks into a brown paper sack (or a bright pink lunch box) and fight the traffic to get three children to three different schools all by 7:55 AM. Whew!

I know that at least several of my friends have been waiting for this day for weeks if not since June 25th, our official first day of summer. I have not. I don’t understand why all of the previous mentioned horrors are something to hope for and wish to come sooner. If I could stretch the next 24 hours out for another week, I would do so without blinking. Routine can be great, but for a non-morning person like me, the 6AM alarm clock is nothing but alarming. Every. Single. Morning. I never have gotten used to it and my oldest will be a freshman this year.

So. There’s that. I have a freshman in HIGH SCHOOL. Middle school seems like it was a huge blur and I’m regretting not cherishing his little 6th grade self more often. He’s suddenly taller than me and his muscles are bigger than mine. I’m holding onto the fact that he can’t find his shoes in the morning without my help, but other than those little things, he is well on his way to adulthood. It really does happen too fast, and I’m not just trying to sound like a cliché. This momma’s heart sometimes skips a beat thinking of the miniscule amount of time I have left with him under my roof.

There’s also my middle who’s starting middle school. He doesn’t look old enough to be in the 6th grade. But I know that one day too soon, I will turn around and bump into the strange man-child that he will grow into over the next few years. I will mistake his voice for my husband. I will be shocked and lock myself in my room with the video camera on “play”, lamenting his little boy voice and wondering why time keeps speeding up to a pace that I cannot handle. Thank goodness he still likes Rubix cubes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

My littlest, will be a second grader. She will start reading chapter books and writing essays with “details”. She will start to care more about how her hair looks and stop letting me help her pick out her clothes. But she will still want to cuddle every night as she tells me about her teacher and her friends and whisper in secret about a boy that she thinks is cute. I am lucky. Her focus will not shift to her peers for at least four more years. Mommy and Daddy will still be the center of her universe while her brothers forge ahead, making safe passage for their baby sister. We find that we are different parents with her but that story is for another post.

My loves are growing up. While they are supposed to, it’s happening at an alarming rate. I’m not ready for it. It’s like that old saying, “you don’t know something until you know”. That’s how this feels. The first day of school, 2014, does not bring sighs of relief from me but instead, small pains of anguish as time marches forward, sometimes dragging me along kicking and screaming. It reminds me of the preciousness of parenthood and the need to move gracefully into the next phase. A high schooler who all too soon will leave the confines of our family and the memories and feelings of comfort I want to instill in him so he wishes to come back from time to time. Our middle schooler who is on the cusp of teenhood and my need to help him with the precarious balance of the desires of childhood and the independence that comes with junior high. My baby, whom I wish to keep little as she navigates her world, will refuse me and I must relent. Our job as parents is to nurture and comfort and love and then LET GO so that the world can benefit from the gifts and talents that we help to bring out in them. It is the hardest, most complicated, most aggravating, most inspiring thing we will ever do. And tomorrow, we will drop them off to their teachers and their friends and look forward to hearing how the first day went and try to savor every moment. Don't let it pass too quickly.

Have a great first day everyone!

{H}