My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 3: Home

My Favorite Holiday Gifts for HOME 2018! I’m not bold enough to believe I know everything about holiday gifts, but I know some things I’m planning to give this year and some things that have been well-received over the year. We have covered Books and Women’s Accessories. I will be posting about different categories over the next few weeks: Men/Boys gifts, Travel, Stocking Stuffers, and Kids/Teens, but today is all about HOME gifts. Take a look at the wide assortment listed below…more than 20 possibilities…with prices from as low as $8.49.

Claus Porto Soaps. I can’t get enough of these. They make great gifts for anyone…and great stocking stuffers too! The presentation of these soaps is absolutely beautiful, and the scents are incredible! My personal favorite is the box of Gift Soaps, containing 15 small soaps from four of their lines. They are shea butter infused, so they smell beautiful and add moisture to skin! Larger gift boxes contain larger soaps, and wrappings are gorgeous. Prices start at $10 for single soaps. See them at Clausporto.com here.

 

Gifts for folks who entertain a lot. We all have friends who are fantastic hosts/hostesses. My friend who is always hosting parties at her home (she knows who she is) would love some Mario Luca Giusti Rainbow Milly Glasses I’ve seen at Neiman Marcus. They would be a great Christmas gift for her. (These are not meant as hostess gifts for having me over, but HOLIDAY gifts.) These glasses hold 10 ounces, and they’re made of acrylic! The color will brighten any gathering. Priced at $144 for a set of four, you can get them at Neiman Marcus here. Have a family recipe to share? Share it with your friend or family member via a Custom Recipe Paddle Board from Swoozie’s. Priced at $79.95, you can customize the board with a handwritten recipe…maybe Grandma’s Sour Cream Pound Cake? Maybe Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings? For more info, click here.

 

 

Bath and Body Works Candles. Who doesn’t love for their home to smell good? Right now, Bath and Body Works has their 3-wick holiday candles priced at $12.95! A great gift! My favorite is the Champagne Toast Scent.

Alexandra Von Furstenberg accents. I love Alexandra Von Furstenberg acrylic accent pieces. From small boxes to votives to frames, I love the color and the texture. I find lots of friends and family love to add some color in their homes here and there, and Furstenberg’s smaller pieces make lovely gifts. Frames start at $125 for a 6.25″ x 6.25″ frame, and go up from there, depending on the size. A 7″ x 7″ valet tray starts at $155, while votives start at $165, and bud vases start at $220.

 

Dodow. Lots of folks regularly post on Facebook about their insomnia. I understand. It’s terrible. After talking with a few people about it, this contraption called Dodow sounds like it could be a big help! According to its website, this light metronome actually “retrains your brain to fall asleep — while it mesmerizes you to sleep!” If you have someone on your Christmas list who has trouble falling asleep, they will love you for getting them this! Prices start at $59, and it can be purchased from Amazon here.

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Tiffany and Co. Home Gifts. Contrary to popular belief, Tiffany and Co. offers a lovely assortment of home gifts that won’t break the budget, but they still come in a lovely Tiffany blue box and bow. The Elsa Peretti Collection offers heart decorative boxes, starting at $75 for clear glass, and $95 for red leather. Another favorite at a good price is the Elsa Peretti Wave Jewelry Box in red or green leather, priced at $125. Shop Elsa Peretti at Tiffany and Co. here.

 

Canvaschamp.com. I’m a fan of Canvaschamp.com, because I think a photo canvas makes a great gift for most anyone. My mother always just wanted pics of the family for Christmas every year. Canvaschamp.com will also turn any photo you have into a Warhol-style canvas. Just upload the photo, and they will email you a draft. Prices start at about $20. See it here.img_8275

Skylight Frame. I suggested this as a Mother’s Day gift, as well. According to their website, the Skylight Frame is a digital touch screen 10″ photo frame that displays your digital photos and can be updated remotely via email. It promises “clarity, color, and brilliance.” Each frame has its own email address, so you can update the photos anytime from anywhere. This would be a great gift for just about anyone! Priced at $159, I think it is a great gift (hint, hint). Get more information and purchase the Skylight Frame here. 

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Long Distance Friendship Lamp. These are just awesomeness. If my child were away at college, I would definitely get these partner lamps. Purchase one for yourself and one for your best friend or loved one who lives far away. When you touch the lamp to adjust the hue in your home, it adjusts your friend’s lamp as well, letting them know you’re thinking of them! I love it, because I think it’s important for us to let folks know when we think of them. Priced from $85 to $170 at Uncommongoods.com here.

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Neiman Marcus Shopping Ladies Mug. I know some folks hate mugs as gifts, but I love them, especially these, featuring shopping ladies. I get Neiman Marcus holiday mugs every year, so I have an odd collection, but these are some of the best ever! Priced at just $15 each, pair with a favorite coffee, and they make great small gifts for friends and neighbors. Order here.

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Instant Pot. These are not your mother’s pressure cookers! I have friends who swear by them, while I’m still learning how to use mine. That roast I cook in the Crockpot for 8 hours? It cooks in an hour in the Instant Pot, and it’s as tender as if it had simmered for hours. It’s the wave of the future! Look online for deals, especially at Amazon.com. You can purchase here.

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Neiman Marcus Holiday Platter. You can’t have too many platters if you entertain. The Annual Neiman Marcus Holiday Platters feature different designs and colors every year, and they are heavy and well-made. I’m not a “collector” per se, but I get one every year for myself. They make great gifts for friends. Add a dozen holiday cookies or brownies…a lovely, thoughtful gift! Priced at $35, it won’t break the bank. Order from Neiman Marcus online, and pay a little extra for the gift wrapping. You’ll be glad you did. Order here.

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Weighted Blanket. A-maz-ing. Weighted blankets have been proven to help users sleep. The weight of the blanket has a calming effect. Have a friend or family member who has difficulty falling asleep? This could change their lives. There are lots of different ones out there, but the only one I’ve ever used is the Calming Comfort Weighted blanket, which you can purchase here. Prices start at $129. I’m getting one for my husband for Christmas. Other brands can be purchased through Amazon.com.

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T-Fal Preseasoned Cast Iron Skillet. Most folks raised in the south know the value of a perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. You can’t make true southern fried chicken or cornbread without a good cast iron skillet. Many of us have fought to get our mother’s or our grandmother’s cast iron skillet. It makes a great gift for anyone who likes to cook, but make sure you give them directions on how to care for it…and maybe a few recipes too. Prices start at $15 at Amazon. Purchase here.

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Airportag.comRather than pick one item from this awesome website, I am listing the whole website. Great for the aviation enthusiasts in your life, there are so many customizable products. Personalized boarding pass-style pillows, mugs, shirts, comforters, totes, luggage tags, and many more…they have it all for the folks who love planes and trains. Look up items by item type, airline, airport…whatever you choose…even defunct carriers! Prices start under $5 for stickers and go up from there. Boarding Pass and Airport Throw Pillow Set shown, $95. Shop Airportag.com here.

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Bluebird of Happiness. When my mother died last December, I wondered about some pretty little glass bluebirds on a table in her house. After asking some questions, I found the person who had given them to her…an old family friend. I sent the birds to the friend, but because I liked that they symbolized happiness, I ordered some for myself. I’ve also found they make lovely gifts. Sure, we can’t actually give someone happiness, but we can offer them the Bluebird of Happiness. Prices start at $8.49. Purchase directly from the studio where they are made here. Take a look around at other items they offer…lots of great gifts: Dragon’s Eggs, Wise Owls, Blue Bubbles of Happiness, and more.

Glass Cardinal Paperweight. Speaking of birds, I’ll offer this suggestion too. My family always said cardinals that flew into our yards or near our windows were visits from family members who had passed. I have a red cardinal on my nightstand representing my mother. I am get one of these paperweights to represent my daddy, as well. And this Christmas, friends and family who have lost loved ones will likely receive them as small gifts from me. They’re pretty, and for me, they’re comforting. Plus, they’re inexpensive. Priced at $11.47 and with free shipping, it’s a way to remember a lost loved one at the holidays. Get them at Amazon here.

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Unique Planters. Lots of folks love gardening…even me! My friend, Michelle, in Fairhope, Alabama, owns Corner Copia Gardens Nursery Center and Gifts, where she sells plants and has a lovely gift shop too! Many times, when I see pictures she posts from her gift shop, I wish I could run in and buy a few things. Alas, I’ll have to wait till I can get there, but if you live in the greater metropolitan Mobile (Alabama) area, it’s worth a drive. She often has lovely “head planters” that look great with succulents planted in them, and I love when she posts photos of Air Plant Jellies she sells. See her facebook page here. The phone number is there, or send her a message about any gift ideas.

 

Whew! There you have it! Lots of HOME gifts in lots of different price ranges and for lots of different people…gardeners, hostesses, sports fans, cooks, moms, teens, dads…something for everyone!

***NEXT TIME: Gifts for Men/Boys.***

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Fear of Flying? Take Control

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If you’re afraid of flying, you’re not alone. I’m not one of those people, but I know a lot of them. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that empowerment is the key. People are afraid to fly, because they feel a loss of control. They know commercial air travel is safer than driving to the airport, but they are driving themselves to the airport. On the plane, they are handing over control to a stranger.

We can talk till we’re blue in the face about how much safer air travel is than driving, but that doesn’t help those people who are afraid. This is one of those situations in which knowledge is power. People can feel more confident about flying if they have a plan.

I’m not going to get into the detailed engineering of jet engines. You don’t need to know a lot about the thrust of jet engines, but here’s the basic info:  Jet engines suck in air through a fan in the front. The high speed blades in a compressor raise the air pressure, and gas is added. As the mixture expands, it shoots out the back of the engine, causing the jet to thrust forward. Simple. What you really need to know is how you can take control of your own situation, so I’m going to tell you. I wrote a blog recently about making air travel easier. For the most part, it was about eliminating stressors leading up to the flight.If you start with eliminating the stressors of the airport, it’s easier to stay calm. You can see my previous piece, Making Air Travel Easier, by clicking here.

Now I’m going to tell you some things that might help eliminate some of the fear of actual flying.

AIRLINE TRAVEL IS SAFER THAN EVER USA Today ran an article in April, after a Southwest emergency, with this headline:

Airlines, including Southwest, are so safe it’s hard to rank them by safety

Wow. That should make us all feel a little better. You can read the article here.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER This is the absolute truth. Since you won’t be flying the aircraft, you don’t need to know how to fly it. The knowledge you need is how to react in an emergency and some calming techniques. In an emergency, we want to be able to get out of the aircraft quickly. I was a flight attendant for a while after I graduated from college. I know it is highly unlikely you will ever have to evacuate an aircraft. Here’s something else I know: accidents are survivable, especially if you have information that will help you get out.

  • When I board an aircraft, the first thing I do is look for the nearest exits…which may be behind me.
  • Count the number of rows between yourself and the two nearest exits. If something happens, and it’s dark, you need find your way out by touch. Even if you are unable to see, you can touch seatbacks and count your way to the exit.
  • Pay attention to the safety demo/video and review the safety card before takeoff. It will make you feel better to see how the exits work. Often, that information is included in the safety card in your seat back pocket. You can see American Airlines’ safety video here. A Delta video is here, and United’s is here. I love the United video. Keep in mind these are samples; different aircraft have different procedures…pay attention.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and natural fabrics. Synthetic fabrics tend to be more flammable, so wear natural fabrics like cotton. Also, wear shoes in which you can move quickly.
  • Fasten your seatbelt low and tight around your hips, decreasing the likelihood you will be injured in an emergency.
  • Keep both feet flat on the floor for takeoff and landing, decreasing the risk of back injury or leg injury in an emergency.
  • Make sure all bags in your row are completely underneath the seats. You don’t want to trip over something if you need to get out quickly.
  • When I travel with my daughter, I tell her, “If there is an unlikely emergency, do exactly what I tell you without hesitation. If I can’t get out, you go without me.”
  • In the unlikely event of an emergency, leave all your belongings behind! The more things people try to carry, the more difficult it is to get people out.
  • If you must take anti-anxiety medication (or have a cocktail) when you fly, take the lowest dosage possible for relief. Less medication/alcohol means you can react more quickly if necessary.
  • If you still can’t relax, try soft music (even classical?) on some earbuds, or watch a lighthearted movie. Play solitaire. Read a book or magazine. But don’t wear earbuds during takeoff and landing; you want to hear any instructions if needed.
  • My trick for calming myself in other situations is to stop and use my senses: think of something I can hear; think of something I can see; think of something I can touch; think of something I can smell. Putting myself through that thought process can take my mind off the situation.
  • Another calming trick is to find something to count. Count passengers. Purchase boxes of candies in the airport, and count the candies in each box…slowly. Counting is a good way of forcing yourself to think about something else besides your anxiety trigger.
  • If you are traveling with children, remember your children pick up on your body language. If you’re anxious, they become anxious. Try to calm yourself.

Here is some information about aircraft cabins you might find useful:

  • Often, the electronic pings you hear are simply passengers using their flight attendant call buttons, flight attendants trying to communicate about drink cart needs, etc.
  • Soon after takeoff, there is often a thud sound as the landing gear is raised back into the underbelly of the plane.
  • Many times, after takeoff, you will notice the aircraft seems to slow down a little. It might be due to noise ordinances over a city or another request by air traffic control. This is normal.
  • Often, when items shift in the galleys, you will hear them banging around.
  • Passengers sometimes slam doors when they go into the lavatories. You may be surprised by the sound. And sometimes you hear the flush.
  • If you have a drop of water fall on you, it is likely condensation from the air conditioner.
  • Sometimes, landings are just a little jarring, because the pilots are compensating for crosswinds on landing. No big deal.

Hopefully, this calms some of your fears. I feel better about situations in life if I have a plan for mishaps. When I drop my child somewhere, I tell her, “If there is a fire alarm or active shooter situation, get out of the building fast. Call me after you get to a safe place.” If I’m in the building too but not with her, she knows to get out first, then call me. And for years, we’ve reviewed the “stranger danger” plans.

Try to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to survive an emergency and some calming techniques, and you will likely feel better about flying altogether. Here are some books offered by Amazon you might find helpful as well: SOAR The Breakthrough Treatment For Fear of FlyingFear of Flying Workbook  and Scared Flightless.

I tend to feel better when I’m armed with knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Making Airline Travel Easier

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Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Airlines have received a lot of press in the past year or two. From dragging passengers off the plane to perverts sitting next to unaccompanied minors…we’ve heard it all. The latest press is all about paying extra for good seats and having difficulty getting seats together without paying extra for them.

A lot of people travel more frequently than I do, but I used to work in the travel industry, and I fly pretty often. I’ve learned a few things along the way that can make your life easier when traveling by commercial airline.

TSA PRE-CHECK/GLOBAL ENTRY Travel a few times a year domestically? TSA Pre-Check is worth the money. Surely, you’ve stood in the regular line and watched people zip through the TSA Pre-Check line. For me, the biggest benefit, aside from expedited screening, is not taking off my shoes on that nasty airport floor, but there are others: you don’t have to remove your laptop or small liquids from your bag, and you don’t have to go through that body scanner. It costs $85 for five years of TSA Pre-Check. Apply online here. After applying online, schedule an appointment online and take documentation to a processing center to complete the process. When I went, I was there for less than 10 minutes. If you travel internationally more than once or twice a year, consider Global Entry, which is “a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports,” according to their website. It is $100; learn more by clicking here.

RESERVATIONS Two words: BOOK EARLY. It gives you the best possibility of getting a good fare and desirable seats and increases the chances of sitting with friends/family. Over the past few years, airlines have started charging extra for more desirable seats near the front of the cabin. I am most familiar with American Airlines, because they have a hub in Charlotte.

According to an interview (conducted in a Boeing 777) with American’s CEO in the Wall Street Journal, “American’s strategy now is to offer passengers more seating choices—a strategy seen clearly from Mr. Parker’s seat in the back of the reconfigured 777. Those interested in low fares sit in the back, where American has 146 basic coach seats. If you’re willing to pay more or have elite status, 66 coach seats provide extra legroom. You can pay several hundred dollars more and move up to premium economy: 24 seats that are 19 inches wide instead of 17 and have 38 inches row to row. Then there are 37 lie-flat business-class seats. Nearly half of the plane’s 273 seats offer extra room.” You can see the article here.

The lowest/most restrictive fares they offer are called Basic Economy. They are in the back of the plane. There are several restrictions, but the biggest one, in my opinion, is that you cannot get seat assignments till check-in, and for me, that is a big red flag. I don’t have a problem with American offering Basic Economy, but there is no way I would knowingly go to the airport without an advance seat assignment.  If you do not have an advance seat assignment, there is a greater likelihood you will be stuck with the “leftover” seats or be bumped from the flight. However, according to a friend who is an industry insider, airlines aren’t overbooking like they used to, so the possibility of being bumped is much lower. (If you do get bumped, according to my insider, you can get “sweet” compensation in the way of vouchers that are good for two years…can be used for flights or upgrades.) Traveling as a family and want to be together? Book Main Cabin or better. Whatever you do, get advance seat assignements or pick a different flight. If you are unable to book seats together, try to book aisle seats and/or window seats for leverage. Aisle seats are prized, and if you offer someone a middle seat in exchange for an aisle seat, the answer will be, “No dice.” That being said, here is a trick to use if your child is seated next to a stranger: Walk the child to his/her seat. When buckling up your child, get the airsickness bag out of the seat back pocket. Open it. Hand it to your child, and say, “Honey, when you get sick, make sure you use this bag.” Do not whisper it. You want the person next to your child to hear. They will likely offer to trade seats! Whatever you do, do not ask your flight attendant to assist you in trading seats with someone. People booked early and likely paid more for their seats. Usually Main Cabin seats are about $20-$50 more (on American and United) than Basic Econ. If you can do Main Cabin, do it. With Main Cabin, you get advance seat assignment, overhead space (none with Basic Econ), and you can change your flights for a fee…not with Basic Economy. I prefer to think of that additional $20-$50 as the regular price and look at Basic Econ as the no frills, discount price. You can see a great skit from The Carol Burnett Show about a No Frills Airline here. It puts things in perspective with humor. Maybe airlines should show that skit on a monitor in the gate area.

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS  Need to send your child on a flight unaccompanied? Arrive at the airport at least two hours before the flight. I’d have to be there three hours before for peace of mind. You will have extra paperwork, and you will need the full name (as it appears on ID), address, and phone number of the adult meeting your child. (That person must have ID.) You will be required to get a gate pass and walk the child to the gate. Before saying goodbye, remind your child to know where exits are, pay attention to the emergency demo, and if he/she is uncomfortable with their seat mate, let the flight attendants know. You can see me discussing this with my friend, Maureen, on Been There Moms here. Also, plan to be at the airport for a while; you are required to stay in the gate area till the plane is off the ground…not when it leaves the gate. You must wait until the gate agent tells you the plane is in the air.

CHECK BAG RESTRICTIONS before you pack. You already know there is a weight restriction for a checked bag, but did you know there is also a size restriction? Check your airline’s website. You do not want to be told at the airport your bag is too heavy or too large. While you’re at it, check carry-on restrictions. In American’s Basic Econ, you only get to carry on one bag that will fit underneath the seat in front of you. For Main Cabin, you can have two…one under the seat and one overhead.  ***And while we’re talking luggage, take a picture of all checked bags before you check them. If they don’t arrive when you do, you will have a picture to show the baggage agent. Also, hang on to your claim checks till you have your bags in hand. If you’re like me, it might help to take a picture of your claim checks too.***

CHECK IN EARLY You’ve heard it a million times, but people don’t take it seriously. Arrive early! I check in online, but still, I prefer to get there two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. Folks may call that extreme, but  I’ve never missed a flight or panicked at security, wondering if I would make the flight. Make it easy on yourself; arrive early. You never know how long the lines will be. Why risk the stress? Using Mobile Boarding Pass? Take a screen shot of it beforehand, so you can access it quickly. I always print mine. My husband and I saw a couple in Miami struggle for five minutes trying to pull up their boarding passes on their phones. Once you clear security, it’s time to go relax and wait. I have TSA Pre-check, but I still arrive extra early, giving me time to relax or check email before boarding.

RELAX AND ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT Once your group number has been called and you have boarded, relax. Enjoy the flight. Maybe you try to sleep or catch up on emails (if WiFi is offered). It might mean playing games on your phone or reading a book or magazine. Just relax and let the professionals do the work.

***Does the idea of being in the air cause you stress? It’s likely the loss of control causing you anxiety. Check back soon. I’ll write about ways to empower yourself inflight.***

Missing My Girl

It hasn’t even been a week since my 14-yr-old daughter left for Iceland, and I’m already missing her. I know…that’s pathetic. We received our first “email update” a couple of days ago, and it sounds like they are having a fabulous time, but it might have made me miss her more, if that is even possible. I know I’m not the only crazy parent missing a child right now, though. I’ve talked to several friends whose children are on these trips, and we all feel the same way. We miss our children! However, I feel pretty sure she isn’t thinking of us…I hope she’s not. I hope she is enjoying everything Iceland has to offer and then some!

She is traveling in a group of twelve teenagers, with two young adult leaders…a girl from North Carolina, and a guy from Louisiana. The group leaders write the updates, and they say something about each traveler. According to that first update, while they were visiting The Blue Lagoon, a well-known geothermal spa, my daughter “led the group to the smoothie bar and then to the mud mask station.” I actually laughed out loud when I read that, because my daughter loves smoothies, and she loves masks. At least I know she isn’t starving, and her skin should be glowing when she comes home!

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Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, Iceland

I’ve worried about her “starving,” because my daughter is a picky eater. I tried to expose her to lots of different flavors when she was a toddler, but she’s like her daddy…she likes bland food. She eats a lot of grilled chicken, pizza, yogurt, broccoli, fruit, potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and rice. Oh, and peanut butter. I told her before she left that she will have to eat whatever they give her. According to one of her leaders, on the last trip, they had a lot of lamb and salmon, two delicious foods I’ve never been able to get my daughter to eat. My fingers are crossed that she will expand her palate on this trip. I did stick a few snacks in her bag, but she likely has gone through them by now. She doesn’t get that picky-eating gene from me. I will eat just about anything, except organ meat…nope, not gonna do it. My husband, on the other hand, eats nothing spicy. There are things he has declared “spicy,” and then I take a bite and laugh at him.

My sister-in-law has a 15-yr-old son on another trip offered by the same tour company. He is touring Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. We shared our updates with each other earlier today, and his trip sounds exciting too! According to his update, he “nearly had a nose to nose interaction with a baby sea lion who was looking for a buddy to swim alongside him!” Sounds like so much fun! He will get home two days before my daughter, so I will get to talk with him and hear all about his trip first. I can hardly wait, but I’ll have to wait another week.

I’m flying up to New York to meet my daughter and a couple of her friends when they arrive from Iceland. I’m thinking I need to make a gigantic WELCOME BACK sign for them. Think they’d be embarrassed? I don’t really care…I’m doing it. The only people they will know in the JFK Airport will be the people from their trip. I’m flying up a day early and staying at a hotel near the airport, and I will be so excited that I won’t sleep a wink that night. Pray for a safe return for them, and pray they are on time, so I don’t have to wait any longer than necessary.

My husband and I are meeting my brother and sister-in-law on vacation later this week. Our favorite dogsitter/housesitter arrives tomorrow night. I’m hoping the vacation will be a distraction from how much I’m missing my girl. We’ll laugh a lot, get some exercise, and lounge on the beach for a few days. I’m hoping my brother will cook dinner for us every night…he’s a great cook.

A friend’s daughter arrived home earlier this week from her tour of the Pacific Northwest. She was gone for three weeks. I called my friend, the mom, the morning the daughter was coming home and asked if she was excited that her baby girl would be coming home tonight. Of course she was! She sent me a cute picture they took of her two daughters right after the younger one arrived home safely. You can see it below. So sweet. You can tell they are so excited to see each other. I asked my friend if she cried, and she said, “We all did!”

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My friend’s daughters. The one on the right just arrived home safely from her tour of the Pacific Northwest.

I guess I need to wear waterproof mascara next week when I go to meet my daughter at the airport in New York.