Five years

A little over five years ago my mom died.  When I think about how long five years seems, that seems like a long time.  That’s longer than one (typically) spends in high school, or in college… and that stretch of time seemed like an ETERNITY.  But the five years since my mom left… that seems like it zoomed by.

I typically will try to celebrate my mom’s birthday by doing something she loved to do–go to Red Lobster.  This year though, it wasn’t in the budget.  My day was still sprinkled with memories of her though.  I started the morning by picking Lilies of the Valley from my front yard.  I’ve never been able to do that before, I always had to go to my old house (where my in-laws live now) to pick them.  A few weeks ago though, Eddie dug some up and transplanted them to our yard!  The fact that I could go right out front and pick my mom’s favorite flowers was super sweet.

Later in the day, I ran into a cousin at the store… I haven’t seen this cousin in years… heck maybe even a decade.  I come from a suuuuuuper large family–my mom had 16 siblings, so there are literally hundreds of cousins.  We stopped and chit-chatted and caught up a little.  That’s something my mom would have loved, because family was really important to her.  She loved all her nieces and nephews and would have been tickled to hear that I ran into one after so long.

After work I stopped by Dairy Queen and got a Dilly Bar.  I figured since I couldn’t have Red Lobster, I would celebrate with ice cream that we used to get.  We used to go through the drive-thru on a hot summer day and get a dilly bar to share.  She would always let me bite off the little swirl on the front first!  So that’s just what I did!

When I got home, I helped Eddie do some work in the yard.  While I was working, a bird pooped on me!  He says it’s good luck apparently.  At any rate, my mom loved birds, and I watch them every day at our bird feeders (especially the cardinal couple that comes).  I see the boy cardinal far more often.  It seems like the female one is always just out of sight… she will make an appearance then hide in the trees.  The other day while sitting outside, I actually said “She doesn’t come around very often, then when she does, it’s so hard to see her.”  Since then I’ve been thinking about that in relation to my mom, and other people I’ve lost.  And I’ve made an effort to see them.  Like in all the little things I did yesterday to remember my sweet mom.  They are still there, you just have to look for them.

Financial Lessons Learned

Growing up, I don’t remember having to struggle for money.  My parents made sure that everything I needed was taken care of, and oftentimes also everything I wanted.  My friends would joke with me as a teenager that I was spoiled, that anything I wanted I got.  The thing was though, I didn’t ask for outlandish things.  I didn’t take advantage of it.  So while I did get a lot of opportunities because of my parents’ finances, I didn’t go overboard and I was pretty frugal.  This idea has carried over into my adult life as well.  Even when we’ve been in the best financial situation, I have never been one to splurge on myself, whether that is for something small or large.  Buying for myself makes me uncomfortable, and even when people buy things for me I have a hard time accepting it, thinking of other places that money should be going instead.

My parents taught me at a young age the value of money, the importance of saving and giving, and the feeling of being able to spend my hard-earned money on something I’d saved up for.  I had a paper route for an entire year, earning about $100/month, in order to save up for our very first family computer.  When I finally got that gigantic box from Dell, all those hours of folding and carrying newspapers were worth it.

So my parents gave me a great financial foundation, but as young adults often do, sometimes we do our own things and screw it up.  When college happened, my parents didn’t want me to work the first couple of years so I could focus on studying.  Except instead of studying I partied a lot.  Which cost money.  I ended up getting a couple credit cards, which I never carried a high balance on, but I got in a bad habit of just using my “magic money card” to pay for things that I wanted, then I would pay it off when I got my financial aid leftovers and repeat the cycle.

After college, I got my first full-time job and quickly paid down a few thousand dollars debt that I had leftover from spending carelessly in school.  And then I met my ex.  That year and a half was a huge mistake in and of itself, but it also left me with about $20,000 in credit card debt and a $25,000 car note that I foolishly was jointly responsible for.  Well, solely responsible for, really, because he wasn’t going to pay a dime..  My amazing parents helped me out of the bind with the car, refinancing it and eventually paying it off for me.  They didn’t have to, but I’m so thankful for them that they were able to because of the good shape of their own finances.

Eventually I met Eddie, and we started our marriage with a combined probably $50,000 in debt, counting student loans.  We didn’t have a plan, other than just making the minimum payments to just slide by each month.  We surprisingly were able to get a mortgage, which added about $80,000 on top of that debt, so we started marriage out in the hole financially.  Through a series of unfortunate events with Eddie and a work injury, we ended up being able to pay off all that debt in less than 2 years.  Without that settlement, we would have continued to be in over our heads, but thanks to the blessing of his settlement, we were able to be debt and mortgage free, with the exception of our student loans.  Mine were being paid for by my generous parents, who had always planned to finance my education, but his were something we paid on monthly.  We swore we would never rack up those credit card debts again!  We would live within our means and save for larger expenses.

But over time, we slowly started using our credit cards again.  It was foolish. We didn’t go out and spend on extravagant things, but we also didn’t delay our gratification either.  Meaning, if we needed or wanted something, instead of waiting and saving up for it over time, we swiped the card and figured we’d make payments on it and get by.  Eventually we were headed back on the road towards the same bad debt place we had so thankfully gotten out of a few years earlier.  And then my parents both passed away in a period of about 3 years.  With their passing came the task of tying up their loose financial ends (thankfully there were not many, as I said before, I had always known my parents to be very responsible with money) and there was some money left over from life insurance and the sale of our family home to be sure I could give a small nest egg to my sisters, as well as pay down the debt that Eddie and I had begun to build again.  Along with that, we are giving people, so we also were able to help family and close friends out with some of their needs.  At the time we didn’t think much of it, but we probably should have made sure we had an emergency fund or done some investing with the remaining money so we wouldn’t be broke again soon.

I mentioned the sale of the family home… it was during this sale that I found out some interesting truth about my parents and their wise approach to finances.  While cleaning out my family’s home, I found paperwork from the mid-eighties, when I was just a baby, paperwork that indicated my family had filed for bankruptcy.  My financially responsible parents were at one point bankrupt??!!!  It was very eye-opening and gave me a new perspective on their financial responsibility later in life.  They had to learn their financial lessons the hard way, and their good financial situation was not just dumb luck, it was a lot of hard work and a lot of climbing out of the hole of debt to get where they got.  Eddie and I don’t want to have to go to the brink, to lose everything before we make changes.  We are going to make changes now.

Thanks to a generous friend, we were gifted the fee to participate in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU).  For those unfamiliar, Dave is pretty much the top dog in financial advising.  His story is similar to my parents’ story, but on a much grander scale.  He has taken the path of wealthy to bankrupt, back to wealth again.  He’s created financial programs to help others do the same, as long as you follow his plan.  FPU is a 9-week course with baby steps broken down to help others save, get rid of their debt, and be able to build wealth and give.  We are approaching our 9th class this weekend and it’s amazing the progress we have made!

That doesn’t mean we are magically out of debt and have this massive emergency fund saved, by any means.  But the class has opened up a dialogue for Eddie and I to work together on our finances–not just paying the bills, but planning for the future as well.  We’ve been able to formulate a plan for saving, paying off our debts, and eventually tweaking our retirement plans so that down the road we don’t have to worry about what we will do when we are old and gray together.  Without the class, we definitely wouldn’t have had these conversations right now.  We are going on our second month of living solely within our means–meaning NO CREDIT CARDS!  We cut them all up the second or third week of the program.  People look at us like we’re crazy… what if there is an emergency?  Well, that’s what the emergency fund is for.  And also, it certainly makes you evaluate what constitutes an emergency.  In this day and age we look at things as necessities when really they aren’t.  It’s amazing what you can do without or what you can make work if you’re not relying on your credit card to take care of the bill.  When unexpected things have come up that we’ve wanted to do or didn’t have the money for, we’ve gotten creative.  We’ve sold stuff, taken on side work, and negotiated some funds from other categories of our budget.  Yes, WE HAVE A BUDGET!  This has probably been the most helpful part of these last couple of months.  We actually sit down and tell our money where to go instead of wondering where it went at the end of the month.  It will still be a few years before we are 100% debt free, but knowing that the end is in sight, instead of just some mystery time that maybe we would get to down the road, is awesome!

Thank you to the couple that generously extended the offer of FPU to us–you have given us tools that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  And one day when we are in a more secure financial situation, we will be sure to extend the same to someone else so they can experience the relief of being in control instead of out of control with their finances!

Public Service Announcement: Drawing a Line in the Sand

I was raised with a wonderful set of parents who taught me to become the person I am today. They taught me to turn the other cheek, be kind to everyone, and to live by the golden rule. These are great principles to instill in your children, however it doesn’t really teach you how to deal with people that are assholes and people that will never give a shit about you, no matter how nice you are or how much you go out of your way for them. 

Unfortunately that opens you up to getting your feelings hurt and trampled on, a lot. It teaches other people that they can use you or be disrespectful to you, or tell you lies with no consequences or repercussions. People will treat you how you allow them to treat you. And while living by the golden rule is great in theory, sometimes you gotta throw that shit out the window and draw a line in the sand. 

But that’s the funny thing, when you decide to stand up for yourself, or create boundaries after not doing it for so long. People don’t like that. People get pissed. And people want to turn it around on you and act like you are the one with the problem. They like to try to say hurtful things to get a rise out of you, or try to belittle you or your family. But let’s be honest, that says a lot more about their issues and their attitude than it does about your own. 

So here’s the deal, I’m laying it out how it is and how it’s gonna be. And if people don’t like it, like I said, it says more about themselves than it says about me and my family.  

1. I have never and will never think that I am “better than” anyone else in this whole wide world. Do I make wiser choices than some people?  Am I nicer than some people? Am I more honest than some people? Do I handle shitty situations better than some people?  Sure. And there are people out there that do those things more than I do too. Being who I am and having positive traits when others lack them does not make me better than anyone else. But I also will not apologize for being a good person either. 

2. If you have repeatedly lied to my family, then you can’t be trusted. When someone says one thing and does another, time and time again, it shows they are unreliable and undependable. Trust is not a given, it is something to be earned, whether you are friend, family, or otherwise. 

3. My husband has long-term, chronic pain. He has had 13 surgeries and likely more before the end of the year. This does not make him weak, it does not make him a “pussy”. This is simply his life, OUR life, and we are trying to make the best of it. He is also bipolar and lives with anxiety and panic attacks. Again, this does not make him a weak person. It means that he has to take medicine for something his brain doesn’t produce naturally-just like a diabetic would take insulin because their body doesn’t produce it. I will not allow anyone on this earth to try to use his physical or mental health against him. He does not owe this explanation to a sole, but I will share to set the record straight-he is probably one of the more stable people I know because he is regularly monitored by his doctor and adjustments are made as needed. This doesn’t mean life is all unicorns pooping rainbows-when shitty things happen, it makes him feel shitty, just like anyone else!  Additionally, do not EVER ask my husband to share his medication. Not only is it illegal, but you are essentially stealing from a person who NEEDS that medication. If anyone in our lives needs pain meds or anxiety meds, they can do what he does-go to a damn doctor and deal with your own problems!

4. Because of Eddie’s physical health, we have been a 1-income family for our entire marriage. We do not have a lot of money. We have never cleared $30K as a household of 2. We have to budget like crazy if we don’t want to go into a great deal of debt. When we have had times in our lives where some money crossed our paths, we were generous and shared with others. Whether that was as a gift, or a loan, we shared because we are giving people. But unfortunately, not being more selfish with our money has not been great for us. We live paycheck to paycheck. We save for things we want or trips we plan. We aren’t extravagant people. But a lesson has been learned that we need to be more selfish. From now on, we are taking care of ourselves and ourselves only. That doesn’t mean we won’t be giving people, but we will be sure to prioritize what needs we give to and make sure it’s a wise decision that doesn’t leave us in a bad financial situation ever again. 

5. Why would I publicly make this service announcement rather than confront people face to face?  Because history has shown that words get twisted, lies are told, and our sharing of frustrations is perceived as being wrong in some way. Instead of being listened to, we are talked over, interrupted, and belittled. I will not continue to allow myself and my husband to be disrespected and our frustrations swept under the rug because it makes other people uncomfortable to face the truth. 

The line has been drawn. If it’s not respected, then we don’t need to be in each others’ lives, plain and simple. 

Just like that.

After my Poppy died last year, I struggled so badly with eating the things I was supposed to eat.  I coped with my loss in an unhealthy way and comforted myself with comfort foods.  When I tell people the story of my weight gain after bariatric surgery, I always say the same thing, “It felt like overnight I had gained 30 pounds and 3 sizes.”  I realize that sounds absurd, that it wouldn’t literally happen overnight.  But that’s what it felt like.  It felt like one day my size 14 clothing fit, and within a matter of days I was needing 20s again to be comfortable.  There was no transition, it was just BAM and the weight was back on.

I’ve thought about it since then, about if it was REALLY such a quick transformation like I thought, or if my mind just told me it was.  Then I went to Denver for the weekend for a conference.  Four days.  I didn’t eat horribly, but I gave myself permission to have a few drinks, some snacks I’d avoided for awhile, and pasta for one of my meals.  I didn’t go crazy, it’s not like I ate thousands of calories every day.  But when I got back, the scale said 10 pounds heavier.  IN FOUR DAYS.

I know that’s not “true” weight.  To gain 10 actual pounds of fat, I would have had to eat a ridiculous amount of calories in those four days.  Part of it is water retention for the salty snacks, part is bloat from my period, and maybe a small part is an actual gain.  The difference between then and now though is that I’m keeping myself in check.  I didn’t allow myself to continue beyond the weekend.  I got right back to my routine and healthy eating, and three days later, 7 of those “pounds” are gone.

But do you see how quickly things can get out of control?  And when you’re already feeling defeated and sad because of a personal tragedy, then all of a sudden you’re failing at weight loss too?  It takes effort.  It takes hard work.  It’s not easy.  I had always worried before surgery that it would be looked at as “The Easy Way Out.”  But I’m here to tell you that you still have to work damn hard, you have to put in the effort, or it doesn’t work.  I know I have some gals reading that are thinking about surgery, and i want to paint the whole picture for you.  Is it worth it to me?  Absolutely.  Would I do it again knowing that I would gain 60 pounds back a year after surgery?  Definitely.  I would just remind myself that it doesn’t happen without a lot of effort on my part.  And that if I get off track, whether intentionally or on accident, I just have to get back on track.  If I fall off the horse 100 times, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I got back on it 101 times.

Long Time Gone

It has been quite some time since I’ve written–I had to go back now and check to see when the last time actually was–February.  And here we are in July.  So what’s been going on?

We were lucky enough to travel to Florida twice this year already.  The first time was just for a long weekend for a friend’s wedding, which was lovely (but the drive was NOT).  The second time was for our family vacation to Anna Maria Island.  It was a very pretty place, and somewhere on the Gulf where I had not actually been, so it was nice to travel somewhere new.  Later this month we have to take a long drive again, but this time to Colorado.  I have a conference to attend for my Thirty-one business, and Eddie always comes along for the ride.  This will be my third year going, and I’m excited to see what’s in store.  After this trip though, we will be saving our pennies, as we have one more trip planned at the end of the year for a good friend’s wedding–in Cancun!  We’ve never been out of the country, which reminds me… passports… and we opted to have this trip be our anniversary/birthday/Christmas present to one another.  We are “experience” people and would rather go places and experience things instead of have actual possessions anyway, so not getting the physical gifts on those holidays is not really a big deal to us.  We will have the memories!

Eddie had a double osteotomy last summer and is still healing from the second one.  For those who don’t know, they cut a chunk of bone out of each of his thighs, essentially breaking them each, then put a plate in and wait for the break to heal.  One of the breaks is still there (how he walks around I have no idea) but it is slowly getting better.  Once it’s healed up, two more surgeries will be in the works to remove the plates, as they are causing a lot of pain and discomfort in being there.  Hopefully once the plates are out he will have more relief from the daily pain he is in.  He is the toughest person I know and I don’t know how he does it.  No other choice though, so just have to keep plugging along and live the life you have!

Despite his surgeries, he’s still done great maintaining his weight loss from the sleeve surgery in February 2013.  Over 2 years post-op and he still maintains a 200+ pound weight loss!  At his lowest he was around 160, but he is more comfortable hovering around 190, which is what he’s maintained. I’m so proud of him!  I, however, have struggled with re-gain.  I could blame it on a number of things in my personal life, but the bottom line is that I stopped following my bariatric diet plan, and when you do that, you gain weight.  I lost my Poppy, I had a stressful year afterwards, I had a giant tumor pop up in my breast and had to have surgery to have it removed (no cancer!), and a host of other stressful things happened that I couldn’t control, so I let my eating get out of control too.  I am working hard now though to get back on track and lose what I gained in the last year (60 pounds), and then hopefully some beyond that.  My initial goal though is to take off what I had gained back.  It seems that no one really talks about re-losing the weight after a post-op gain.  I’ve gone to support groups to seek motivation from others who may have done it, but those people aren’t there.  I’m sure they exist, but they’re not around to be motivation… so I will be my own motivation, and I will then go to those support groups after I’ve succeeded so that I can be the motivation for someone that might be going through this too.

I guess there’s not a whole lot more going on right now, just mostly same old same old… plugging along and rolling with the punches!

Dear Poppy

Dear Poppy,

It’s been a year since you had to go.  What a year it’s been.  One year ago I visited you in the afternoon and you said your last words to me, “You can be quiet now!”  Because you were trying to take a nap.  I can still hear it in that funny, matter-of-fact Poppy voice of yours, complete with the raised eyebrows and all.  Some people probably would wish that their last words from a loved one would be “I love you,” but this was perfect for you and for us.  After that visit, I felt pulled again to visit you on the way home from work.  Usually I only visited once per day, but this particular day I needed to see you twice.  I knew our time was almost out.  You didn’t have a voice anymore, you were basically in a coma, but you could hold my hand and you could squeeze it, and those were the words “I love you” just in a different way.  I told you that I would be OK, that when you were tired of hanging on, you could go.  And I thanked you for being the best Poppy anyone could have asked for.  And then a couple hours later, you were gone.  You know that Teale knows best, and I’ve always been the only one that could get you to do the things you really didn’t want to do.  Like leave me.

The rest of the year was filled with tying up loose ends.  Lots of work was involved in taking care of the estate, financially and otherwise.  Thankfully you were a very smart man with money later in life, and set things up so that no one would face any financial hardships dealing with your bills once you were gone, whether that was me or Mom.  We were able to pay off all your debts (though of course they were few, you were so frugal!), as well as some of our own.  And we were able to give money to Hope and Hannah to help them too, as I know you’d have wanted me to do.  The biggest task was that big old house.  Home.  There was just so much stuff!  Of course most of it was Mom’s, as we know she loved to “collect” (which is just a nice word for “hoard”!).  But there were a few things of yours that were important, that you had held on to through the years, that I believe you meant for me to find.  To fill in the gaps about our family prior to my birth.  The stuff no one really ever talked about, but that was always alluded to.  The “family secrets” so to speak.  Tucked away in your filing cabinet, I found the letters between you and Mom–good ones from happy times, and tough ones from bad times.  They told a story.  And I know that you left them for me because you knew I wouldn’t care, or love you any less, knowing about the indiscretions and challenges that you and Mom faced in your marriage through the years.  Thank you for trusting me with those letters.  I will treasure them forever, because it allowed me to see a piece of history that no one else can really fill in for me, since I’m the only one left.

This morning as I let our dogs out, there was a male and female cardinal under our canopy, just sitting on the outdoor coffee table.  Of course when the dogs came out, the birds were frightened off and flew away, but I like to think that was a visit from you and Mom on a day you knew would be tough for me.  I won’t go to the cemetery today, because I know that’s not where you are.  Sure, your ashes are there, and a stone with your name on it, but you are all around me, every day.  I love you, and I miss you.

Love,

Your Sweetie-Peetie.

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Year in Review

It’s been awhile!  So long in fact, that it’s once again a new year!  I know I blogged a bit about the happenings in 2014, but I didn’t write about all the highlights, so I thought I would try to do a little recap of sorts.  So, here goes!

January: Last January is when we got the sad news of Poppy’s cancer diagnosis.  Much of the month was spent in the hospital or at the nursing home figuring out what the best plan would be to make his last weeks or months as comfortable as possible.  Before the cancer totally took over his brain and he lost his ability to make conversation, we were able to talk about how we probably didn’t have much time left, and I was able to tell him what a wonderful Poppy he had been to me.  I’m so thankful for that conversation.  Even though his mind wasn’t clear most of the time, he seemed to understand and appreciate what I was saying.  At the end of the month, we made the decision to enter into hospice care while he lived out his final days in the nursing home.  My sister Hope had come up this month too, as we knew there probably wasn’t much time left.

February: On the 3rd, Poppy passed away peacefully in his sleep.  I usually went to the nursing home once per day, but on this particular day I felt a pull to go a second time.  That second time he wasn’t awake any longer and couldn’t communicate, but when I told him I loved him and that when he was ready, I was ready, he squeezed my hand.  About 3 hours later we got the call that he had passed away.  We had a graveside service with Military Honors, which is what he had always requested.  Hope stayed a couple more weeks then headed back home to Louisiana.

March: I can’t remember much exciting going on in March, except for the beginning of the big task of cleaning out my parents’ home.  Over 25 years of things had accumulated and it was a big job to have to go through everything and decide what to keep, what to give away, and what to sell.  It would be several more months before I was able to even make a dent in all the stuff!

April: Eddie and I took a vacation to Las Vegas this month!  We had been once before, for about 24 hours, but this time we went for several days.  We stayed at Luxor, the big pyramid.  Our first room didn’t have a working air conditioner, so we got upgraded to a nicer room in a newer part of the building!  We had a good time seeing the strip, going through old Vegas, the Mob Museum, and even Kount’s Kustoms.  And of course we gambled!  It was fun, but after a few days we were ready to go home!

May: We took a family vacation with some extended family this month.  We stayed in Kissimmee, FL in an amazing house!  While there we spent a day at SeaWorld, a day at Magic Kingdom, a day at Cocoa Beach, and a day at Clearwater Beach.  Eddie and I even parasailed while at Clearwater Beach!  While in that area we also got to visit Eddie’s Aunt Peggy & Pam, which was nice (and even got the secret salsa recipe!).  I believe it was this month that we also began the process of selling my parents’ house–to my mother-in-law!  At the end of the month, Eddie went back to see Dr. Romanelli, who a couple years before told Eddie if he lost weight he would fix his legs!

June: Eddie underwent his first osteotomy this month, on his left knee!  It was an overnight stay in Springfield, then home with an immobilizer and crutches for a few weeks.  He bounced back pretty quickly from this surgery, which is usually how it goes for him!

July: The sale of my parents’ house was finalized this month!  How neat that my childhood home gets to stay in our family!  We went to Columbus, OH for my annual Thirty-one conference this month.  It was a much better drive than the year before when we drove to Atlanta!  It was a lot of fun, and of course Eddie was a great HOT (Husband of Thirty-one)!  This was the month that I also noticed a huge mass in my breast.  Went to the doctor this month to begin finding out what that was all about.

August: Eddie and I celebrated 5 years of marriage this month!  We celebrated with a long weekend trip to Saugatuck, MI to stay at an amazing bed & breakfast, The Belvedere!  We stayed in the best suite in the house, which was pretty much the size of our house!  After returning, it was time for Eddie to have his second surgery, his right osteotomy!  This leg was in worse shape than the first, so he had more pain this time around.  Also this month I had a needle biopsy to find out what was going on with my mass.  Initial results came back that it was just a fibroadenoma, but due to the size of the mass, it was recommended to have it removed.

September: The month started with me having a surgical biopsy to remove the egg-sized mass in my breast.  It was just an outpatient procedure with sedation, then I got to go home with lots of ice packs for my boob!  I had to go see my surgeon on my birthday to find out the results–which turned out to be negative for cancer!  Quite a birthday present!

October: Eddie was still healing from his knee this month, but was cleared to drive finally.  He began helping his brother with driving for his new welding business.  He took a trip out to Colorado and Texas about mid-month.  While he was gone, my sweet Pretty Girl passed away, after many happy years with us!  She is missed!  Also this month I started to sell custom crochet items, and got an overwhelming response for Christmas gifts!

November: Eddie was gone for almost 3 weeks this month, driving out in Colorado and Texas.  While he was gone, my sister Hope came up for a visit and stayed through Thanksgiving!  It was nice to be able to have a visit that wasn’t centered on illness or death!  We also got to celebrate Thanksgiving at Jackie’s new house (my old house!), which was pretty neat!

December: Eddie found out that his surgery from August was still not healed up.  He essentially still had a broken bone that was being held together by just a plate and some screws.  He was given doctor’s orders not to work until further notice, and he has to wear a bone stimulator to encourage bone growth for 10 hours a day.  We celebrated Christmas in Monticello, once again at Jackie’s new home!  New year’s eve was also rung in there!

There you have it!  I’m sure I forgot some of the highlights, but here are the ones that jump out at me!  2015 is sure to be a good year too, I will write soon about the plans we have in the works for this year!