Tag Archive | blessings

Joyfully Nice

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It wasn’t necessary to make a reservation today. Whoever got into one of the every other pews was able to stay. If the church was full, extra space could be found in the commons. If people arrived too late, they wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot. Luckily, my husband, our daughter and her family, and I made it in time and found space inside the church.

The sunny and warm day made it possible for people to dress in their Sunday best. Many wore a mask. Singing was allowed, where once it wasn’t. Today it felt right to be able to sing loudly with the blessing of family by my side. Even though our voices were muffled, the tunes reverberated through the church to sound as they had before the pandemic arrived. There were newer tunes mixed with the old. The older ones I hummed as a child until I learned the words. The newer songs are joyfully nice, but the traditional ones are engrained and bring me to the many Easters I’ve been able to observe. It was good to be able to celebrate Easter mass in a familiar way – a way that felt like coming home again.

Let the resurrection joy lift us from loneliness and weakness and despair to
strength and beauty and happiness.
  ~Floyd W. Tomkins

First Turkey

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My husband and I were newly married, when we invited my parents and brother over to host our first Thanksgiving.  I followed the directions, recalled other instructions learned until that point, and felt very proud.  Since Mom made wonderful Thanksgiving dinners, I copied her menu plan.  Just before our company was about to arrive, I thought it all looked good, after I peaked at the turkey browning in the oven.  It smelled delicious, especially when I opened the oven door and the steam wafted towards my face.  When I was younger, there were many times when Mom called me into the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.  

“Mary Ann, come in here and watch me do this,” she’d say.  “I’m stuffing the bird!  You’ll need to know how to do this someday.”  Sometimes, I pretended I didn’t hear her, and she would have to come and find me from wherever I was hiding in the house.  Back then, I didn’t like looking at anything that used to be alive and was pale and unmoving.  Mom used to cut up chickens, and I would tell her to stop because she was hurting the poor little thing.  The sound of cracking bones made me feel nauseous.

“I can’t hurt it, because it’s dead,” she would tell me.  No smile accompanied those words, because cooking is serious business, even though Mom liked to giggle at most things.

“You will need to know how to do this,” she repeated.  I groaned and wondered why.  Why did she call me and not my brothers? The Thanksgiving mornings at the house where I grew up smelled like toast and simmering onions and celery.  Mom toasted the bread and tore it up into bite-sized pieces for the stuffing.

Yes, I see how the nails go in and how the string wraps around to keep in all the stuffing, I thought.  The way the string went reminded me of shoe laces.

The day I roasted my first turkey, I toasted bread too.  Now I use Pepperidge Farm bread cubes seasoned with onion and sage.  When I first started using those packets, it felt like I was cheating, but it worked out okay, and no one minded that it wasn’t bread that I personally put into the toaster.  As things moved along, the cooking made our house smell delicious too.    

When Mom, Dad, and Brother came over, I’m sure they told us how good everything smelled, but when Mom looked at the bird in the oven, she informed me that I had it upside down.  Again, no giggles came my way. I must have missed that part somewhere!  I pulled out the roaster and flipped the main course over.  It only had a little more time to roast.  After Husband carved it and we enjoyed our first bites, it all tasted flavorful – just like Mom’s.  Ever since that day, I roast the turkey breast side up.  I’m still not sure if it makes much of a difference.

To this day, when I get a chance to host Thanksgiving dinner, I use Mom’s menu plan.  Others may think that’s boring, but I find it to be a great comfort. It brings back memories of other blessed Thanksgivings I’ve been lucky to enjoy over the years.  Plus, I love that lime jello with cottage cheese, marshmallows, and cool whip that was probably popular in the 50s!

Today I am thankful for the memories Mom gave me when she taught me how to stuff a turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is possible only for those who take time to remember; 
no one can give thanks who has a short memory. ~Author Unknown

Another Mile…

While on a walk the other day, our dog, Lila, acted like a puppy with the way she jumped about after my husband found a stick for her to fetch. A tiny thought came to me of how agile Lila is for her age of 11 years and that maybe we shouldn’t be playing fetch any more. As we watched her run happily through melting tufts of snow, I chased the thought from my mind. She looks great, I thought. That expensive dog food must be working its magic on her.

Not too much longer after that run, my husband and Lila came home after a quick jaunt, with Lila limping. It looked like something was bothering her front paw. No whines escaped from her during the incident where she was running and suddenly came to a stop. The quick halt must have been too jarring for her. We didn’t find any swelling or bumps on her legs, paws, or ankles. Since it was Sunday, we called the vet the next day. Betsy said to watch Lila for a day and call if it got worse. We waited until that evening and made an appointment for the following day. Even though Lila could climb up and down steps okay, it seemed her limp was getting worse, or we were imagining it was getting worse. Plus, we didn’t want to delay any repairs, if there was something that needed to be fixed.

Lila was excited to go for a car ride the next day. Lila’s tail slammed against the back of the car seat on the way to the vet. When we arrived, we saw this silly sign.

We called the office, and one of the techs came out to our car to get Lila. It felt strange because it was the first time we let Lila see the doctor by herself. People are not allowed in the office, due to the coronavirus.

A short time later, the doctor called to let us know Lila seemed all right, but he thought it was some sort of soft tissue issue and that perhaps arthritis was the cause of the limping. “She is getting older,” he said.

“How long do you think we need to wait before we take her out for a walk?” I asked.

“Why don’t you wait until Saturday, and take it slow,” Doc told us. We were told to only give Lila leash walks for the time being. The tech delivered our girl back to us, all wags and smiles. She got two treats and a bottle of pain killers, which have been helping her.

Lila and I took a very small walk the next day. Lila looked up at me when we got back to our front door. She gave me a look like, You’ve got to be kidding me. Is this all the further we’re going to go? I dropped her off at home, and continued on for a longer walk by myself. Not holding onto a leash with a dog at the other end felt awkward, when I walked without my faithful companion. It was a straight walk, with no stops, no sniffing, no pointing at squirrels or chipmunks, no head tosses to show me the birds, no picking up messes.

The next day, we went for a little longer walk – about a mile – because the limp was gone and has stayed away. Today we will go about another mile. Maybe next week we can go three. Every mile together is a gift. 🙂

Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really. ~Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Thanks for the Love

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My husband and I planned on a big outing this weekend, because we were tired of eating at home. Isn’t everyone?! I suggested we order food from Pub 819. I had recently gone there and had their Yum Yum Bowl, which has marinated flank steak, kimchee, fried egg, yum yum sauce, green onions, and coconut rice. My cravings for it would not go away!

It was nice to get in the car and go for a drive. The neighborhood has been filled with people walking and getting fresh air. The roads were very quiet. When we got to the restaurant, we could easily find a parking spot right next to the front door. Usually the streets are lined with parked cars. Today, more people were on the sidewalks than there were cars on the road.

One car was in front of us. When they got their food, we pulled up to the spot where they had been, as we were following the directions on the sign by the front door. We called the restaurant to let them know we had arrived. A few minutes later, a young lady skipped out, holding a plastic bag tight in her hand.

“Two Yum Yum Bowls,” she said with a perky smile. Her blond hair was pulled tight and was gathered up into a ponytail that sat up high on the crown of her head.

“Yes, thank you,” I said, as I took the bag from her. I tried to mirror her perky smile. The smell of the Yum Yum Bowls drifted up into my face, even though all the contents were wrapped snug.

After we got home and opened the bag, I found a handwritten note, which said, “Thanks for the love.” We never got a note like that from a restaurant before. I knew that note would stick in my mind forever.

Kindness is the most tender and effective form of leaving a memory inside people’s hearts. ~Dodinsky

Stirring the Pot

One thing I did when I was a kid was twist the stem of an apple while saying the ABCs. If the stem fell off when you got to a certain letter that was automatically the first letter in your boyfriend’s name. The girls at my school lunchroom table snickered when we asked each other what letter we were on when the stem fell off. Teasing each other about pretend boyfriends turned into an amusing game. I don’t remember the types of apples that were around then because I liked them all, just so long as they were crispy and didn’t have any worms living inside.

Now we have so many varieties of apples in Minnesota. Fireside, Honeycrisp, and Paula Red are my favorites from peeling to the edge of the core. Haralson apples are tart and work best for apple crisp. Over the years, Cortland apples have brought me the most memories because every fall our group of friends gets together to make applesauce. Kim organizes the event, and we use her grandmother’s recipe.

First, we decide when we can get together and how many bushels Kim should get. When we first started, we made five bushels. Now I think we are down to three. Next, we meet at Kim’s place and must remember to bring containers, pots, bowls, apple slicers, knives, and a snack to share because the event lasts for hours. After everyone arrives, we wash the apples.  We slice them with apple slicers, remove any bruises or stem marks, and toss the slices into a pot. After the very large pot is full, about a quarter of a cup of water goes in too. That’s all it is: apples and water, plus a lot of love – sounds like a grandma sort of recipe!

My job has been pot stirrer even though I’m not one to “stir the pot!” If any burn marks end up on the bottom of the inside of the pot, I hear about it later in the day when we wash the dishes. There’s a secret method of knowing when the apples are ready to be sauced. I carefully squish a few against the inside of the pot. If it doesn’t squish easily, they need to remain where they are to be cooked a little longer. When the apples are ready, we transfer them into the strainer. Diane, Dianne, or Kim take turns squishing the apples by twirling the masher.  The stuff that comes out goes into a bowl, and the other stuff that stayed inside the strainer gets tossed.  Sheila works on dividing the portions equally into everyone’s containers, plus she figures out the cost per cup and how many cups are in each container. Since we all bring different sizes, this job can be tricky. Every year the cost can vary.  We know this because Sheila keeps track! Something else varies each year too: the color.

Stirring the Pot

Stirring the Pot

Throughout the day we’ll talk about the happenings in our lives, but mostly we talk about the color of the applesauce. We usually compare it to the batch we made the previous year. Last year’s batch was very good, colorfully pink, and tasty. The year before, we thought the applesauce looked gray but tasted okay. In between those conversations, we reminisce about how long we’ve worked on this project together, when we did this before our children arrived on the scene, and how our children used to tag along to help. Last year, we were on our own and enjoyed delicious apple martinis, and the other sauce still turned out fine!

We’ve learned some tricks along the way.  Now that we use the Victorio Food Strainer and Sauce Maker instead of the old-fashioned “squisher,” the process has become shorter which is good – then we might have time to sit down for a game of dice after we eat a delicious bowl of chili, spaghetti, or soup that Kim prepared before we arrived.

The sauce has been at most of our Thanksgiving dinners and fall birthday celebrations for over 25 years, and my family is always happy to help make it disappear. The times when we find an extra container hiding in our freezer makes us feel like our day has turned into a lucky one. It’s a blessing to be a part of such a grand tradition and to know how to do something besides twist the stem.  I’ll always be happy to stir the pot whenever needed!

Constant use will not wear ragged the fabric of friendship. ~Dorothy Parker

Our “Fruits” of Summer!

It seems that Minnesotans try to cram as much fun as we can into the summer months. When our days are blessed with sun and greenery dotted with beautiful flowers of every color in the rainbow, sometimes we think back to the cold winter like it was some sort of nightmare. The changing seasons can be charming in their way, but we tend to act like little bees in our own gardens of life happily enjoying our “fruits” of summer.

Just a few things that were going on around the Twin Cities last weekend were the Art Fair in Uptown Minneapolis, the Irish Fair in St. Paul, and the Polish Festival in Minneapolis. My husband and I visited the Polish Festival around 3:30 in the afternoon on Saturday.  We were greeted by a group of very friendly people and a sign asking for donations so the Polish Festival could remain a free event. After giving our donation, we received a red sticker that said, “I Support the Polish Festival!”

The festival was set up between Old Main Street by St. Anthony Main and the Mississippi River. Tents bordered both sides and at each end there was a stage. All the tents were different.  One tent had information about a Polish school and another was filled with Polish sheep dogs.  Vendors sold decorative boxes, ornaments, honey, t-shirts, and trinkets. Food and beer could be purchased too.  Because it was a warm day, we decided to try a Polish beer – Zywiec – and sat on a bench by the river and watched people pass by.  There were visitors of all ages in attendance.

Polish food is delicious!  We shared a dinner of Polish sausage, pierogies (dumplings stuffed with potato filling), and potato pancakes, and we couldn’t pass up the gotobki (cabbage rolls) or the poczki (raspberry filled pastries).  We weren’t counting carbs that day.  🙂

Children performed a play in Polish on one stage and at the other, a polka band played under the bridge.  Dancers’ polka steps were varied and impressive, and I wondered who would earn the ribbon to win the contest.  We noticed that the vodka tasting was a big draw since it was sold out.  That was okay, because after eating that variety of food, one beer was enough for us.

As we left, more people entered, and we guessed it was because it was dinner time.  We enjoyed talking with some of the friendly folks, learning new things about the culture, the good food, and entertainment.  If you didn’t get to attend this event, you can always add it to your list of “fruits of summer” to enjoy next year!

Sun Set Golden on the Horizon

2015_03_29 Pierside Grill

When we approached the host of the restaurant at the Pierside Grill, we had to tip our heads back to see his face.  His long, straight hair was pulled back tight and was the same color of the sand we could see off in the distance.

“Table for four, please.”

“We have a policy that your entire party has to be here before I can show you to your table.”  I looked down at the podium.  The policy was posted beneath the spot where our host was resting his elbows.  He held tightly onto each of his hands as if he felt the same way about the policy as we did.  There was quite a crowd and almost all the tables were full even though it was pretty early in the evening.  I couldn’t imagine which table we would get by the time our party was complete.  The parking lot was far away, and it was probably difficult to find a parking space.

“Oh,” we said together in monotone voices.  The sun was still a little high in the sky and wouldn’t be setting for a while.  A hostess stopped by and ushered a complete party to their table, a table that could have been ours.  My stomach moaned in protest but was only heard by me.

“He’s just parking the car.  He should be here soon,” said Gran.

The host fanned some of the menus back and forth in front of his face as if he was nervous, so we scooted over to the side to make room for other customers.  Some of the sunbathers on the beach were packing up, getting ready to go.  I briefly surveyed some of the tables to see if others were finishing their meals and wondered who might leave next.

When Gramps arrived, our host showed us to our table.

“I saved you this table by the wall,” said the ponytailed man as he tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear and dealt menus to each of our spots at the table.

“This is great,” exclaimed Katie.  We were surprised to get a spot where we could see the waves of the Gulf gently glide along the shore.  Our waitress brought water, and we ordered coconut shrimp and iced tea.  As we watched the wide open space before us, it seemed as if the beach was a stage, a show for us to watch.  A man rode his bike to make a trail in the sand.  His parrot held tight to the handle bars.  We wondered if the bird was tied to the bars or if it held tightly of its own free will.

Now that the sun was setting lower, the day felt cooler, and dogs were getting their walk along the beach.  A set of black labs that resembled our family dog waded out into the water while being led on leashes.

“Don’t drink the water,” I said to them even though they were too far away to hear.  It was as if they heard my advice and held their heads high, careful not to dip their heads.  They must have tasted the salt of the water sometime before.  Seeing the labs made me wonder how our dog Lila would have liked the beach. When I thought about her earlier that day, I knew she wouldn’t have liked going on a walk with me because it was very warm that day, in the 80s.  Lila loves cooler weather, and I doubted she would want to vacation in Florida because there are snow banks.

As we sipped tea and munched on coconut shrimp, we noticed how more and more people were lining up on the pier ready to watch the sun set.  Our waitress checked with us several times, but we pretended we couldn’t make up our minds as we briefly looked at the menu.  We didn’t want to get ushered out of the restaurant too quickly, and we noticed many tables were empty at that time.  We had gone there to watch the sun slowly slither away on its daily journey.

People of all ages and sizes strolled along the water’s edge while I watched a lady perfecting her hand stand.  Sometimes she tipped right, then left, but most of the times she was able to keep her balance upside down tightly clad in a bikini.  I wondered how the rush of blood to her brain must have felt as I watched a cloud stretch out to make different shapes.  At first that cloud looked like a spoon which somehow turned into the shape of a bird.

We ordered ribs and burgers, which were quickly delivered and deliciously devoured.  As the clouds drifted away, the sky became a pale, soft blue as if it was dimming, ready to sleep and show its stars.  Getting closer to the edge, the sun set golden on the horizon turning parts of the blue sky pink as it set.

Good night soft sky.  See you tomorrow.  It’s always a blessing to see you.

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Home Away From Home

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Ireland was so welcoming, that it felt like our home away from home. When we checked into Flannary’s and saw that the room that the staff thought was ready for us wasn’t quite ready, we went back to tell the receptionist. We ended up getting a larger room with an extra bed. Now we had one double bed and two twin beds. Dad said, “One for each of us:  Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear!”

Since Papa Bear and I had traveled for hours and were awake most of that time, Papa Bear stayed in the room while Baby Bear and I went to the hotel restaurant. The restaurant was crowded for that time of day. Everyone seemed bubbly as their conversations seemed to bounce off the walls. As we looked at the menu, even though we longed to try an Irish coffee just because of its name, we decided to get a Bailey’s coffee instead.  We knew it would taste better to us.

The waiter looked our way every once in a while in between waiting on tables. When he checked in with us, I admired his lilting voice. Most times I could understand the Irishmen, but when the men talked very fast, it was difficult for me to understand. I was glad to have Katie there to translate for me, even though they were speaking English!

Because Katie and I hadn’t had a good sit down chat for quite a while, we talked for a couple of hours! Lately our only means of communicating had been through Skype or sending in-box messages every once in a while. Not knowing what was new in her life was quite a change for me since I was used to hearing from Baby Bear almost every day.

When Papa Bear joined us, we decided to stay at the hotel restaurant for dinner since the food appeared to be quite good. When Sean delivered our entrees, it was like the comforts of home to sit down and eat a warm meal of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies. Papa Bear liked his fish and chips, and Baby Bear enjoyed a plate of pasta.

As we munched away, a gentleman who was sitting at the bar, suddenly busted out in song. We had no idea what he was singing, but the Gaelic words and melody were a hit amongst the crowd.  His act of bursting out in song didn’t seem like it was anything out of the ordinary to the staff or customers.  His serenade only lasted a short while, and then he was gone.

As we finished up our meal, it felt like a blessing to have the car safely parked in the lot having survived the travels of our first day.  We were glad to get ready to settle in and get a good night’s sleep on a bed!

Mama Bear’s bed was “just right!”

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I Belong to You

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I felt a little awkward wearing a bright red t-shirt that day even though everyone else in the family was wearing one.  When we walked up to the front to greet the rest of the family, we sort of made a ruckus.  A lady in a pew behind us reminded us that people were trying to pray.  We simmered down and were good even though we were excited.  We waited for this day for a long time and were happy that it finally arrived.

Towards the end of Mass, the priest approached the front pew where we were sitting and announced to the congregation that someone was celebrating their 100th birthday.  Grandma stood, turned slightly and waved, as Father introduced her.  Father asked us to sing Happy Birthday.  Grandma smiled, and the rest of us couldn’t help but smile right along with her as we were very proud of her accomplishment.

After Mass was over, we went to the family reunion.  Groups of people trickled in.  Some brought Polish food.  The first presentation was poppy-seed bread.  A cousin made six loaves the day before.  Then the polka kielbasa made an appearance followed by Aunt Mary’s homemade sausage.  I had no idea what the ingredients were, but it tasted fabulous.  The beet and horseradish condiment tasted great with the different sausages.  Then the cabbage rolls were ready to eat!  I got a lot of exercise going back and forth, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from getting full.  As if that wasn’t enough, a caterer set very large rolls, pasta dishes, salad and more desserts on the tables.

As people visited with each other and made a point to see Grandma, I thought about how Grandma had been such a great companion to me and the kids when I was a stay-at-home mom with three small children.  We tried to visit with her at least once a week.  She went to the park with us to help me push the kids in the swings.  Other times we visited the library to get books for the kids and Grandma got some too.  Visiting the mall was fun especially when Grandma announced that the kids could pick out one special toy.  Just as a grandma should, she always made sure that we had cookies or some kind of treat to bring home with us when we parted ways.

The day I married my husband, I was blessed with two Grandmas.  They both treated me like I belonged to them.  That made me happy because I never got to meet my biological Grandmas because they passed away before I was born.  I didn’t know what I was missing until those two wonderful ladies warmly welcomed me into the family.

As the party started to wind down, I sat down next to Grandma.  I like the way she always holds my hand when we first talk to each other.

“Hi, Grandma,” I said.

“Hi Mary Ann.”

“Are you having a good time?” I asked her.

“I’m overwhelmed by all the people.  It’s so nice how they all came to talk to me.  I just wish that my husband could have been here to see everyone.  He would have really liked this.  Sometimes it was a little hard to figure out who belongs to who.”

“Well, I belong to you!” I said.

“That’s right,” she agreed.

A while ago, I asked Grandma what her secret was and how she got to live to be the age she was then.  She said, “Don’t eat the same foods every day.  Be sure to eat something different.”  But I know it’s more than food.  It’s her attitude.  Once she told me, “When I feel down, I ask myself, why?  I don’t have a reason to be.”  Last Christmas, Grandma remembered it was my first Christmas without my Mom, and she said, “I know it’s hard, but you just have to look forward to all the fun things that are coming your way.”

One of my favorite things that Grandma said when someone told her that she spoiled her grandkids was, “If I don’t spoil them, who will?”

If a person can get spoiled by their Grandma’s love, then that makes me rotten!!!

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A Splendid Time!

1009914_10201539903926297_351803285_n[1]Laura & Michael

As I tried to balance my plate in one hand while eating morsels of tasty treats, I wondered if it was starting to rain. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping eye contact with the person who was talking, when it seemed like a little raindrop passed by and missed my plate. I politely nodded and listened as the conversation went on. I waited for another drop to fall. When I didn’t hear, feel or see one, I thought it must have been my imagination. Plus, I could not picture rain falling on such a decent day in August. The sky had been beautifully bright and blue with hardly a wisp of a cloud the entire day.

My husband popped in on our conversation, and asked, “Was that a squirrel?” He got hit on the head with something. The four of us looked up, but since it was getting dark, we couldn’t see any animal hiding in the very tall oak tree. When we looked down, we saw evidence of acorn shells scattered about.

“Oh, that’s not a good sign,” we heard a lady say. “If the squirrels are acting so crazy about acorns already that means it’s going to be a cold winter.” Somehow the talk of winter made us scatter and mingle. I wandered over to the table and tried to decide if I wanted more shrimp cocktail, veggies & dip, meatballs, cheese & crackers, a wrap, or my favorite:  a delicious bit of roast beef piled on toast and topped with a tad of horseradish. I took my favorite, and while I chewed, I stared at the cupcake tree stand. Since the cupcakes were chocolate, I knew I had to have one. The frosting looked like it was some sort of marshmallow that had been whipped into a bouffant.  It reminded me of a hairstyle from the 60s. I plopped one on my plate and it didn’t last long there!

There were high tables neatly arranged about the yard with smatterings of other conversational areas. Each table was decorated with colorful bouquets of flowers that the hostess arranged in a most attractive fashion. I headed toward the table with the comfy chairs and umbrella just in case the squirrels decided to bomb us again.

Laura was holding Michael’s little nephew. I got up close, looked at his little nose, peaked under the blanket and saw his tiny feet. His left hand was bunched up into a fist and rested on the bottom of his chin as if he was in some sort of deep thinking process. I wondered what little babies dream about.

“Do you want to hold him?” Laura asked me. I hadn’t held a baby for years. When people ask me if I want to hold a baby, I almost always say no because sometimes it makes me nervous.  But that day was different. I said yes mostly because that little baby and I are going to be connected with and be a part of the same family.  Plus, he is one cute baby who didn’t make me feel fidgety!

As I sat with the little one and patiently waited for him to open his eyes, I looked around the yard.  Even though a lot of us were meeting each other for the first time, the conversations felt like we had known each other for years.

When Michael asked for our blessing to marry our daughter, I knew it would be the start of new  beginnings for us. For me it means getting to be the Mother-of-the-Bride, plus I am looking forward to being a Mother-in-Law!  Even though Michael has seemed like a member of our family for quite some time now, it will be great when we get to officially welcome him to our family next year when Michael and Laura tie the knot.

Before this event, I didn’t even know that engagement parties existed.  An engagement party is a nice way to start off all the events that come with planning a wedding and a good way to meet each others immediate families.  I’m so glad I had such a splendid time at my first engagement party!

What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people! ~ St. Teresa of Avila