Why I Broke Up with my Bullet Journal

In early January, I wrote about  I ditched my regular planner after discovering the bullet journal.  From October until a couple of weeks ago, I used my bullet journal faithfully and it worked like a gem.

After the holidays, my school and home schedule started to pick up and I started to notice that my bullet journal wasn’t working quite so well.  I also had noticed some fine motor difficulties from my MS that were making bullet journaling much harder.

Spring semester is always a bear for special education teachers- our paperwork and meetings kick into high gear. School events, rec ball practice for our kids, and other end of the year dates are also seemingly never ending this time of year.

One of the basic elements of the bullet journal is the future log.  Because you’re creating as you go, the future log is where you keep track of events beyond your current month.  As I began to schedule meetings and such several months out, the sheer quantity of what I needed to keep track of just didn’t work for the bullet journal.

Note:   This post is NOT sponsored in any way.  I’m simply passing along information about a product I love!

So I turned to Clever Owl Paper in search of a personalized planner with the elements of the bullet journal I loved with the benefit of a pre-printed planner.  I’ve ordered two other planners from Clever Owl so I knew I was getting a high quality, highly personalized product at a reasonable price.  Their website allowed me to start the planner in March and add three additional months so the planner will keep me through the end of next school year.

Two of my three Clever Owl planners!

I ordered the “My Life Planner” from Clever Owl and added labels for each aspect of my life that I needed to keep track of.  These were each areas that I was previously handwriting in my bullet journal.  I also ordered extra note pages for the end to keep my faculty meeting notes, freezer inventories, and extra lists.

Overall, I took what I loved about my bullet journal and put into a pre-printed personalized planner.  I’m really glad I tried the bullet journal for several months because I think it allowed me to know what worked for me and how to personalize a planner that is the most helpful for me.  Between my fine motor issues and cognitive struggles, having a quality planner is essential for my day to day quality of life.

However, I still LOVE the concept of using a bullet journal.  Your planner/calendar/digital tool should be something that works for you and should help your quality of life  and not make it more difficult.  Creating an organizational tool that does exactly what you need is at the core of bullet journal and I wholeheartedly buy into that.  I’ve simply used an online personalized planner to do for me what all those empty bullet journal pages were previously doing.

One thing I’ve learned is that any tool is only good for the time that it works for you.  Sometimes it’s only a season but knowing when to cut bait and try something new is a skill I’m still learning!

Have  you ever found a great home or organizational tool that only worked for a season?

The MS Chronicles: When Taking It Easy Isn’t an Option

It’s been pretty quiet (well…..actually silent) over here at the blog for the past week or so.   Last Monday, my oldest daughter got the flu and my younger one got some kind of respiratory infection and a REALLY impressive case of pinkeye.  On Tuesday, I got sick.  Bless my sweet husband who babysat all three of us and for some understanding principals and teachers since we were all pretty much home for most of the week.

And then on Saturday…..

MY BABY SISTER GOT MARRIED!

Melissa got engaged back in the fall to a surgical resident at a local hospital who is originally from Cairo, Egypt.  They had a beautiful Coptic Christian Orthodox wedding on Saturday afternoon.  Thankfully, we had all recovered (for the most part) from the flu and our other various ailments.

As I was resting on Sunday (i.e. while I stayed on the couch or bed ALL DAY LONG), I thought about how my multiple sclerosis had dictated so much of my week.

95% of the time I’ll take it easy before participating in a stressful or demanding activity, I’ll figure out a way to change or modify it for me, or I’ll just not participate.

Well, sometimes there are things in life that just aren’t optional. 

My sister’s wedding is a once in a lifetime event.  I was the matron of honor and mother to the two most excited flower girls on the planet.  This was big.

But I also recognized that I’d have to work in time to recover because I knew it’d be a long couple of days.

What I wasn’t counting on was everyone in my house getting sick the week before.

The truth is that sometimes you just need to push through the pain and fatigue.

And this past week has been one of those times.  But now it’s Monday afternoon and with the exception of losing my voice and being a fairly tired, I’m back at work and good to go.

So how did that happen?

1. I had a plan.  

Before everybody got sick, I knew that the wedding weekend would be long and tiring.  I’ve had MS for ten years.  The fatigue and pain after overdoing it rarely comes as a surprise anymore.

Weeks before the wedding, I had found a replacement for my Sunday morning responsibilities at church and had planned on going to a later service.  When everyone got sick and then the wedding events started, I realized I wouldn’t be able to attend church at all and made the necessary arrangements.  Had I not had a plan in place and anticipated what problems I would experience after a busy weekend, I would have been caught by surprise and it would have made everything much worse for not only me but also my husband, kids, and the people who depend on me in church.

2. I made sure I made good use of my primary care doctor.

Within a few hours of taking my kids to the pediatrician, I used my doctor’s office online system to send an email to my nurse practitioner.  I told her the symptoms I was beginning to have as well as letting her know that one of my kids had the flu and the other was also ill.  I am immune suppressed  due to my medication so I knew getting the flu would NOT be a good situation and potentially dangerous.  She started me on a preventative course of Tamiflu and let me know what symptoms to watch out for and when to get back in touch with her.  I also made sure to take my over the counter medication regularly and not get behind on fever or pain medication. And I’ll be 100% honest and say that I am NOT a good medication-taker- the fact that I even took the OTC medicine is a credit to my husband.  Also of note- he makes a really good cup of hot tea with honey. 🙂

3.  I had help. 

My husband is a trooper.  He jumped right in and handled so much of the caretaking tasks on the days I was sick as well as the recovery time.  I had a sweet friend who sent over some food and both of our parents helped us out.  We also ordered a fair amount of takeout and cooked whatever was most convenient.  (Hello Chick Fil A!)

Ya’ll…this flu. It’s not pretty.

4. I knew the fatigue and pain would only be temporary.

After 5 days of having sick kids and being sick myself, I was exhausted.  Wedding events on Friday and Saturday, while fun, were also exhausting.  But I still had an amazing time and enjoyed every minute of my only sibling’s wedding. I had a plan in place to recover so I was able to push through and really enjoy myself instead of worrying about what I was going to do the next day.

Normally, if someone asked me how to avoid the consequences of overdoing it with multiple sclerosis I’d tell them to “just say no”.  Avoid the situation that causes the fatigue, do the minimum, or find ways to modify the activity.

But life doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes we just have to push through.  Sometimes we jump into the situation that’s going above what we can comfortably do.  In those moments, we realize the consequences and plan for them instead of running away.  Let the laundry and the cooking go and enjoy the things in life that are most important.  Like snuggling a sick kid or celebrating your sister’s wedding.   Those are things you’ll never regret!

The MS Chronicles: A Letter to My Pre-Diagnosis Self

Dear 25 year old Heidi,

Welcome to what will be the greatest and hardest year of your life.  You’ve just lost your grandmother and your dad’s death followed a week later.  I know you’re taking life one step at a time but yet still feeling like you’re barely making it.  On top of that, you’re dating this great guy but not sure how all that’s going to work out if your brand new neurologist doesn’t figure out what’s wrong with your brain.

Hiking at a state park in Georgia. I’m still not sure how I walked all those steps but I did!

I know it all started years ago with trouble walking.  This mysterious set of symptoms have come and gone for years but now they’re coming but not going.  You’ve finally found a neurologist who seems like he’s not going to give up on you and you’re hopeful that maybe this is the one.  The doctor who won’t think you’re crazy but that there’s actually something causing your numbness, pain, and trouble walking.

And he will.  He will figure it out.  He’ll do  MRI’s and spinal taps and he’ll come back with those two words you’ve heard for years- multiple sclerosis.  Your diagnosis will come six weeks after your wedding.  You and the new husband will learn all about auto injectors, disease modifying drugs, and the awful noise that the Rebif injector makes when you use it.  It won’t be easy.  But it won’t be the death sentence you imagined.

You’ll keep walking.  And falling. Even once you’ll fall head first into a clothes hamper.  But you’ll keep getting up.

Eventually, you’ll get through two pregnancies and while you’re busy growing those babies, the FDA will approve the first oral medications to treat multiple sclerosis.  The day you take that first pill instead of an injection, you’ll feel like you’ve won the MS lottery.

My first Walk MS event

Bad days will still come and they’ll be times where you’ll feel like they’re all bad days and no good ones.  You’ll battle fatigue, memory issues, and the intense South Carolina heat in August.

But you’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And remembering that God’s grace is sufficient. Just like it was yesterday, it will be enough for tomorrow.

Wedding photo cred:  Jacob Dean Photography

My freezer challenge is DONE!

*This post contains  affiliate links*

After weeks of eating only from my freezer and pantry, I finally went to the grocery store today!

Back at the beginning of January, my freezer looked like this-

Today it looked more like this-

I still have a little bit of food including several bags of pork tenderloin,  but overall it’s pretty empty! We’ve eaten much better than I originally thought and haven’t had any completely random meals.

I’ll also be making a big batch of apple butter and canning it soon with my bags of frozen apple slices.

The Instant Pot has been helpful for several recipes involving frozen chicken. Two of my favorites were a chicken and noodles recipe and a chicken Parmesan casserole- both were really yummy!

I didn’t save as much as I hoped but still came under well under budget. Most of what I bought this month were breakfast and lunch items- we seem to go through those much quicker than meat and dinner items!

Molasses Cookies for the freezer!
Taco Night
Breakfast for Dinner!

Now that my freezer isn’t empty anymore, I’ll be spending time over the next few weeks filling it with precooked ingredients and whole freezer foods! I’m looking forward to sharing some of the recipes soon!

Happy Grocery Shopping Day!

A Working Mom’s Laundry Routine (and why Thursdays are so important!)

Sometimes we plan for a new habit and struggle to have the self discipline to accomplish it.  For instance, we may need to get up earlier and decide to start setting our alarm for 15 earlier than usual.  Sometimes though we stumble upon a new habit and routine and it just works.  My laundry schedule is kind of like that for me.

As a working mom, most of my housecleaning and laundry chores have to be completed on the weekend.  It stinks but that’s just the reality of it.  I’ll tackle a few easy tasks during the week along with the regular sweeping, dishes, etc but the big things have to wait until the weekend.  The thing is that I’d rather spend quality time with my family on the weekend instead of washing clothes for 2 straight days.  Obviously this is a problem.

Please know that I’m far from a neat freak.  I don’t mop my floors often enough and I have a bad habit of leaving my shoes out for days.  Laundry, (while I don’t love it) I don’t mind it so much as long as I have a plan and feel a sense of accomplishment when its done.   Over the last few months I realized I’ve fallen into a rhythm/routine of doing laundry that has helped tremendously. There are a few specific things I’ve started doing that are helping this working mama not be completely overwhelmed when I’m doing the laundry.

Plan and Prep

So Thursdays.  A few months ago I realized that if I started prepping on Thursday for my weekend cleaning/laundry I’m in a much better frame of mind to get it accomplished.  So on Thursday afternoon, I pull out all the laundry I want to wash over the weekend and separate it into laundry baskets. If I have a line of laundry baskets staring me in the face on Friday morning, I’m much more likely to get a jump start on the task at hand. I also make a weekend to do list before I leave work on Fridays for all the work and home tasks that I need to get done.

My five year old adds her favorite two blankies to the laundry basket every.single.Saturday. 🙂

Order matters

Unless there’s some gigantic stain or mess that requires my immediate attention, I will almost always wash clothes in the same particular order- towels/kitchen linens, kid clothes, my clothes, Bobby’s clothes, and sheets.  There is a very simple reason for this- I start with the easiest and save the ones I don’t like for the end.  Towels and the girls’ clothes are fast and easy to wash, fold, and put away.  I finish those baskets and I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

Note:  I despise washing sheets.  Well, actually, I despise FOLDING sheets.  So I wait until I can’t put it off anymore.  That probably means something bad about my character, but I’ll  worry about that another day.

If I’ve prepped my laundry on Thursday, I will usually start with towels/kitchen linens on Friday morning or afternoon.  I plug through the rest of it in between whatever activities our family has going on that particular weekend.

Decide When to Stop

This is the hardest one for me.  Because I don’t have time during the week, I fight this urge to do ALL the laundry before Sunday night.  I can assure you this is a bad idea.  When I pull out my weekend laundry on Thursday, that’s ALL the laundry I’m doing that weekend.  If I get some unexpected time over the weekend, then I might try to wash the clothes we wore over the weekend, but that’s a rare event.  If I try to have everything clean, I’ll get frustrated and end up with a bunch of clean laundry sitting on my couch until Wednesday.  Since the girls pick out their clothes for the entire week on Sunday, there’s usually no need to wash anything of theirs until the next weekend. (And the grownups have enough clothes to make it through a week too). 🙂

Now if someone has some fantastic weekend cleaning schedule please let me know! (Or a robot that can pick up the shoes I leave behind- my husband would be eternally grateful!)

Sausage Freezer Breakfasts

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A few months ago, I read this post over at The Lazy Genius Collective, one of my favorites blogs.  It really made me think about the how, the what, and the why I feed my people what I do in the mornings.  Now, let me issue this disclaimer:  we do NOT sit down for a hot breakfast every day.  I’m way too lazy for that.

What I do have, however, is face to face time with my kids while they eat.  They eat and we chat while I pack lunches, eat my breakfast, and get them ready to walk out the door.  (Because my husband is AWESOME and takes them to school most mornings, this is our time before they head out)

But I’m lazy.  And I like to sleep.  Which can make breakfast a problem if I want my kids to eat at home and not eat Cheerios off the floor every day.

Freezer breakfasts are one of the things that keeps our mornings on schedule and helps me maintain some sanity during the week.  During the school year, I try to keep a decent amount of frozen breakfast items available for school mornings.  On any given school morning, my family generally has the choice of:

  • Pancakes/Waffles
  • Instant oatmeal packets
  • Cereal/Toast
  • Yogurt/Fruit
  • Sausage Muffins
  • Breakfast burrito pouches
  • Muffins (homemade or from a mix- already cooked and frozen)
  • Store bought freezer breakfast items…(I may or may not have a soft spot in my heart for Jimmy Dean pancakes on a stick- don’t judge!)

I had let my breakfast stash get pretty low recently so I used my unexpected snow days the other week to stock up on two of our favorites breakfast items- sausage muffins and breakfast burritos.  I grabbed two pounds of sausage from the grocery store but the rest of the ingredients were straight from my fridge, freezer, or pantry.

Speaking of breakfast burritos, let me jump on my tortilla soapbox for a moment.

I do NOT like frozen burritos.  By the time I nuke them in the microwave to get the inside warm, the tortilla itself is tough and disgusting.  I had always avoided making burritos for the freezer for this reason.  On a random Pinterest search one day, I came across the idea of freezing only the filling and I gave it a shot soon after.  Game changed, people.  Seriously.

Now I only freeze the filling for my burritos and we LOVE eating them for breakfast.

Another breakfast favorite of ours are sausage muffins.  They’re already cooked when frozen and can be warmed up in under of a minute.

So….onto my freezer breakfast cooking session……

I started by browning and draining two pounds of sausage.

Tip: When draining meat, put it in a strainer on top of a bowl. So much less messy and awkward!  Thanks to my fine motor issues from my MS, I have difficulty handling a large skillet when I need to drain or move food from one place to another.  This little hack helps me out so much!

While the sausage cooled, I washed and diced about 7 potatoes.  I boiled them until they were soft and then put them on a baking sheet to cool.  I also scrambled about 8 eggs (roughly one per packet of filling).  Be sure not to overcook the eggs because they’ll also cook a little bit more when you microwave them later. Add a pound (or roughly two cups cooked) of cooked sausage to the potatoes with the eggs in a separate container.  Let it all cool and add seasonings (salt, pepper, etc) to mixture as your tastes prefer.

(Peppers and onions would also be a great addition to the potato mixture, but the people I feed wouldn’t be so happy about that so I leave that out.)

 

While the burrito mixture is cooling, I moved on to my sausage muffins.  This is so simple that it should be a crime.  Really.

Take a pound of the cooked sausage, four beaten eggs, a cup of Bisquick baking mix, and a cup of cheddar cheese and mix it together.  Fill a greased muffin tin with the mixture and cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

The End.

See, I told you it was easy!

While my sausage muffins were cooking, I packaged up my burrito pouches.  I added a spoonful of the potato/sausage mixture to a sandwich bag, put a some of the scrambled eggs on top and topped it with a handful of cheese.  I also roll over the top of the bag so the mixture would freeze in a block shape.

My goal was to package the burritos before the timer went off for the sausage muffins and I even had time to clean up the kitchen before taking them out to cool!  Start to finish, I had both of these recipes ready for the freezer in about an hour.

Both recipes are also incredibly easy to reheat.  The burrito filling needs to be removed from the bag and warmed in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and then added to a warm tortilla. (My husband’s burrito secret is to put a tortilla on top of the filling for the last 20 seconds or so in the microwave.)  We also usually add extra cheese and taco sauce to ours. The sausage muffins take around 45 seconds-1 minute to warm depending on the number of them that you’re reheating.

Hopefully, this inspires you to create some freezer breakfast items for your family!  I promise it’s well worth the time and effort on those weekday mornings!

How my 1960’s Green Carpet is Teaching Me Contentment

We bought our brick ranch home about 5 years ago. Great neighborhood, great location, and we scored a pretty sweet deal on the asking price. When the inspector came before closing, he said he’d rarely seen a house so well maintained. We knew it was solid house in great condition. Except it had been well maintained since 1965.

Enter the green carpet.

The plush, thick, high end, meticulously maintained GREEN CARPET.   That’s in the living room and two bedrooms.

Y’all, it’s the bane of my existence. I have no words to accurately describe my dislike of my 1960’s green carpet. I’m not sure why the carpet bothers me more than the yellow tile in the bathroom or the Brady Bunch-like intercom boxes (for real, they’re in every room!) but it does.

So why don’t we just replace it?

We’ve committed to keeping it until we’ve saved enough to replace it with the type of flooring we want long term.  Replacing the carpet with hardwood could also require us replacing the flooring in several other rooms (so they’ll all match) and it would be an expensive and lengthy renovation.  So, the green carpet lives to see another day.  Truthfully, it’s probably going to live to see a WHOLE lot of days….

Anyway, so how does my disdain for the carpet teach me contentment?  

Because of this.

And this.

And this.

As I looked through the pictures I’ve stored online the other day, I realized how many moments the green carpet has been the backdrop for.

Because of the age of carpet (and it’s color), I don’t worry if it gets played on.

Or eaten on.

Or- ahem- anything else that young children might do to carpet.

So, in that way, my green carpet chills me out as a mom.  It doesn’t look anywhere as nice as it did on the day we moved but you know what?  We’ve lived on it!  It’s seen farm toys (because it’s perfect for a pretend horse pasture), playroom sleepovers (because it’s soft and comfy), and tons of family TV/movie nights.

Do I still want new carpet or hardwood?  Ummm…..yes a million times over!

Is it worth going into tons of debt over?  No.  Nada. No way.

Is it something I should apologize over every time someone comes in my house?  No- because you’re probably secretly glad I don’t care when you kid spills something on it! 🙂

My carpet is just one little aspect of my life where I feel like the Lord is teaching me patience and contentment.  To wait on Him, to not wish my kids’ childhoods away, and to be diligent with the resources he’s provided.

What are YOU learning to be content about?

A tale of meatloaf and leftover chicken

This past weekend, I was pretty much out of commission. Other than a Saturday morning trip to urgent care, I pretty much kept myself and my nasty sinus infection contained in the house. My sweet husband cooked and cleaned on Saturday and even cooked another meal of tenderloin from our post- Christmas stash.

By Sunday morning, I was feeling better but not feeling like cooking a big meal yet. In the freezer I found a bag of four mini meat loaves (meatloaf frozen in a muffin tin but uncooked) and four bone-in chicken thighs. Neither was enough for a full meal but I figured we could piece meal (pun intended) together enough for a decent lunch for the four of us. (Even though I really just wanted to text my husband and have him bring home takeout after church!)

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But I resisted the temptation for takeout and pulled out my trusty Instant Pot.

Seriously, I love this thing! I threw the four completely frozen chicken thighs (because I am not feeling well enough to plan ahead) in with a couple of cups of water and cooked on high pressure for 25 minutes. While it was cooking, I took the four muffin tins meatloaves and put them in a greased muffin tin and cooked at 350 degrees for roughly 30 minutes (until cooked through).

So back to my chicken- when it finished in the instant pot, I took it out, shredded it, and added my favorite BBQ sauce and warmed it up in the oven with my meatloaf.

So what did we end up eating for lunch this past Sunday? The shredded chicken was added to slider buns (also from the freezer) for mini BBQ sandwiches for my husband and myself and the girls ate meatloaf with leftover mashed potatoes from the previous night’s tenderloin dinner. Add in some leftover side dishes from the fridge, chips, and fruit and you’ve got yourself a meal!

While it was far from a gourmet meal, it was frugal, from the freezer, and easy to prepare. As I head into this last week or so of my freezer challenge, our meals are going to get a bit more “random” and require more creativity on my part. But when I use my extra grocery money to restock my freezer, it’ll totally be worth it!

Freezer Pancakes

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We had a couple of inches of snow last week and in the south that means one thing- multiple days out of school! (I know you Northerners probably think that’s crazy but alas, it’s true.) So I used my unexpected days out of work to stock my freezer with several easy breakfast foods.

My first (and easiest) freezer food was simply extra pancakes from today’s breakfast. Use whatever pancake recipe you want, double or triple your recipe, and freeze it.

After we ate breakfast and all the extra pancakes had cooled, I put them in a single layer on my favorite baking sheet and flash froze them for about an hour.

After they were frozen just enough, I put them in a gallon sized bag and labeled it. Again, you whatever recipe you want (I usually just make Bisquick pancakes). When you’re ready to eat them, take whatever amount of pancakes you want and reheat in a toaster or microwave.

I also freeze waffles the same way. The key is just to flash freeze them so they won’t stick together when you take them out of the bag. Freezer pancakes are definitely one of our favorite ways to eat a hot breakfast in a hurry,

What are your favorite easy breakfasts?

The MS Chronicles: Cognitive Issues and Multiple Sclerosis

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years ago, my worst fear was not being able to walk.  I imagined a life of mobility issues, walking canes, and wheelchairs.

The starting line for my first ever Walk MS event

I never expected having to avoid hot summer day or ration my energy to make it through a day. To the pre-diagnosis me, multiple sclerosis was completely a gross motor issue.  Over the years I’ve learned that’s far from real life with this disease.   I’ve learned that if you talk to five people with MS, they’ll have five completely different stories and sets of symptoms. Thankfully, my MS is mild at this point and the chances are high that I’ll continue to live a full and reasonably active life,  for which I’m immensely grateful for.  Even in the past ten years, treatments for MS have become much better and I’m optimistic that will continue.

The symptoms of MS I didn’t expect to deal with were the cognitive impairments that come along with it.   On a daily basis I battle symptoms like forgetfulness, difficulty finding my words when speaking, and my processing speed. I’m a natural planner with very strong Type A personality tendencies.  Those personality traits have been useful as I navigate the cognitive issues that have come along with my disease. 

The good news is that over the years I’ve also developed a couple of strategies that allow me to function both at work and at home without too many issues.

Strategy 1:  WRITE it DOWN!  

There is no way I could live without writing things down.  I need reminders for even the most automated tasks.  (Yet another reason for me to use my bullet journal!)  I write to-do lists for home and work along with making digital and written reminders for phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send, or even questions I need to ask my husband when he gets home.

Crossing the finish line at my first Walk MS with my daughter and husband- a moment I won’t ever forget!

Strategy 2: Give yourself wait time

As a teacher, “wait time” is an important task when we ask a student a question.  Basically, it’s the idea that we don’t demand a response from a student immediately but give them time to process.

It’s also something I have to give myself, especially when someone asks ME a question.  For example, let’s say my husband asks me what time we need to leave to get to a certain event or a student asks me a question about a reading passage.  While that sounds like a simple question to answer (and I probably know the answer), many times my brain simply will not have the words to answer immediately.  It seems like forever but if I simply stop, look at him in the face (or even close my eyes for a second) and process what he’s asking me I can formulate a accurate answer.  Many times those cognitive issues become worse when I get overwhelmed or overstimulated so whatever I can do to calm myself and not get frustrated is always helpful.

Strategy 3:  Give grace (to yourself and those around you)

My forgetfulness is frustrating to me.  It’s also frustrating to those around me.  Give yourself grace when you might use the wrong words and embarrass yourself.  Give grace to those who may get annoyed with you when you do forget something or can’t remember their name. It’s going to happen.  But tomorrow will be a new day.  And new days should always be celebrated!