Becoming Acquainted with The Night

The darkness here is soft and quiet.

Sometimes night is so still we can hear the voices of faraway neighbors over the snow – soft, murmuring voices without words. Sometimes the night is loud: pouring rain on the yurt-roof, coyotes howling, owls, foxes, the wind in the tall pines.

Out under the moon the darkness is gentle, but it carries a hidden power. And sometimes, the night is just a little unsettling. I feel it walking down to check the goats, or searching the sky for Cassiopeia – there’s a waiting feeling in the trees, or in the shadows beside the woodpile. I can greet the darkness and move through it, but my little ones aren’t ready for that yet.

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cozy beds with little lights, herbs, and blessing hands make the Night kinder

When they feel the cold shadows, when they wake up all wrapped in darkness and loneliness, that’s the time to introduce them again to the motherhood of Night. To be there – close, warm, gentle – to whisper ‘sleep’ and hold their small bodies in my arms.

I think the night is like a mother, like a dark womb making all of us small again. Children especially become tiny within her. They’re babies again, and the comfort they find as they wake makes it possible for them to develop a new intimacy with the darkness. To fall in love with the moon and greet all the stars in friendship.

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It’s funny how our dreams change us. How the night makes everything inside our minds grow wild like poppies in a field. It’s so tender to find that big-kid curled up small under the covers. And it’s so good to give them that gentle intimacy with the nighttime dark. To sing them to sleep in the certainty that their cries will be heard, that the darkness can’t muffle their voices. That there is plenty of time to become acquainted with the night – slowly, and together.

 

 

Monday Reflections: Needing Others

Our goal has never been self sufficiency.

Partially because we really like coffee and coffee doesn’t grow in Maine. Primarily because we’re Catholic – Body of Christ on earth – it’s a community. Even the Desert Father’s wove baskets and brought them to market. Self sufficiency makes humility difficult.

We don’t want to be self sufficient. We want to be sustainable. We want to be a place of quiet and hospitality, not a pillar of isolation.

But even so, we’re used to making do and getting by on our own efforts. We’re not used to saying “we need you” to the people around us. Yesterday was different. We said it: we need you.

We set up a Go Fund Me to help with overwhelming car repairs. And something crazy happened.

People responded.

They not only donated money to help us with our car, they sent little messages of prayer. They said “I’m glad you let me know!”

And I cried, just a bit. Because seeing Jesus in the face of every other person around me just got a little bit easier. I realized someone was seeing Jesus in me.

That’s pretty overwhelming too. But in a good way.

We still have a long way to go on funding our car repairs. But in a way, it doesn’t matter.. I’ve seen people reach out to me and I’ve felt that deep comfort of being part of a whole. I’m so grateful to the people who have given, who will give, who want to give but can’t quite make it work in their budget (Believe me I know the feeling!). I’m so grateful for every little prayer. For being tucked on little altars under the Infant of Prague or beside some acorns.

And I appreciate that generosity more than anything. It feels lovely to need and be able to call out. There’s a dignity in it that is easy to see in man on the street but so hard to see in the mirror.

Self- sufficiency is over-rated. I’m hoping this year takes us closer to a sustainable homestead, but one that never forgets the beauty of hospitality, of humility, and of community.

If you want to help us pay for our repairs, please visit our Go Fund Me and know that you’ll be included in all our Lenten prayers! Thank you all!

Spring Cleaning

It’s not spring here.

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Not yet anyway. Last night our temps fell below 0 yet again and I could hear the squeak of deep cold against my boots when I went out in the early morning. But Candlemas has passed and Lent is fast approaching – so I’m pretending it’s almost spring and preparing!

How do you Spring Clean?

For us it’s become more than just scrubbing soot off the beams and washing beneath the wood-stoves. Spring cleaning is like Lent – a time to tidy up our home as we tidy up our souls: fast, pray, give.. but in the domestic sphere!

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The first thing I like to do is take stock of what’s around me. Too much…way too much. I have a tub under my bed that ought to be holding ingredients for homemade salves and balms..and while it has some ingredients, it also holds envelopes, photos, old letters, empty jars and an old chainsaw chain. Nice housekeeping, huh?

Once I’ve seen just how many places I’ve managed to tuck things, I’m going to pull them out, bit by bit. The Konmari method (which I love) insists on doing this by category, and while that’s wonderful for some tidying, Spring Cleaning is something different! I like to go clockwise around my house and meet each space as it is, reflect on its role, and help it grow. I’ve started with my bed, obviously, and so I’m pulling out all the things tucked beneath, thinking of my intentions for this space, and removing what stifles those intentions. My ingredients, and all their sundry companions will have to go somewhere else. But as I’m going through them, I’ve noticed a lot of them could be used right now..so I’m making salves. Calendula blossoms and comfrey leaves steeping in olive oil; coffee beans steeping in shea butter and coconut oil; I’ll be adding essential oils and beeswax later and whipping them up as they cool for Easter basket beard or body balms.

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You can’t see all the things tucked under the bed .. but they’re there. Waiting.

The point of Spring Cleaning isn’t merely to wash and de-clutter and make all the things orderly, its to create something fresh in the new season that’s approaching. As I work through the spaces of my home, I try to apply the pillars of Lent to each area (or room, if you have rooms.) I greet each area with a prayer, incense, and reflection – How can I make this space new? – then as I clean it out, tend to it, shape it’s atmosphere – I can find the things that ought to go to a new home, or have reached the end of their lives. I find projects I never finished and sit down with some of them for a day or two. I try to de-clutter with an eye to giving – and finish up projects for others before sitting down with something for myself. And most importantly for me, I’m Cleaning, not redecorating. During Spring Cleaning I’m not going to buy those baskets that would be so perfect for storing potatoes and onions, or a lovely bunch of clear glass spice jars. Instead I’ll be cleaning out without taking in and allowing my mind to rest in the space I’ll create.

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It stayed like this for all of 5 minutes before Ilya went rummaging through the kindling basket for a “sword”.

It’s a long process, but I’ve got a small house and 40 days to work through it! And I’ve stocked up on lemon, lemongrass, and yarrow essential oils! I like to put lemon in my dish soap, lemongrass in with my Murphy’s Oil Soap for all the wood-washing, and Yarrow in with the laundry – though it’s blue so add it to the wash after there’s a lot of water in there, or put it on one of those wool dryer balls if you have a dryer.

I also mix lemon into a Scrubbing Paste with baking soda and castile soap for scrubbing the tub and the white stove. It works wonderfully and the scent is fantastic! Usually the ratio is:

about 5 drops lemon EO

1/2 cup baking soda

1 tablespoon castile soap (unscented)

and about 1/8 – 1/4 cup warmish water

then I scoop a bit up on a rag and start scrubbing! It’s gently enough that I can, on warm days use this on my plastic-yurt-windows as well!

My Spring Cleaning tends to be overdone and enthusiastically obsessive, like me..it extends outward from the house and suddenly I’m purging my email and social media.. sweeping out all the clutter from my car, and before I know it, Spring has actually arrived and I can start cluttering up my world with flowers and muddy boot-prints all over again. It’s all part of a delightful cycle that never quite arrives at perfection, at least, not in this life!

Happy Cleaning!

 

Bookish Thoughts: The Quotidian Mysteries

It’s no secret that I adore the writing of Kathleen Norris. I found The Cloister Walk to be such a rich work of poetic reflections and gentle spiritual imagery. Dakota is an equally compelling look at rural life, and in The Quotidian Mysteries, the blend of lectio divina; a deep, quiet feminism; and joyful domesticity earns it a cozy place among my beloved books of inspiration.

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The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work’ is the text of the 1998 Maleleva Lecture in Spirituality, given by Norris at St. Mary’s College, in Notre Dame. In it, she explores ‘the quotidian’ or daily things, that “ground us in the world”.  A deeply personal and reflective little book – full of poetry, stories, spiritual reflection, and scripture.

All of Norris’ writing is grounded in experience. She fills her books with life-details and snatches of memory. The Quotidian Mysteries is no exception. We begin with an account of her first Catholic Mass, and her enthusiastic recognition of the priest’s domesticity “puttering about the altar, washing up after having served so great a meal to so many people. It brought the mass home to me and gave it meaning. It welcomed me, a stranger .. after the experience of a liturgy that had left me feeing disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand.  That and the housework.”

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She goes on to acknowledge the ways in which “those daily chores..[have] come to seem the root of women’s oppression.” but while doing so, consistently brings the quotidian out of the realm of oppressive duty, ‘women’s work’ in the dismissive sense, and into the realm of the holy. It is “the work of the priest at mass” – and so a priestly role. But because we are a culture that has turned away from household gods and the quiet power of dwelling within the household, the work of the home-priest or priestess is abandoned. It is “precisely because it is so important, so close to us, so basic, so bound up with home and nurture [that] it is considered to be of less importance than that which is done in public.” 

In “Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work’ ” Norris rebuilds the domestic altar, grounding it in her experiences in both Catholic and Protestant worship but extending it beyond Christian circles through reflections and poems by Buddhists, secular feminists, Jewish women, and others. The domesticity of men is not excluded, and Norris highlights the need men have to experience the grounding of quotidian tasks as well as women: “What I do, must be done/each day, in every season,/ like liturgy.” Though her focus is primary on the relationship of women to these daily tasks: “I pray/ to Mary Magdalene, who kept seven/demons,/ one for each day of the week./ How practical; how womanly.

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Kathleen Norris also explores, briefly, the despair of the daily: acedia: the noonday demon who plagues those “called to a vocation that is inner-directed” – who, “because of the lack of distraction in their daily lives” can fall into ennui. Throughout The Quotidian Mysteries, the realization that “dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation” is explored in relation to both acedia and the Incarnation of Christ. Norris emphasizes that Christ’s Incarnation subjects Him to the daily as well, as well as the evidence throughout Scripture that “God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things..the meaningless workings of daily life.” and that in stepping into the domestic, in taking up the roll of priestess within the home, we embody God Himself, bring in order out of chaos.

It is a rich and delightful little book, with only one small warning. Norris herself is childless by choice: “whatever I was destined for, it was not motherhood” she write, and while she employs birth and mothering imagery well, she also uses the concept of barrenness within her book. It is not entirely problematic, but – especially for those struggling to conceive and/or longing for children – her reflections on her own conviction against motherhood are painful and though she acknowledges the sensitivity, it’s obvious she’s speaking from the outside in this area. So if you are or have experienced the pain of infertility, read with care.

If you read The Quotidian Mysteries, please, let me know what you though of it!

Blessings and happy reading, all!

Candlemas Lights

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We’ve been making a lot of candles this winter.  Thanks to a generous hand-me-down from my mother-in-law – 15 lbs of beeswax! – and a recommitment to avoiding those careless trips into town for one or two things, like lamp oil, we’re been needing to just ‘make do’ for a night or two with candles only. And so we’re spending more time pouring wax into molds (read that: toilet paper rolls and grapefruit peels) and adjusting the blend of waxes in our family candles.

We have about 5 lbs of paraffin, which is inexpensive and adds burning-life to the quick burning beeswax without reducing either the scent or the beauty of the latter. Church candles – and ideally, home-altar candles – must be 51% beeswax at minimum. Our current batch is closer to 80%. They smell amazing and I love the connection with these essential creatures, the link to their nourishment of the green-growing earth. Beeswax candles remind us that spring will come again to the Earth, and as they, like tiny Christs, wait to rise again and renew the world, I burn their votives in the dark nights of winter and wait as well.

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This Candlemas we hope to make it into town for early Mass, with homemade tapers and hope-filled prayer for an early spring and a renewed greening of the world.

This winter has been hard on our little homestead in some ways. The deep cold, ice storms, car troubles: we lost our guineas to the cold, and one of the younger chickens seems damaged beyond hope – frost damage on her feet. We’re figuring out this transition to sustainability and home-based incomes, building new rhythms within the home, and longing for the warmth and light of springtime! In Candlemas we greet the growing light, welcome the warmth that is not-yet strong enough to overcome the cold, but is growing slowly.

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This year on candlemas we will bless and decorate our candles, set them out in sand on the altar, pray for warmth and spring and abundance in the new year. We’ll drape the Infant of Prague in something lovely – blue or gold silk maybe, or red wool..and put him in a place of honor. And when the night comes, we’ll burn a candle through the night before the Theotokos to keep away the wild night creatures and the spirits of darkness that lurk in unswept corners and hidden trails.

There are so many celebrations in this season! We welcome light and Christ in Candlemas, but St. Brigid’s Day is today’s feast-day, and Imbolc is a similar, beautiful, preChristian welcoming of the light. How do you greet the last full month of winter? What does the coming of Spring mean to you?

Making Space for Small Hands in Daily Life

I’m often asked:

“How do you keep the kids away from the stoves? The altar? The candles?”

I don’t have an answer, because I don’t keep them away. We live in one large room, one tiny house; and my children run free within it. They know the stoves are hot, they’ve always known, because in their tiny-babyhood they’ve felt the heat from afar and watched the logs burn up through the open stove door. They respect the altar because it’s their holy place – a place for them to greet friends and set out gifts – it’s their altar as well as mine and they treat it as something special because it feels so special to them.

My altar isn’t as tidy as I’d like – pine cones, pretty stones, bird feather, and bits of modeling clay clutter it up – it’s a family altar, not a personal-mine-only-don’t-touch altar. When children worship they bring their whole worlds to Christ: “I brought this rock for Jesus, but then I thought the other saints would be sad so I brought more rocks!”

Yay..

But really, yay!!!

Rocks are delightful! And my children are doing what they were made to do, meeting Christ at the altar and building a relationship there. Why would I sacrifice that for a minimalist-bohemian-curated look – however attractive. This is worship, not decorating after all.

And the whole of life is this way. Shunting these eager hands aside so they won’t knock over candlesticks or spill yet another cup of tea on the floor or accidentally sweep all the dust off the dustpan instead of on is never the answer! Kids are learning through immersion. They’re practically drowning in their own enthusiasm, and they just need the opportunity to catch on to things. So we make this little space our space. A space for all of us – big and small – to grow in wisdom, love, and understanding. We can’t do that until the barriers are down; until we’re all given an opportunity to immerse ourselves in life.

Yes, I keep an eye on my tiny helpers as they work near the stove. I remind them of safe habits just as I remind them to be gentle with the Infant of Prague’s twice-repaired head (both times were my fault!); but I don’t fence them off from the beautiful and essential things in our home, because in touching the beautiful and magical in their first, small world they learn to approach all the beautiful mysteries of life with reverence.

Monday Reflections: Planning

I love my bullet journal. It’s pretty and functional and entirely my own. I’ve never done well with conventional planners: they’re all thrilling and helpful for a while, until I find The Thing That Doesn’t Fit – my homeschooling schedule or meal planning, fasting days or whatever.. there is always something missing from the average planner. But my little Bullet Journal is vast. I could spend hours filling it up with the planning parts of my brain.

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And sometimes that’s a problem. Planning isn’t doing; and organizing the future, however lovely and fulfilling it feels, isn’t the same as getting up to order the day. Apparently, the latter is a part of “Mindfulness” – the state of being present in and to the actual moment. In this year of intentionalism, I’m working toward that mindfulness of being in the moment – of not only planning my homeschooling week but of engaging in it fully. Of taking the time to really feel the soft, cashmere-y undercoat of my sweet, restless, winter-goats as well as the wind blowing around the herd of us. For this planner-addict, it can be a big challenge.

But if I use my journal right, it can bridge the gap between the planner and the whole person. Spending time with my journal in the early mornings, when only Ilya and I are awake gives me a chance to sort of sketch out my day, reflect on what I want to do and see and feel in it, and welcome the dawn. Watching the sun rise while my little house warms up and my coffee steeps gives me a living doorway to step through into the doing part of the day and out of the planning and dreaming hours.

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I love being a part of that transition. Welcoming the new sun and all the possibilities that might step into the day with me. It feels so grounding, so wholesome, and so very intentional.

 

Arranging the rest of the day to hold onto that mindfulness, that still needs a lot of work in our house, but that morning-time is helping to shape my family’s little Rule of Life into something fuller and richer than it’s ever been.

Do you struggle with the space between planning and doing? How does mindfulness help you bridge that space and move into a more ‘fully alive’ way of life?

Stylish and Oh-So-Ethical

Right now, my wardrobe is neither.

It’s a messy bundle of thrift-store finds (ethical!..somewhat stylish) and discount purchases from big box stores (bleh). It hasn’t been updated – really and intentionally updated – in a long time.

This year, the ‘Intentional’ year, I want my wardrobe to be both ethical and stylish. I’m planning a capsule wardrobe (I have been for ages: planning is so much easier and less expensive than the actual building of the wardrobe!) This month though, I’m beginning to build by paring down my plans and picking just two ‘outfits’ to start work on.

I have a lot of stipulations though: Clothing that can transition through all Maine’s seasons is an essential – which means most basic pieces should be useable in both  -15 and 90 degree weather.

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Mostly the former though..because Maine winters deserve all sorts of speciak consideration.

Ideally, all fabrics will be wool, cotton, silk, and linen. I can deal with a few unideal fibers mixed in, but I’d really like to minimize them.

I like lots of black, but I’m excited about working in some dark blues and wine colors, as well as an occassional splash of gold and bright pink in skirts or scarves.

My personal style?

Well, I’m most at home in a gentle goth look, sort of dark-bohemian.. I recently discovered the term “dark mori” and it’s a style that seems close-ish to what I’m going for. Of course, every time I see funky beauty lived out in an especially attractive way, I get the urge to change my whole look in imitation (I’m looking at you Kate and Amanda!) but it only lasts a minute or two. Then I go back to wanting to look like me again.

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Right now though, my style is sort of taking a back seat to reality. I haven’t got a lot of great clothes with which to build a look; and I’m not willing to sacrifice quality and sustainability to get some pretty clothes quickly. So I’m looking to build them, quite literally, from the bolt up.

Sewing is something I used to do a lot of. I made my wedding dress – carelessly, at the last minute – and I actually really enjoy the process.  I’m not great at finishing projects and I’m so busy these days that I haven’t taken the time even to start them. But since I’m determined to craft a wardrobe full of funky, natural-fibered pieces that fit me well, I need to pick up sewing again. The box stores, full of mass-produced, often unethically-made, shirts and skirts are really not going to help me, as much as they can tempt me with their bargain prices and bright-lights. I have a few pieces I’ll be wearing out from them, for sure – black velvet jackets are impossible to abandon! – But my goal is to move far, far away from the lure of mass-produced clothing and closer to a simple, curated wardrobe that fits both the demands of my lifestyle and my need for excessive everyday beauty.

So, January is the month of paring down. I’ll be working toward designing and beginning work on two outfits inspired by these two looks:

 rundholz dip - Stofftasche black - Sommer 2015

I found both of these on Pinterest..

EPBOT: My New Rabbit Hole: Mori Girl Fashion

definitely with some edits though.. This one needs a longer skirt and not those boots, or at least, my version does.

January is more than half over, so I don’t expect to get started actually cutting fabric before February, but who knows! The goal is to have two outfits finished by March!

So tell me, do you have style/wardrobe goals for this year? Are you trying to build a more intentional wardrobe too? Any advice for a well-intentioned but easily distracted newbie?

 

 

 

Homeschooling Notes: Fairy Tales

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – C.S. Lewis

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They’re essential.

Fairy tales are at the heart of our homeschool. We read them, play them, tell them, and fill our imaginations with their rich colors. Fairy tales are formative here.

Not just the ones everyone knows either, while we love the classic Cinderella story (not not so much the Disney version); we have more than the American basics at hand: Vasilisa the Fair, The Firebird, Oscar Wilde’s Tales, the Ivan Stories of Russia, Kate-Crack ‘r Nuts, and an abundance of others.

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We have at least 6 of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books – happy collections of so many variations on classic tales, and other, rarer stories I’ve never seen before; we also have collections like The Serpent Slayer and Changing Woman and Her Sisters; Arthurian legends; Pagan Mythology, folktales, and all these weave together in the minds and hearts of our children to build an imagination in which ‘nothing is impossible’.

It’s the wild, magical realism of overwhelming belief that fairy tales bring to us. Images of the world’s terrors, and of the strength within the human heart – the opportunity to wonder if maybe “all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.” That wild wisdom is one of the primary goals of my schooling: intimacy with mystery.

At this point in our homeschooling, if I could only teach two subjects, I would teach faith and fairy tales to my children, so that in the early years of their schooling they built a foundation on the mysteries of beauty, goodness, and truth.

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What are your essentials in schooling? How much has that changed over the years? I would love to know what forms the heart of your own schooling, especially for young children! 

7QTs: Introductions

1. The Basics: Wife, mother, Catholic, etc.. I’m 34, which sounds old to me but feels young. Every now and then I’m overwhelmed with the realization that eternity is just a day closer and I feel my immortality deeply. It’s a pretty beautiful age, really.

I’m a fan of Kierkegaard, Rilke, all of the Desert Fathers, most Russian writers, fairy tales, and Joss Whedon. I love night-time, black clothes, eyeliner, and trip-hop.

2. The Box: I totally fall under the ‘crunchy’ label, which is probably obvious: yurt-life, homeschooling, herbs, and homebaked bread. I am that parent who refuses all the shots, who gives elderberry oxymel for illnesses, who’s kids love cough medicine because it’s 90% honey, who gets a little too intense for small talk. I hope someday to grow into that long abandoned wise-woodland-woman role and give herbs and council from my little hermitage.

I believe strongly that we need to “surrender to the earth’s intelligence [and] rise up rooted like trees” instead of playing God with the world around us and that, I hope, informs everything I do.

3. The Family: One of the biggest delights in homesteading is the intimacy it brings to our family-life. This tiny house, homeschooling together, trees, garden, sky all bind us together in such an intense way. My family is the greatest joy in my life, and honestly the most natural thing I’ve ever done.

I mean, look at these people! They’re just so good to me!

4. The Introvert: In college, I had dreams of being a hermit. I still have hermitage-hopes, but in a family sense. It’s one of the aspects of The Benedict Option that I really appreciated. I’m blessed with amazing, inspiring friends and I love them, but solitude is essential to me. “I’d rather be with peopele who know secret things, or else alone,” as Rilke writes. Whenever I take those Meyer’s-Brigg’s tests online I come out about 90% ‘introverted’, but most of the ‘sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come’ attitude makes me . It comes across as more mean-spirited isolationist than introverted most of the time, at least to me. I prefer the hospitable-solitude of the hermit-saints, who welcomed each guest as if he or she were Christ and then sent them away again. The ability to offer a sincere welcome is, I think, one of the most delightful aspects of solitude.

5. The Intentions: Domestic Monastery – minimalist, sustainable, nurturing, holy. I have this lovely vision of a homestead inspired by the desert fathers and those gentle woodland saints like Macarios and Fiacre.

I want to make this little patch of earth something healing, something life-giving, a quiet place against the noise of the world. Its a big goal, but we’re dreamers here, so I think we can reach it.

6. The Distractions: I’m not the best at managing time. This year, I’m working toward intentionality and slowly over-coming those distractions, but at heart I’m self-indulgent and careless with my time. Even within the limitations of our lifestyle, technology consistently sucks time from true engagement. This month I’ve been taking steps to distance myself from unintentional social media: facebook groups, unhelpful discussions, and especially those corners that demand a lot of my time and focus. I’m learning that trying to speak to charity in these louder forums often leaves me feeling disappointed and lonely. So I’m carving out time to write here and on other, less casual forums instead. Hopefully it leaves me more time for the tangibles in life and more focused on growing toward Christ.

7. The Motivation: I’m Catholic. Pursuing sanctity. In love with Beauty, and repelled by mediocrity. Everything I do and am and long for is motivated by this end goal – to drown in the abundance of Christ, to wrap His wild world around me like a robe and the cast it off at the end of the day and step into His Night.

Long-winded, sure, but that’s me! Who are you? I’d love to know. Tell me about yourself if you have the time!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum today for the whole 7 Quick Takes thing! Check it out!