Category Archives: movie references

Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Free Reading Friday: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Slasher GirlsSlasher Girls & Monster Boys is a really fun collection of YA horror stories. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’d only read novels by two of the authors (Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series and Cat Winters’ The Steep and Thorny Way). Still, since this is a Rosie nominee and Halloween was quickly approaching when I read it, I thought this would be a perfect choice.

As I started the first story by Nova Ren Suma, I got a strange twinge of familiarity. I found myself thinking of the Daphne du Maurier story “The Birds.” I’m sure it was just the mention of the creepy, creepy birds just sitting and watching the house. I definitely didn’t think of the story as a retelling, but it had a vibe to it that was so familiar. When I finished the story, I noticed that on the last page, upside down at the bottom was a little note that the story was inspired by two of Hitchcock’s movies, one of which was “The Birds.” I’ll be honest, I was a bit disappointed that, being a writer, Suma didn’t reference the short story, but still thought it was pretty cool.

The second story, “In the Forest Dark and Deep,” by Carrie Ryan (which is one of my favorites), was clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I’d be amazed if anyone doesn’t figure it out in the first few pages. Just because the inspiration is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t a great story in its own right. It’s twisted and creepy (way more so than Carroll’s original work). Since I teach Alice in Wonderland to my Film Lit class, I’m hoping I can find a way to add this story into my curriculum. Considering the fact that the purpose of the class is to see how literature is adapted into a new art form (film), I think this story would be a cool way to explore a different kind of adaptation as well.

As I read I found myself trying to guess which novels or movies had inspired each writer. Most of the stories are based on movies. A few are based partly on stories or novels, but even those also have a film inspirations. I was not correct nearly as often as I’d thought I’d be…mostly because horror is not my favorite genre. I have a feeling my best friend would be able to figure out the majority of them.

Other stories I found particularly note worthy include “On the I-5,” “Emmeline,” and “The Dark, Scary Parts and All.” It’s probably not a surprise that two of those are by the authors I was already familiar with and whose other works I enjoyed. Probably also didn’t hurt that I was able to guess the films associated with two of them!

There isn’t a single story in the collection I didn’t enjoy. I am actually quite excited to take this book back to school and suggest it to my juniors and seniors. I’ve already mentioned it to one of my students who bought a copy and loves it. I think many of her classmates will also thoroughly enjoy it…even after Halloween.

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Throwback Thursday: Disneyworld

DSCN0661For as long as I can remember, I have been a Disney kid. We moved to Southern California when I was 6 and lived less than an hour from Disneyland until I was 14. In fact, for several of those years we lived in Anaheim and were year round pass holders. My sister wasn’t in school yet, so my mom would pick me up after school and take us to Disneyland for an hour or two before my step-dad got off work. We’d get to ride a few rides and be home in time for her to make dinner. It was magical.

When I was 14, I moved in with my dad in Indiana, which although removed from Mickey and his gang, did not stop my love for them. I was still had all the movies to watch any time I wanted. Yes, even as a teenager I watched Alice in Wonderland, Pete’s Dragon and The Little Mermaid repeatedly. When I got my first car, I also got The Little Mermaid cassette and it played repeatedly when I was in my car. My best friend was also a Disney fiend, so we’d sing “Kiss the Girl,” at the top of our lungs on the way to school. I worked at the movie theater when The Lion King came out and not only did I see it for free multiple times, I heard that soundtrack every single time I worked (on a constant loop) for an entire summer.

Since I lived so far from California, my Disney fix had to be filled by heading to the other coast: Disney World. I’d been a few times as a child, but my favorite Disney World memories came as an adult. One year my dad and step-mom took my boyfriend and I to visit my great aunt who lived in St. Augustine and then we headed down to Disney World to spend three magical days in the Magic Kingdom. Well, one day there, one day at Epcot and one at Hollywood Studios (there was no Animal Kingdom then). I still remember how my boyfriend FREAKED on The Great Movie Ride* when an alien from the Alien portion of the ride came at us from above. He was so busy looking at the one on the side of us that he completely missed the one above us and just about wet himself. It was fantastic!

Another year my step-mom, aunt and cousin went together as part of a celebration of my cousin’s high school graduation. Once again we visited my great aunt. This time we had to paint her deck before we could reward ourselves with a trip to Disney. We were not prepared for painting a second story deck in 90+ heat using rickety ladders. It was truly horrific, but it made for some great family bonding and it made any hot weather or tired feet at the parks seem like a wonderful reprieve.

My aunt and I made a solo trip a little later and it was fantastic! It was on this trip that I discovered the wonder of Waffle House waffles. After a VERY long drive to get to Florida, we found a Waffle House near our hotel and dug into pecan waffles. They were delicious! We did everything at a leisurely pace and aside from a speeding ticket I got on the way home, it was a great trip.

My aunt also took my husband (who was just my boyfriend at the time), my uncle and I to Disney World not long after we started dating. My uncle drove 17 straight hours to get us there, stopping at every single rest stop to stretch and have a cigarette. The car was pretty small and when we finally reached our destination (once again we went to St. Augustine first), it was glorious. Sadly, my aunt got pretty bad vertigo on day two at Epcot (Mission Space was brand new at the time) and she had to bow out of the rest of the day, so my husband and I roamed the rest of the day while they went back to the hotel.

Although my husband is not obsessed with Disney the way I am, he gives in to my whims and so far we’ve taken one amazing family vacation to Disney World with our own kids. We only went to three of the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios). It was seriously the best family vacation we’ve ever been on. I cannot even describe how wonderful it all was.

DSCN0668Our second trip was not quite as awesome. We were there as Hurricane Matthew approached and not only did we get soaked through pretty much every single day, we actually left one day early because the hurricane was getting ready to hit and we knew Disney was going to be closed for the fourth time ever. We lit out as early as we could Thursday morning and ended up at my best friend’s house in Athens, Georgia, so even though we were sad to cut our trip short, we had a great time with my best friend.

That leads us to our latest trip, which is actually coming a year earlier than planned. Initially my husband agreed to every three years for a Disney trip. But we just went back in 2016, so at this point, I should just be wistfully thinking of our trip next year, not writing this blog with a hotel room and tickets already booked and paid for.

What makes this year so special? My aunt and her two kids are coming with us. My aunt is pretty much the biggest Disney fan I’ve ever met, but because of her vertigo, she can’t drive long distances and she refuses to fly. So, this year, we are all going together. Not only do I get to share Disney World with my kids again, but I get to share it with my aunt, who is my closest family member (more like a mom than an aunt), and her two kids. My kids get to run through Disney World with their cousins, who they adore.

Once again, we get to make new memories with the people we love most.

I know a lot of people mock Disney because it is too commercial and too expensive and too crowded and a host of other “toos,” but for me, it will always be one of the happiest places on earth. I have so many wonderful memories there and I simply cannot wait to make more with my aunt and her kids.

*You can watch the Alien portion of The Great Movie Ride around minute 3 if you use the link

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Throwback Thursday: Firefly and Serenity

I have loved Joss Whedon for about two decades now. Ever since I saw my first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer twenty years ago, I was hooked. Now, I’ll admit it, I didn’t see the first episode on it’s premiere night. I actually saw it when the WB reran it over the weekend. The show caught me a bit off guard as I’d seen the movie at the theater during its original run. This was due in large part to the fact that I actually worked at a movie theater at the time. If I hadn’t, I might not have seen it. The TV show was nothing like the campy, but fun, movie I remembered from high school. I was a bit confused about the different school and characters, but when her new principal mentioned the burning down of the gym at her old school, I realized it was still some version of the movie I knew.

I faithfully watched (and rewatched and rerewatched) every episode of Buffy. When Angel split off with his own series, I watched that too. I was especially enthralled when Spike managed to survive the seventh season of Buffy and moved on over to Angel.

Somehow I managed to miss news about Whedon’s show Firefly, at least until right after it was cancelled. Not that it was hard to miss considering how little publicity Fox gave it. Or the fact they aired the episodes out of order which confused people. Or that they only had it on the air for 12 of the 13 episodes. It was almost like Fox did everything in its power to tank the show.

Thankfully a friend of mine told me about it and lent me his DVD’s. From the moment I watched the first episode, I was hooked. And then I was devastated that I only got 13 near perfect episodes to love.

So when Serenity was made, I was in line on opening day. And I loved it. To this day it is still one of my favorite movies. In fact, I love it so much that each year I introduce my Film Lit students to it as part of their final. A surprising number of them end up really liking it as well and then go on to watch Firefly. Some even go on to watch Buffy and Angel. Of course, that might have something to do with the Buffy clips I show too.

Recently I learned that there are Serenity comic books. I knew that Whedon decided to add to the Buffy legacy by creating what would have been the 8th season of Buffy in comic book form. Right after they came out, my husband bought me the first few for my birthday. Then a friend lent me the rest of them. They were fun, but not quite the way I saw the show going (look, if it doesn’t somehow end with Buffy and Spike back together my interest level wanes).

I knew he’s also created Angel comic books, but I didn’t look into those. I liked the show, but it’s my third favorite of his shows (Dollhouse is my least favorite).

Until two weeks ago I had no idea he’d also created a comic book series for Serenity. When I found out, I logged on to my library to see if by chance they had them. Amazingly enough, they did. I put what I thought were the first four on hold, however, at this point I’m still not sure the order of the books. I’ve looked online and while I found a post about the correct order, it lists books I can’t find at my library or on Amazon. It also definitely does not list them in the same order my library (and Amazon does). So although I am a bit confused, I’m going to read them in the order I think they go in and if it’s not right, I’ll be ok with that and just enjoy them.

So far I’ve only read the first one (I think), Those Left Behind. It was definitely fun. It probably would have made a great episode of the show. I love seeing the characters drawn just like the actors and I love reading their words, which of course I hear in my head in the voices of the actors. I love getting to “see” Nathan Fillion play out more adventures of my beloved Mal. It’s not quite as good as more episodes would have been, but it’s a nice consolation.

I may have to get copies of them for my classroom for students who fall in love with the movie to read.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Home Alone

At school we are having a Christmas tree decorating contest. Well, sort of. One of the clubs is sponsoring a contest where teachers deck out paper trees, and by default at least a portion of our hallways. This year each department got to pick a holiday movie as the theme to base our decorations around. I’m not sure if we actually win anything for really decking the halls, but this year my department has gotten into it.

Not that I think we’ll win. While we may be one of the bigger departments in the school, we are all bogged down in research papers and somehow it seems there’s always another department who recruits students to help them really go all out. As much as I’d love to do that, we have too many standardized tests going on and too much prep to do before finals, so instead of sacrificing class time, we are sacrificing our own time.

Although we’ve done this contest for several years now, I’ll admit my department has never really gotten into the spirit of it. The first year I was the only one who really did anything for our fake tree and all I did was create ornaments for it. Now, the ornaments were pretty fantastic: they had the body of Frosty with the head of our principal. Thankfully I knew he’d enjoy it. The ornaments were cute, but nothing compared to the display the art department put on, complete with not only the most elaborate paper snowflakes I’d ever seen, but also snowflakes digitally projected all over the hallway.

This year, seconds after the email announcing the contest came out, my newest colleague ran across the hallway to confer with me about our theme. She wanted to make sure we got first dibs on our movie: Home Alone.

I handed the paper tree to her and told her to go nuts. And she did! She decked that tree in garland and wrote “Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!” She draw an amazingly accurate picture of Macaulay Culkin, complete with hands on face in mid-scream. She also added a great drawing of an iron to the top of the tree. She then created a window and looking at the tree from outside are the two male members of our department dressed up like the bandits–one even has a iron mark on his face.

Seeing what she created kicked a few more people, including myself into gear. I made paint cans which we tied to strings and hung from the ceiling in front of the fake window. Another of my coworkers created Kevin’s battle plan for dealing with the bandits.

Looking at it, it reminded me of my first experience with Home Alone, when I worked at the movie theater…during the sequel’s original theatrical debut. It opened on Thanksgiving day and it was a crazy day. Every employee had a Home Alone 2 button attached to our oh so stylish red polyester vests. There was a giant Home Alone 2 display stand, complete with a NYC skyline in the background. I remember several of my coworkers wanted that display and our manager had to raffle it off. He also had to raffle the posters off.

What I remember most about that premiere is having to do so much cleaning at the end of the night because we were so busy the place was trashed. Even behind the concession stand there was popcorn, butter and soda everywhere. Still, I loved that job and there are definitely days where I might not miss the pay, but miss the fun and simplicity of the job. I also greatly miss the camaraderie we shared. We were high school and college kids. For most of us, it was our first job. We got to watch free movies and eat popcorn. It was a blast!

While my current job may be more fulfilling and I may love it, a piece of my heart will always belong to General Cinema.

I’m not sure when the trees we’ve decorated will actually be judged, but I hope we at least get an honorable mention for our creativity and dedication.

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Throwback Thursday: Pour over butter popcorn

My first job (aside from babysitting) was at a movie theater. The summer after I turned 16, I was stuck in a tedious babysitting gig that paid $15 a day for two kids. Considering those days were about 9 hours, I was making $1.66 an hour. Sure, there were no taxes coming out of my check, I could watch whatever I wanted on TV and since one of the kids was in summer school for the first 4 hours of the day, there wasn’t a lot of “work.” But when the oldest boy decided to shut himself in his room and choke himself because I told him his mom said he was not allowed to play video games, I realized that I was working way above my pay grade.

So, I told the mom I was done and papered every business in town with job applications. The first, and oddly only, business to call was General Cinema. Thankfully, it was the job I most wanted to get. I interviewed with the manager and was hired on the spot. It seemed like a dream come true! Not only would I be paid nearly 4 times my previous salary, but I got unlimited free movies for me and two friends. Wanna know what makes you decently popular in high school? Free movies.

Despite having to wear a polyester uniform that made my butt look horrendous and smelling like rancid oil at the end of every shift, I LOVED my job. My co-workers, none of whom went to my school, were fantastic. Since my theater only had 6 screens, there was lots of down time in between movies, so we goofed off almost more than we worked. Plus, there was one unwritten benefit of my new job: all the popcorn I could eat.

I say unwritten because we weren’t supposed to eat any of that popcorn. We got free movies, but no discount at the concession stand. If we wanted a popcorn, we were supposed to buy it. However, like every other teenage employee in any sort of food industry, we found ways around the rule. Our theater gave out courtesy cups for people who wanted water (or to split up larger bags/buckets of popcorn or, as ushers quickly found out, to spit tobacco in and leave in the theater). When the managers were in the office, we’d just fill up courtesy cups, douse them with butter and snack, snack snack.

Plus any time the popcorn was being popped upstairs (this happened several times a week, but not every day), we could go in and fill up ticket bags full of as much as we wanted. I cannot count the meals I made of movie theater popcorn.

Ever since those wonderful days at the County Seat Cinema, I have adored all things movie popcorn. However, since I have two young kids, we don’t get out to the theater that often. My cravings for popcorn have not abated though. Instead, I’ve found my favorite substitute: Orville Redenbacher’s Pour Over Butter Movie Popcorn.

Good ol’ Orville first started making popcorn in my hometown, which every year has a Popcorn Festival in his honor. For the entirety of my teenage years, both Orville and his grandson Gary officiated at the yearly parade, so I may be a little biased in my love for his particular brand of popcorn.

While I definitely prefer all varieties of his microwave popcorn to any others I’ve tried, the pour over butter variety comes so close to that strange, not quite butter concoction we had at the movie theater, that it immediately sends me back in time. I even have fine popcorn salt just in case I need to make it even better…I mean worse…no, definitely better.

Tonight as I ran to the store to pick up a few essentials we needed at home, I saw the Redbox container and Baby Driver, which I’ve been wanting to see. So I grabbed it and made sure to pick up not one, but two boxes of my pour over buttery favorite. It won’t be quite the same as a true theater experience, but with our projector TV in the basement, my fake butter popcorn and surround sound, it’ll be pretty darn close!

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Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

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