Category Archives: beach

Home from the UK

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There really ought to be safeguards in place when logging in to write my blog, for example, how long have you been awake?  Because I have been awake for (counts on fingers) 24 hours, with a one-hour nap on the plane home.  I woke up at 6am London time (the sun was so bright in our hotel room) and was so squished in the middle seat on the plane, it was uncomfortable to nap.  I’m trying to get back on Tempe time; my goal is to stay awake until 11.

My advice to you is this:  VISIT WALES!!!  There are miles and miles of verdant countryside, and from the coast road, the sea views were breathtaking.  The people were so friendly and polite and all seem gifted at the exchange of light banter, happy to ask where we were from and what we’d seen.  We saw ten castles, each different and exciting in its own way.  My favorites were the hill-top ruins with nobody around except for us, where I could close my eyes and imagine myself there 1000 years ago when the castle was inhabited . . . and I’d listen into the wind for the whispers of ghosts.

We began our trip in London, staying at my all-time favorite hotel, CitizenM Tower of London.  It’s always a thrill to be in vibrant London, my favorite big city.  We spent three days exploring the city and revisiting favorite museums, on foot and by Tube.  We are lucky enough to have visited the National Gallery the past four summers . . . and it never gets old.  I always get goosebumps seeing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and they had a special exhibit of 75 Monets!  He’s always been my favorite, and we spent hours looking at pieces we’d never seen before. THRILLING.  The British museum was full of school children and large, rude Japanese tour groups, but we were able to push through them and say hi to the mummies, the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and of course, the Rosetta Stone.  We did NOT yell, “Godzilla” to distract the Japanese tourists as suggested by a friend (haha) so as to get closer to the exhibits, but seriously, the groups we came upon were impolite and did not share space well.

It was so great to get home and give BIG HUGS to our son William and his girlfriend Katherine.  Ruby the Wonder Spaniel and the cats (Cosmo, Tilly, Olive, and Maisy) were very happy to see us as well.  Shortly after we arrived home, the kids left for the movies and Hubby checked stuff on his computer in the office, so ever since I’ve been singing loudly which is something I couldn’t do for two weeks  living in hotel rooms.  We were road tripping through Wales, but any time I tried to play music, we would quickly become lost. The navigation was very demanding and I had to stay sharp:  “In .5 miles take the second exit from the roundabout to B4047.”  Seriously, any time I daydreamed and we missed a cue from bossy British navigation lady, we ended up on one-lane roads with huge-ass tractors coming at us at 40 mph.  (What you do in that situation is run your car into the hedges and exchange happy waves with the other driver.)  If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Oh shit,” our bar bill would have been covered in full!

I’m finally feeling sleepy.  Jet lag sucks, but it’s a small price to pay for my two weeks of adventures in the beautiful UK.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

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Vaughans Gone Wild in San Diego

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A few weeks ago on my Spring Break from school, Hubby and I took a five-day vacation in San Diego, California.  This charming coastal town is an easy five-hour drive from our fair city of Tempe, AZ.  It was our first visit in 18 years!  We’d taken the kids to Sea World when they were little, but for whatever reason, we didn’t have a good time AND it was expensive, so we crossed it off our list.  After all these years, I’m happy to report that I HEART SAN DIEGO!!!  Mountain views, beautiful foliage and flowers, charming restaurants, great people watching, and clean beaches—-I can’t wait to go back!

And now I will attempt write a Very Professional Trip Report, and not drivel on and on like an idget like I usually do.

PROS:

  • We saw way more elderly couples than college students, which was a happy surprise.  (I was worried about obnoxious crowds of frat boys.)
  • We stayed at the Bahia Resort at Mission Beach, which was affordable and on the bay, but not within walking distance of any restaurants off site. But I felt the location between Pacific and Ocean Beaches was a good compromise. Next time we would want to stay near Pacific Beach.
  • Our hotel room was right on the bay, and directly out our sliding glass window was the marina where around 200 boats were anchored.  The two Riverboats which the hotel uses to transport hotel guests north to the Catamaran Resort go in and out of this bay.  (We never were there at the right time to ride the river boats.) We had little foot traffic by our room, except for the mandarin ducks and mud hens, which often pecked at the closed glass door to our hotel room.
  • San Diego Breweries:  There are a zillion charming places at which to drink delicious craft beers.  (Apologies for the overuse of the word “charming” but seriously, San Diego oozes charm!)  There are tap rooms which do not serve food, and there are brew pubs with full menus. We Ubered to Stone Brewery our first night, since it is, without a doubt, the mecca of breweries in the Southwest.  The service and food were incredible (quite pricey meals at $30 per plate), and the building itself is super cool with HUGE amounts of seating. Nobody has cooler t-shirts or better beer, hands down.  Lots of good people watching, too!
  • Travelling off-season, we had easy parking and no waiting at restaurants. I’m certain this is not true in the summer months.  Nice though that there was still a fun, tourist vibe . . . even though it was off season.
  • We live in the desert where it NEVER RAINS.  So though we had a few cloudy days with sprinkles of rain, that was actually a plus for us.  WEATHER! YAY!
  • Visiting the Birch Aquarium at Scripp’s was so much fun.  We arrived just in time to see the fish feeding in the humongous kelp fish tank.  Two divers swim into the tank, and the crowd can ask them questions.  It was super fun, and also very informative.  We patted ourselves on the backs for visiting this busy tourist venue at the perfect hour—NAP TIME!  All the families cleared out around 1:30, and we had the place mostly to ourselves.  We saw so many strange and wondrous sea creatures, and also enjoyed the amazing views of La Jolla from our high vantage point.
  • We visited a shell shop from which you can access a sea cave.  I’m glad I was brave and decided to follow Hubby on the 120 slippery steps down to see the cave. The cave was dug in the 1920’s, and I’m sure every owner since then has been making money hand over fist.  The line was out the door to pay our $5 per person to see the cave.
  • We had Eggs Benedict every day.  The best one was at World Famous on Pacific Beach.  It featured a crab cake base, instead of an English Muffin.  YUMMMMY!

NEGATIVES: 

  • Our Bahia Hotel was old, thus the walls were thin. The first night the neighbors (two adult men) next to us talked all night until 6am in boisterous voices.  They drew my attention later in the day, sitting at the bar, and I felt like approaching them, but instead decided to ask at the desk.  They had checked out . . . whew!  I was tired after a night of holding a pillow over my head to block the noise.  We had one quiet night, then the weirdest thing of all:  The new neighbors had their tv turned on high to a religious station. I kid you not, every few minutes I heard the preacher saying the word, “Lucifer,” in bold, chiding tones.  The next morning I went to the front desk, and they assured me they would assist me, even if it was just a loud tv.  Lucky for me, we had another quiet night.  (Hubby sleeps like the dead and heard none of it.)  (Note to self:  Investigate into sleepy drugs for our next vacation.)
  • Driving in San Diego is pretty tricky.  Thank God for Google directions, which often said, “In .2 miles, cross four lanes of speeding traffic to turn right.”  Certainly not safe after ANY alcohol, so we Ubered a lot, which added to our vacation budget, for sure.   Also driving over the mountain areas one-hour out of San Diego, we had thick fog which was a bit unnerving.  Hubby has nerves of steel, and we arrived safe and sound.
  • The Uber drivers we’ve had in the Phoenix area are very professional and good drivers.  HOLY MOLY!  Our first San Diego Uber experience was disgusting; the driver had obviously chain-smoked in his car, then sprayed some noxious odor-remover.  I rolled down my window and tried to not smell.  The next night, our driver was a young man who appeared to be a) in a hurry or b) on some sort of stimulant.  We careened down the highway, miles past our hotel when I spoke up and said, “Ummm, I believe you’ve gone past our hotel.”  Not saying a word, he made a U-Turn and had us back on track toward our hotel.  90 mph, not braking for turns, it was a Wild Ride for certain.  I said a prayer, “Thank you, Universe, for my wild and splendid life.  It appears it may be ending in a few minutes.  Amen.”  And then we arrived at our hotel.  I caught my breath and said, “Wow!  That was VERY EXCITING!” with a laugh.  In the rear-view mirror, I caught a glimpse of smile.  Until you walk in someone’s shoes, right? I don’t know what his deal was, but wow, it was frightening.  Yet we lived to have another fun day in beautiful San Diego, my new go-to for Spring Break.  Who’s in to go with us in March 2018???

Cheers,

Mary

 

Spring Break 2018

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I’m feeling very happy this evening because I have only ONE MORE DAY of school before it’s my SPRING BREAK!!!  WOOT WOOT!!!  I love my job, but I’m ready for a week away from our preschool monkeys, er um, students.  I love them, but I think I’ll love them more after a week off.  Truly we have so much fun with picnics on the big playground or picnics in our garden, dancing to new songs, playing with Beanie Babies, playing dress up, crafting so hard, and having special visitors, like Tyler’s pet guinea pig, Mr. Sparkles.  I LOVE HIM! (I meant Mr. Sparkles, but I love Tyler, too.)

Hubby and I dithered over vacation destinations and settled on San Diego.  I almost booked us to Cabo (cheap this time of year) and found out it’s a hot destination for ASU fraternities and sororities.  GOOD GRIEF!  I would have been sooooo mad spending our money to be in the middle of a scene from Girls Gone Wild!  The last time we were in San Diego, William was in a stroller (now he is 20).  So likely 18 years ago. It’s a five-hour drive, and I’m enticed not by the beaches (California beaches are terrible compared to our beloved Puerto Penasco, MX beaches), but by the seafood and breweries!  I’m calling our trip a “brewcation.” I’ve mapped out our favorite craft breweries—we’ll visit Stone, Ballast Point, St. Archer, and Coronado Brewing Co.  I’ve booked us a whale watching trip one afternoon.  I’m skeptical if we’ll really see a whale, but the boat has cocktails and snacks, so I’m all in!

The best thing is we’ll come home mid-week, and I’ll still have four free days before going back to work.  I plan to get some stuff done around the house and do some hiking and see friends.  On Friday night, William returns home from college for his Spring Break!  I miss him sooooo much.  (We all do.)  We’ll have him for a whole nine days—LIFE IS GOOD!

I’m getting the laundry done so I’ll have all my clothes to choose from to pack for our trip.  It’s going to be about ten degrees colder than here, so brrrrrrr that it will be only in the mid-60’s and cloudy every day . . . but don’t you just know most tourists will be wearing sun dresses and flip flops.  And I will want to wear sweaters and boots, because 65 and cloudy is COLD.  We desert dwellers are an odd lot, this I know for sure.  Our new-ish clothes washer sings a beautiful little ditty to announce the load is done.  I thinks it’s the greatest thing ever, and I need to know if there is a job called “Appliance Composer,” and if so, how does one get that job?  How many man hours did it take to create the 25-second melody?  Did several musicians spend weeks dreaming up the perfect tune?  Did executives in pin-stripe suits solemnly sit around a conference table while said ditties were presented and chosen?  To me, the whole thing is very curious.  I have questions.

And now I have to share with you the YUMMIEST recipe.  It’s currently in direct competition with broccoli soup for my favorite lunch dish.  It’s Creamed Spinach with jalapeno peppers . . . and it’s absolutely heaven on a plate.  I found the recipe online and changed several things.  For one, the original recipe called for evaporate milk.  WHAT???  I substituted regular milk, and it was great.  It occurred to me you could skip the oven and do it stove top to save time, but I think baking it gives it a better texture.  ALSO, it only made enough for maybe six people.  Next time I will double it to have leftovers.

CREAMED SPINACH WITH JALAPENO PEPPERS

2 12-ounce packages frozen leaf spinach
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup yellow onion, minced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced fine (I often use the stuff from the jar–don’t judge)
1/3 cup whole milk (or half and half)
1/2 teaspoons each salt, and white pepper
8 ounces Monterey Jack Cheese, cubed
1 jalapeno pepper, minced fine (add another pepper if you like spicier)
1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)

Cook spinach according to package instructions, saving the spinach water (I use a Pampered Chef microwave steamer).

In a medium pan, melt butter, then add the flour to create the roux.   Add onion, cooking for about five minutes.  Add spinach and remaining ingredients, stirring over low heat until mixed well.

Place in a greased 9×13 casserole.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Cheers,
Mary

 

 

Strong Women

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I am in Mexico.

Hubby and I drove down yesterday morning.  We were greeted by a smooth-as-glass sea and short-sleeve weather in the high 70s.  Bonus:  In the group of 20 single-level condos, there are only three occupied.  It feels downright sinful to have this slice of Paradise all to ourselves.  The ocean water is very cold.  After walking barefoot in the tide pools, I was eager to put on my thickest socks to warm my icy feet.

I brought a stack of novels and magazines, but instead sat in a chair on our patiodaydreaming and watching the birds dive into the ocean, admiring a long line of at least twelve dolphins swim slowly by.  I breathed in and out, letting my thoughts go here and there, losing myself in the gentle movements of the ocean.  I smiled thinking about happy hour with best friends the night before.  I LOVE my bossy friends–the strong women who don’t just smile and nod, but instead snort and say, “You’re doing it wrong!”  I was told I am too intrusive in my adult children’s lives, and more importantly that I am NOT allowed to wear sensible flat shoes to our son’s wedding in two weeks.  “But I want to dance all night,” I whined.  They patiently showed me photos of pretty shoes that would not hurt and would have hours of dancing built into them.  Another friend has been coaching my diet, sending me great ideas of how she lost weight last Fall, and another friend tells me how bad my brassieres are every time I see her.  To G, S, T, L, and L:  I will stop starving myself, and I will go to the mall this week to buy pretty party shoes and a new bra.  And I’ll consider not texting my children every day (not making any promises)!  I’m honored to have your love and friendship.

Speaking of strong women, I re-watched Terms of Endearment for probably the twentieth time.  You know, that old movie with Shirley Maclaine and Debra Winger.  (I love the expanded viewing choices on Mexican Netflix.)  The scene where Debra Winger gives her mom a small goodbye sign with her hand as she is dying gets me every time.  I thought this movie was an appropo choice since this past week I’ve been negotiating  a new situation of co-existing with our adult daughter.  The film gave me lots to think about and induced some waterworks from yours truly.

I mopped up my tears after the movie and went out on the patio to say goodnight to the stars.  Hubby and I gasped!  It was so dark you could barely see your hand in front of your face, but the sky!!!  The sky looked as if someone had thrown a hand full of diamonds onto black velvet.  It’s been years since I had a proper view of the stars.  The vastness and beauty felt overwhelming!  I was filled with an immense sense of peace while breathing in the ocean air and admiring the sparkling heavens. I felt as if the Universe was giving me a big hug and telling me, “Everything is going to be okay.” (And I’m pretty sure I heard, “And wear comfortable shoes to the wedding.”)

Cheers,

Mary

 

Beach Butterfly Parade

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Monday, October 9, 2017

I am in Mexico.

This morning, I awoke to the most amazing sight:  Thousands of Monarch butterflies floating over our patio!  Hubby and I sipped our coffee and laughed out loud at the amazing amount of them flying by, admiring their beauty and feeling so fortunate to be here during the migration.  I tried to video the butterflies, but alas, my camera phone is no good.  Picture this:  One small orange butterfly would flitter by on the breeze just above my head, then a few seconds later two or three would come by.  We watched them float upwards and over the buildings, only to see when we later took a walk that they were flying over the roof top to have a snack on the neighbor’s bougainvillea.  Walking down the beach road with butterflies flying all about us was so beautiful and so strange,  it actually occurred to me I might be dreaming. A good pinch dispelled me of that notion. It’s late afternoon now, and there are still a few lone butterflies floating about, all of them flying west towards town.

We saw so many beautiful things at the beach this weekend.  I love teasing the hand-sized crabs who think they are hiding so well in the sand, but when gently prodded with a toe, quickly scuttle away sideways. (The crab is my astrological sign which I do not think fits in any way; the Cancers who I know are not crabby at all, but are very happy, thoughtful people.)  I spent time sitting in a warm tide pool and was happy to see small Sergeant Major fish floating in the same pool as I was.  The majestic Osprey stood stoically on his man-made perch just east of our place. The nest is overly huge, so I’m thinking he must have eggs or babies he is protecting. Twice a day we see the man with his horses for rent walking down the beach.   All of them are tethered except for one young dark-brown foal who hangs back, testing the caballero who leads them, then when they get too far ahead, the young horse begins to feel worried and gallops to join the rest of the group.  It makes me laugh every time. We’ve tried to identify the many birds we see on the beach, but our bird guide is for California and is of no use.

As we swam in the warm water yesterday afternoon, we were enveloped by huge clouds of tiny silver fish.  Two-inches long and completely metallic silver, we “think” they are sardines, but neither of the two zoology books in the condo have info on them. We’ve certainly seen them before.  The birds loved the great fishing; we loved the feeling of being in a huge school of tiny sparkly fish (I’m talking thousands of fish swimming densely together) tickling our legs and toes.

Today the pelicans returned to their mostly odd-numbered flocks, allowing me to stand by my completely unscientific analysis of coastal bird behaviors.  In that same vein, Hubby shared with me that he’s noticed when the tide is all the way in, it is flat at the shore, and when it’s coming in, the tide is angled toward the west . . . and when the tide is going out, it’s angled to the east.  I narrowed my eyes and said, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”  He shrugged and said this scientific finding was in direct correlation to how many beers he’d consumed at that time.

There is magic in this place. I can feel it as soon as my bare toes hit the warm sand and I inhale all the rich ocean smells. Maybe all beaches are like this: full of surprises, unexpected beauty, and interactions with nature that leave one full of questions. I fell in love with this place when I was here for the first time at age 13; at 53 I’m still in love with this gentle Sea of Cortez, our little neighborhood called Las Conchas, and this small town of Puerto Penasco, Mexico.

It’s finally happy hour, and there’s a cold bottle of Pacifico waiting for me in the fridge. Tonight Hubby and I will watch the bright stars twinkle in the dark sky over the ocean, and we’ll wait for the waning full moon to slowly climb up the eastern horizon.  We’ll feel grateful for this beautiful day, along with a hint of regret at having to return home tomorrow.

Cheers,

Mary

 

An Even Pelican Kind of Day

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

I am in Mexico.

I’m grateful to have two days off for our school’s Fall Break, which gives Hubby and me FOUR WHOLE DAYS at the beach. I have grown so attached to my young students and just when I was starting to miss them, I ran into one of them in a restaurant in town!  How fun to compare stories of our day at the beach! (Over the years I have come to believe that many times the Universe gives you what you need.)

One of the favorite books in our class of three year olds is about Pete the Cat. When he has problems (like stepping in mud in his new white shoes) the book asks us, “Does Pete mind? Goodness no!” and then a picture shows Pete saying “Groovy!” or “Rock and Roll!” or “It’s all good!” This weekend I’ve been channeling our friend Pete the Cat.  The wifi in our condo is down and at first I was anxious about not having 24/7 access to the world, but it’s turned out to be a really good thing.  I’ve read half a novel, four magazines, and taken two really great naps. Rock and Roll! Groovy!

We made great time on the road and arrived at our beach condo Saturday at 2pm. We’d anticipated huge crowds of folks on Fall Break at the border, but for whatever reason, there was no line at all and very little traffic. We arrived to see a very pleasant group on the beach—nobody blasting stereos and everyone cleaning up after themselves.  We’re always disappointed to see a large group set up on the beach RIGHT IN FRONT of our place, and sure enough:  There was a large group of guys with umbrellas and a big pop-up shade.  I took a deep breath and channeled Pete the Cat and shrugged to Hubby, “It’s groovy.”  And it was–it turned out the the group of 14 guys were very quiet. In fact, they seemed downright bored!  I know if it were a group of women, Hubby would dub them a “Hen Party” so I searched my brain for a male equivalent. I settled on “Buddy Fest.” Bachelor party?  Church group?  Gay choir vacation?  Fraternity reunion? They politely sipped their canned beers, standing and chatting in the tide. One man flew a kite.  They packed up at sunset, and we never saw them again. (I love to make up stories about strangers, don’t you?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you know one of my favorite things to do at the beach is count pelicans. Over the many years of vacationing at this beach, I’ve come to believe that the Puerto Penasco pelicans travel in groups of odd numbers most of the time.  Well.  Yesterday ALL the groups of pelicans flying overhead were in groups of EVEN numbers.  I tried to skew the data by counting 18 pelicans, then adding the one guy flying solo about 30 seconds behind. This happened over and over again, until Hubby stated (in a wise voice), “I guess it’s just an Even-Pelican Kind of Day!”  All I know is I think I saw more pelicans Saturday than I have during the whole rest of the year!  We literally saw thousands that afternoon. Where are they going?  What will they do there?  Why are they in such a hurry?

Ruby the Wonder Spaniel is not at the beach with us.  Her hips have grown too painful for her to easily come up and down the stairs to our tiny beach condo.  She loves the beach so much that I’m thinking we will bring her next time, perhaps dragging her down on a blanket and at the end of the day, Hubby could carry her back up the stairs. I am missing Ruby and our cats, but how lovely for the two of us to have a short respite in this beautiful place where the sound of the ocean lulls us to sleep, and there is nothing much to do but enjoy each other’s company, read a good book, and appreciate the fantastic beauty of this Sea of Cortez.

Cheers,
Mary

Summer’s End

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I always have a song running through my head.  Today’s lyrics were “after the boys of summer have gone.”  Really creative, oh brain of mine!  Tomorrow I return to my job at my wonderful school, and while I am so excited, part of me always feels melancholy about leaving summer behind.

This summer was one of extreme periods of busyness followed by extreme periods of laziness. Hubby and I took vacations to Mexico and then a few weeks later to London and Paris.  After that I visited family in Illinois for a week, and Hubby is currently on business in Atlanta. Preparing for trips takes a lot of energy, as does recouping afterwards.  Between vacations, I facilitated the remodel of our house by Arizona State University where our college-aged children lived for the last seven years (and then sold that house). I’m not sure how I had time to be lazy.  But I did.

I had goals this summer to go the gym daily, yet with my youngest son home from college for the summer, I found myself wanting to stay home to hang out with him, eating grilled cheese sandwiches while watching Games of Thrones, New Girl, and The Ranch. Isn’t it so much more fun to watch tv with friends??  I hope to find my way back to the gym once William and his girlfriend, Katherine, return to Flagstaff in a few weeks, and I don’t regret the five additional pounds around my waist from couch potato-ing with them while eating pizza and french fries.  William is my youngest, and I’m keenly aware of the fact this may be my last summer having one of our kids living at home.

Here are some of the other shows I loved this summer:

Indian Summers is a great drama set in the Himalayas in 1932.  The show focuses on the social politics of the British Empire and the birth of modern India.  If you loved Downton Abbey, you will likely appreciate this PBS mini series which has great acting, dramatic scenery, and beautiful costumes.  Watch it on Amazon Prime.

You can watch Versailles on Netflix.  If you loved The Tudors, this is right up your alley.  I was fortunate to visit the Palace at Versailles a few years ago and found this historically- accurate series to be very interesting, not to mention quite titillating with all of the sexual conquests.  Again, very beautifully filmed and wonderful acting.

I love New Girl.  I rewatched the whole show on Netflix with my kids this summer.  It’s clever and hilarious and awkward, and I love it so much.

Rectify.  OMG.  I can’t seem to talk any of my friends into watching it.  I had no idea there was a fourth season on Netflix, and since it had been so long since I watched the first seasons, I started over from the beginning.  The acting is amazing.  The pacing and tension reminds me of Six Feet Under, but I love Rectify so much more.

I re-watched old favorite movies like The Right Stuff, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 13 Going on 30, Millers Crossing, and The English Patient.  Okay, I’ll admit I like many different genres, but I love revisiting an old favorite.

This summer may be one of the best I’ve ever had. The angsty words from the Eagle’s Boys of Summer are still playing on repeat in my head, but I’m feeling so hopeful and excited for a fabulous new school year ahead!

Cheers,

Mary