Less Stress for the Holiday Season

I love the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Thanksgiving might be my favorite but only because we gather to share our love, our memories, and eat a delicious meal together. So for me, there is definitely less stress, and less to prepare for. The only expectation is the meal which I love cooking!

It is also the beginning of the Christmas season. The weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday, for me, are so very beautiful with all the decorations and lights. I love listening to the Christmas music; many songs awaken lovely memories from my childhood. I also love giving gifts, whether they are made by my own hands with love, or a carefully chosen store bought gift.

But then there are all those folks that I hear complaining about how commercialized Christmas has become. Or they are complaining about all the parties to go to and the food they must prepare to take to these parties. There are also complaints about buying gifts for people that they probably don’t want and they can’t afford to buy. And it breaks my heart to hear them say they can’t wait for Christmas to be over.

Christmas is no different than any other situation in life, YOU GET OUT OF IT EXACTLY WHAT YOU PUT IN IT! So if you go into it with disgust, dislike, and grumpiness…. That is exactly what you are going to get out of it!!

I totally understand how the holidays can also be difficult to get through because we may have lost a loved one, or we might be alone and have no one to celebrate with. Been in both of those situations, I know it is not pleasant and can be heartbreaking and depressing.

So hopefully I have come up with some ideas that might be able to help you get through the upcoming holidays with a little less stress. Maybe this will help you have a little more love in your heart. And maybe you will actually learn to at least like the holidays.

  1. Eat & drink smart and healthy! This is so hard to do with all the baked goodies and homemade candies BUT try to resist making a meal out of unhealthy treats!  Go ahead and have that small slice of pumpkin pie or cake, have one cookie, indulge in that one piece of fudge.  But only allow yourself one treat so choose wisely!  Snack on healthy things like veggies and fruit, nuts, a piece of cheese or some peanut butter for protein.  Drink lots of water, add lemon for a little taste and detox.  Do allow yourself a holiday cocktail, or two, but alternate with water.  Waking up tomorrow with a headache or being hungover will just add to your stress level.
  2. Meal plan! As mentioned above you want to eat healthy but still allow some treats, so plan your day’s menu/diet so that you are continually eating healthy.  Especially before you go to parties!!  Make sure you are planning your family meals according to your schedule, use a crock pot or casserole recipes for busy days and nights.  Make some casseroles, lasagna, anything that you can throw in your freezer.  Later in the week you will be thankful that all you need to do is pull out a casserole to thaw in the fridge while you are at work, and then pop it in the oven when you get home.
  3. Parties! I have heard a lot of people complain and basically whine about all the parties they need to go to!  Really?  Please be thankful that you have friends and family that want to share the holiday with you, no one is promised a tomorrow.  You do not always need to say yes to every party, it is okay to say no so that you can stay home and take care of you and your family or just to rest.  If you really don’t want to go, then don’t.  We all need some alone time, but we also need our friends and families too.  Think of the memories and fun times you might have, think of some friends and families that you can reconnect with.  Visit for as long as you want, eat healthy and drink healthy, be thankful for the friendships and have some fun!!
  4. Can you bring a covered dish? Yes, you can!  You do not need to go overboard and try to be a gourmet chef!  If you like to cook and prepare something fancy, great!  If you don’t, then just take something simple like cheese and crackers, veggies, or check out the appetizers in the frozen section of your grocery store.  There are some pretty good selections to choose from!  I love to cook but there are times when I just do not have the time to prepare something, so this works out well and they are delicious.
  5. Shopping and gift giving. This IS enough to stress everyone out!  You really need to be smart here, don’t just buy a gift for the sake of buying a gift.  If that is your reason for gift giving, just stop!  First, make a list of people that you want to give a gift, then think about them and what they like, jot down some ideas before you shop.  Also, set a dollar amount that you are willing to spend on each gift and stick with your budget.  Keep receipts, jot down names on the receipt/tags just in case you need to return something, and keep them all in an envelope.  I usually suggest not giving clothes but if you are confident in that choice, then go for it!  Also, keep an eye out for sales, use coupons.  If you do not like wrapping your gifts, then bag’em!  That is the easiest and the least stressful way to go.  Keep in mind that a simple gift from the heart is all you really need to give.
  6. Teach your kids about giving and receiving.  This is a challenge for most parents.  We don’t want our kids growing up to be materialistic and greedy; and we want to teach them about giving too.  Set boundaries for what they are asking for, have them organize and clean out what they already have, show them how fortunate they already are for what they have now.  Give your family members limits on what they can spend on your kids. If you have older kids and your budget allows, have your kids donate gifts to the needy, a shelter, or sponsor a family for Christmas. Have them volunteer at a food bank or as a family take a few bags to the food bank. Living in today’s world that is so materialist, I think this is something we all need to do.  Also, teach you kids the value of saying thank you as well as how to gracefully be thankful for a gift that they just unwrapped but don’t like!
  7. Stress-less kids? This is a time that kids are super excited!  Remember when you were a kid at Christmas?  They have a lot of stimuli from all the toy ads on TV, so it might be a good idea to limit their time in front of the TV.  Sit down and chat with them about their wants, desires, expectations and then chat about giving to the less fortunate.  Talk to them about your childhood memories and realize that you are creating and shaping theirs.  Involve them in decisions about new traditions.  Make sure they are eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, limit their treats and make sure they are getting enough rest and sleep.  This can also be a busy time in school with reports and projects needing to be completed before their holiday break so make sure they are getting enough time to complete their school work.  Get them outside for exercise and fresh air!  This is also a time for the little germ carriers to be sick, not fun for the holiday.
  8. Traditions! I love family traditions!  And I love creating new traditions!  Think back to when you were a child and the things that you used to do as a family, create those wonderful warm memories with your kids!! Slow down and enjoy the holiday season, celebrate it lovingly, and involve the kids!  Look online or on Pinterest for some new ideas.  Have fun!
  9. Physical and emotional health.  Make sure you are getting your exercise too!  Get those kids outside and play, walk, hike, whatever you can find to do.  Don’t forget about your gym membership, even if you only have 30 minutes to use the treadmill or lift a few weights, or if you’re lucky enough to have a pool to swim a few laps.  Every little bit helps.  Don’t forget about your mental and emotional health.  For as much enjoyment and beauty as some find in the holiday, there is also disappointment, sadness and loneliness.  Meditate, pray, go to church, talk to friends, talk to a professional if you need to.  There is no shame in that!  Try yoga, sit and read or just sit and look at the tree and drink in the beauty and silence of the room.
  10. Keep your life and the holiday in focus.  Easier said than done, I get it.  But try.  It’s so easy to compare your holiday life to others and be sad that you don’t have what someone else has.  Life isn’t fair, but this is your life and you only have one shot at it so stay focused.  You don’t have to have a lot of friends or a big bank account to enjoy the very beautiful and simple holiday.  Celebrate with the love of the family and friends that you are still blessed to have.  Don’t get caught up in the commercialism, that’s not what the holidays are about.  Remember, what you put into this holiday gig is what you are going to get out of it.

Live and love well my friends!

Holiday Meal Planner

Can you believe it is almost the end of October?! We will be planning holiday meals in no time!

I like to prepare a much as I can before the meal. You know those holiday Hallmark movies where the family is together in the kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each of them is preparing something. One person is making the pumpkin pie, another is preparing the turkey to roast, someone is peeling the potatoes. Yea well it doesn’t work like that in my family and I’m betting it doesn’t in yours either.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have some help getting things ready to serve but for one thing, my kitchen isn’t that big AND I do not have enough ovens for multiple things to bake at one time!

So I thought I would come up with a planner, to help me, and to help you. We all lead busy lives and some of you may be awesome at throwing a big sit down holiday dinner in a flash, but I am not. I need to and like to prepare ahead of time, so here goes:

HOLIDAY MEAL PLANNER

2-3 Weeks Before

  • Plan your menu. If you’re thinking of serving new dishes, practice cooking them prior to your dinner so you and your guests won’t be disappointed.
  • If you are going with the traditional turkey, decide if you are purchasing a frozen or fresh bird, place your order if necessary.
  • Inventory your plates, utensils, glassware and serving dishes. Start shopping if you need to replenish!
  • What linens are you planning to use? Make sure you have enough tablecloths, napkins, and placemats. Launder and iron now.
  • Will you need extra tables and chairs? Whether you are renting, borrowing or buying new, start now.
  • Most importantly (other than the turkey!), make yourself lists. Write down EVERYTHING! Your menu, wine/drinks, things to do, things to buy, you will be thankful you did!

One Week Before

  • If you have not done so already, prepare your grocery list. Then rewrite in the location order of your market or in the order as: produce, canned items, bakery, bread, pantry items, and so on.
  • Clean out your kitchen before you grocery shop. Make sure your pantry and fridge are free of any unused leftovers or outdated products. Wipe down the shelves in the fridge.
  • Inventory your spices and herbs, discard out dated or old containers.
  • Clean your house and decorate if you have not already done so. Eliminate clutter and if your family likes to play games, make sure they are ready to go.
  • Make a plan for your cooking preparations. Use a calendar if you like or just make a list.

Sunday Before

  • If you have purchased a frozen bird, and depending on the size, you may need to put in the fridge so it can start to thaw. Never leave the turkey thaw on the counter!
  • The recipe for my Turkey Rub is here.

Monday and Tuesday before

  • Shop for your groceries.
  • Tie up any loose ends from above that you have not yet completed.
  • Make the cranberry sauce. My recipe is here.
  • If you are cutting up and cubing your own stuffing, do that now.
  • I like to chop up any vegetables that I need on Tuesday. Whether it be the onion and celery for the stuffing and turkey, or veggies for my family to snack on as an appetizer.
  • I work full time and usually cannot take off the day before so I like to make my pies and cakes Tuesday evening when I get home from work.  My pumpkin Pie recipe is here. And my Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream recipe is here.

Wednesday Before

  • If you have not done so already, bake your desserts. Store in a cool place or refrigerate.
  • Prepare any appetizers that can be made ahead, cover and refrigerate. My Three Cheese Roasted Red Pepper Dip is here.
  • If your vegetables are not chopped and ready to go, do that now.
  • If you are cooking a fresh turkey, pick it up from the market.
  • Prepare any side dishes ahead that you can. I make my mashed potatoes now, place them in a large casserole dish, dot with butter and cover with foil.
  • If you are making your mashed potatoes tomorrow, peel and cut them now, place them in a bowl of water, cover and refrigerate.
  • Set up any extra table and chairs, set the table, place any table décor out now.
  • If you are planning to use a cooler for bottled water or beer and extra wine bottles, do that now and sit outside in a safe place.
  • If you’re planning on hot chocolate by a fire pit, my recipe is here. Or my Hot Cider Float recipe is here.
  • Inventory your lists and make sure you are on track!
  • Take a hot bath, pour yourself a drink and relax with a good book!

THE BIG DAY!

  • Prepare your stuffing and turkey and get them in the oven.
  • Reheat your sides.
  • Prepare the gravy.
  • Don’t forget ask for help getting things on the table!
  • And you are done! Enjoy your day and your guests and have a wonderful time!

I wish you the Happiest and Loveliest Thanksgiving and Christmas!

PS: And remember, your holiday will not be perfect! Don’t worry if something doesn’t work out as planned, laugh about it! I can’t tell you how many rolls I have burned because I put them in the oven last and forgot to set the timer!!

Shrimp and Corn Bisque

Now that the weather has FINALLY taken a turn towards autumn and the days and nights are a little cooler, it makes me want to be in the kitchen baking treats, bread and…making soup!

This bisque has been a favorite for a while now.  It’s very easy quick and easy to make and it is practically fool proof.

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You can add more cream if you like or substitute the light cream for heavy.  You could add cheese, more shrimp.  You could use sherry.  And you could always add kale or spinach too.

It is very versatile and easy to change up to what you are craving.

As always, I love some warm bread with my soup, and a glass of wine of course.

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So, first you want to devein your shrimp and remove the tails.  If you are using large shrimp, cut them in half so they are more bite size.

Dice up your potatoes into small cubes, again bite size BUT if they are small cubes they will cook quicker.  I use diced frozen potatoes, the work is already done for me!!

The corn I use is just frozen yellow corn,

Using the herbs is optional of course but I still have plentiful amounts of thyme and rosemary so I have been adding them to lots of recipes!  You could use whatever herbs you have on hand and love.

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Here’s the recipe:

3 cups shrimp, deveined and tails removed, chopped if shrimp are large

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cups potatoes, diced in small bite size cubes

1-1/2 cups corn

1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste

one 32 oz carton of chicken stock

1 cup light cream (or heavy cream if you prefer)

2 sprigs each of thyme and rosemary, strip the stems and chop the rosemary

slurry of cornstarch and water to thicken the soup

In a heavy soup pot, sauté the shrimp, onions and potatoes for about 10 minutes, salt and pepper.

Add the stock, tomato paste and corn, using a light simmer, cook until the potatoes are tender.

Add the cream, herbs and the slurry.  If adding kale or sherry you can add it now.

Once the soup has thickened, turn off the heat and serve.

Garnish with shredded cheese, bacon, sour cream, whatever you like.

Serve with crusty bread or I made Rosemary Focaccia bread to go with this soup.

Enjoy!

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Hamburger Vegetable Soup, More like Cheeseburger Soup!

This soup is yummy!

This soup whips up quickly and is so easy to make!

And I used to make this soup many many years ago when my kids were little. It was my go to soup on autumn days when my boys played elementary football.

And my daughter disliked it!!! But I still made it and everyone else loved it and I never had leftovers.  I remember one day inviting one of her friends to come over for dinner after the game and she specifically commented that I better not be making “that” soup again (*rolling eyes).

So, on with the soup, I snapped these pictures at work when I heated the soup for my lunch.  So please excuse the awful photo’s!!

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It’s just hamburger, onion, canned vegetable soup, sprigs of herbs and cheese. So maybe I should be calling this Cheeseburger Soup.

I still on occasion make it for myself, but I prepare it just a little differently.

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Now I like to add sprigs of herbs like thyme and rosemary. And cheese, but not just any cheese! I use that processed cheese that comes in a foil wrapper!!! And I am not ashamed of it either!

And man oh man is it even more delicious than when I made it for my little munchkins.

So, there is no way to mess up this soup, it’s just that easy. I usually plan on about a ¾ pound of hamburger and 2 cans of soup for 4 people.

Brown your burger and onion, add salt and pepper. When that’s done, pour in the cans of soup, herbs and the cheese. You can add as much or as little cheese as you want. I only like enough to make it creamy. You only want a light simmer, just enough to heat up the soup and melt the cheese, and then it’s done.

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Hamburger Soup

½ pound ground hamburger

½ small onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

2 cans of your favorite vegetable soup

Thyme, rosemary or whatever herbs you have on hand

½ cup processed cheese, cubed (more or less to your preference)

Brown the meat and onion. Then add the canned soup, cheese and herbs, bring to a light simmer. When the soup is heated and the cheese is melted, serve.

ENJOY!!!

Shrimp and Penne Pasta with a Tomato Basil Sauce

My basil plants are growing like crazy this year!  I think I have basil bushes, and I am not complaining, I LOVE basil!!  But, I can’t use it fast enough.

I made this  tomato basil sauce a few times already.  So yummy!

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It’s a thick pink sauce and works best on a penne, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand but when I make a thick sauce like this, I bring out the penne!

This recipe makes 2 servings.  Since I made this for just myself I plenty of leftovers.

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It’s a pretty easy and basic recipe, easy to increase for more servings.

If you don’t care for the sauce being thick, substitute tomato sauce for tomato paste.  You really cannot mess this up!

My store had frozen shrimp on sale, cooked, shelled and deveined, so that’s what I used this time.  You can use whatever you want or have on hand, just make sure you cook the shrimp first before you make the sauce.

The first time I made this, I used raw shrimp, so I started with a little olive oil in the pan and sautéed the shrimp until done.

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To the cooked shrimp, add the tomato paste, half and half, and chopped sundried tomatoes, stirring to blend together and heat through.  If the sauce is a little too thick, add a little bit of the pasta water.

Toss in the torn basil and serve.  Top with shredded parmesan and more torn basil.

 

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Here’s the recipe:

Cooked shrimp, about 8-10 large or about 1-1/2 cups small

1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes

1/2 cup half and half, plus more to thin out if you like

2-3 T tomato paste, or use about 1 cup tomato sauce for a thinner sauce

about 15 fresh basil leaves

Grated parmesan cheese for topping

Start your pasta, when the pasta is almost cooked, start your sauce.  If using raw shrimp, sauté in olive oil until cooked. Add all of the above ingredients to the shrimp, except the basil.  After the sauce has combined and is heated through, tear up about 10 basil leaves and add to the sauce.

Drain the pasta, place in 2 serving bowls and spoon the sauce over the pasta.  Top with remaining basil leaves and cheese.

Follow me on Facebook for more random babbling. Live well friends!

Mojito’s and Mint Tea

I love when my herbs are growing and blooming!  But I REALLY love it with the mint has come in!

Last year I planted mint in a large pot, and it did very well.  It came back beautifully this spring.  But I had to plant another pot this year because I love it so much!

I have made my usual mint tea twice this spring and now I make mojito’s!!

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You can check out my recipe for the mint tea recipe here Fresh Mint Tea.  Although I plan to use some green tea bags the next time I make it, green tea is so healthy for us and I’m trying to incorporate more of it in my diet.

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For the mojito, first I made a simple syrup by using 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring the water to a light boil, stirring until the sugar is melted.  Remove from heat and add about 5 large mint leaves to the syrup to “steep” while it cools.

I cut a lime in half, set half of it aside and the other half I quartered and squeezed the lime juice into my glass with about 10 mint leaves.  Muddle to break up the leaves, for just about a minute.  Then I added the lime quarters that I squeezed the  juice from and muddled them for a few seconds.  Fill glass with ice.

After the simple syrup was cool, I added 2 ozs to my glass.  Then 2-3 ozs of white rum and topped off the glass with seltzer water.
Add a lime slice to the rim of the glass and float a sprig of mint on top as well.

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Mint Mojito

 

  • 15 mint leaves, more for a more minty taste
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2-3 ozs white rum
  • 1 lime
  • seltzer water

Make a simple syrup with the sugar and water by placing in a small sauce pan and bring to a light boil, stirring to melt the sugar.  When the sugar is melted stir in 5 mint leaves and set aside to cool.

Cut a lime in half; take half the lime and quarter it, squeeze juice into glass. Add 10 mint leaves and muddle.  Add the squeezed lime quarters and muddle lightly again.  I added another half of a slice of lime to the glass and to the rim.

Fill glass with ice, add the rum and mint infused simple syrup.  Top with a splash of seltzer water.

Live well friends and have a minty summer!  Be sure to follow me on Facebook for daily babbling and rambling!

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Caring For Yourself After Surgery

I just had surgery for a rotator cuff tear, all three layers were torn. The doc also scraped bone spurs from the shoulder joint. On my dominant right arm nonetheless!

I knew I would be in a sling for 6 weeks, I knew therapy was going to be rough, I knew I’d have pain and I knew I’d have to depend on my left arm that also has a small rotator tear as well as a bicep injury.

But, was I really “prepared” for my recovery??? I thought I was…

I piled books I wanted to read, photo’s and albums to clean up and organize, cookbooks and magazines to sort through and find new inspiration…. At 4 weeks into my recovery and I had little to no motivation!

What I HAVE tried is painting canvases with my left hand! It’s almost a challenge to see just how much I can depress myself with how awful they turn out!! Sort of makes me laugh too.  And playing with paint always brings me joy!!

But what I wasn’t expecting was the amount of time I would spend spiritually in prayer and meditation. The peace I find I have now is slowly bringing me to a new place in my life post recovery. It’s also helping me get through long days.

I’ve been very blessed with family and friends that are such a great help by bringing me meals, visiting, and taking me for groceries, to doctor appointments and therapy.  My daughter is such a huge blessing!

But even with all this, I still found myself on many days, lonely, depressed, and BORED!!!

So, I thought I would use some of my boredom trying to type with a non-dominant hand and maybe find some pointers for those of you that may be facing some downtime while you recover from some sort of health issue.

  1. Prepare your home. Whatever that may be for your recovery. For me, I was instructed to sleep in a recliner for my recovery but I don’t own a recliner so I slept on my sofa for many uncomfortable weeks. I brought a few bed pillows, a warm throw blanket, and I placed a large tray beside me. I used the tray to hold my cell, water bottle, remotes, tissues, lip balm, hand lotion, my library card (see #3) and a few books. My laptop was placed on the dining room table along with my checkbook and all of my bills/finances.
  2. Prepare food. My friends from work provided almost all of my meals the first few weeks which was such a huge help and greatly appreciated! But I also made a few things for the freezer, I purchased some frozen food items and I stocked my pantry. Unfortunately I had a lot of nausea after the surgery so it took some time for me to actually want to eat anything!!
  3. Books, magazines, etc. I knew my recovery would be long and painful and that I would physically not be able to do much so I placed about 15 books on my table. If you like to read I would suggest giving yourself a wide variety to choose from, when the boredom sets in you will appreciate the many choices. I kept my library card handy too because I like to “borrow” ebooks, an awesome way to spend time is browsing book online from my library!!
  4. Prayer, meditate, spiritual time. I have 2 daily devotionals that I have been reading. Also, my prayer book that I made. It includes favorite prayers, verses, and people that have either requested prayers or that I am praying for. And I have a bible app on my phone compliments of my pre-teen grandson!! My prayer time has increased tremendously since surgery!
  5. Any plans to be made?? I planned my gardens, flower and veggie. I ordered some plants online, and made a list of what I wanted to purchase when it’s time to plant. Sadly I will have to hire someone to actually dig up the gardens and do the planting as my shoulder most likely won’t be ready for that just yet!
  6. Prepare for bad days. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have them. I have days where I swear I am going to die from boredom, I have days that I swear I am going explode just from the discomfort of this awful sling that I am confined to wearing. Those moments are when you will need your prayer time the most. Try to breathe, try to relax, and remind yourself this is only temporary. I also needed to tell myself there are many others with a much worse and permanent situation. Even though I was told it would be a year before I would be back to my normal self, I knew things would get better. Put your situation in perspective.
  7. Don’t spend all of your time in front of the TV. The boob-tube will only add to your depression, you will find yourself lethargic and lifeless! This was difficult too since I cannot do much else, but I often turned off the TV. Find other ways to occupy your mind…prayer, meditate, read, games, catch up on phone calls, crossword puzzles.
  8. Exercise? Check with your doctor first!!! My left shoulder is also injured but I am allowed to do some bicep curls with a light weight. Get some bands to do leg exercises. Get out and walk! Just PLEASE use caution and do not do anything to further injure yourself and check with your doc before you do anything!
  9. Accept the help you are offered. This was VERY difficult for me to accept because I am always doing things to help others. A friend of mine very bluntly told me that it is now MY time to let others care for me. The day I came home from the hospital was all it took for me to realize I had no other way to live with my dominant arm in a sling unless I had help! I cannot take my shirt off (much less my bra) without help!!!!
  10. And finslly….Just RELAX! Take this time to heal, let others love and care for you. And most of all love and care for YOURSELF!!

Ok I gotta go, my son is bringing me tacos for dinner!!