Here’s the thing about surprises: I’m not so great with them. When it comes to surprises for myself, you’d better hope it is actually that — a surprise. I don’t do so well when I know something’s coming, but can’t be told what it is. (And by “don’t do so well,” I mean that I will bug you incessantly and you will end up regretting everything.) I only like surprises if I am genuinely, completely caught off guard.

And when it comes to pulling off surprises of my own? Well, I like to talk a lot. Things sometimes slip out.

But when they’re important, they never do.

This past weekend, we pulled off one important, wonderful surprise for my best friend.

I headed to Colorado for a work trip, which Jen was well aware of. We’d already planned it out: I’d go to my event in the Springs, she’d pick me up at the airport afterwards, and we’d spend the weekend together doing all of the autumnal things.

Little did she know, we’d have someone else with us.

Our friend Makenzie — Jen’s best friend since high school, and my subsequently “good friend” 😉 — has been in Spain all summer. She and Jen hadn’t seen each other since January.

So, naturally, we had to get them back together.

Guys, I was shaking by the time Makenzie got to the Denver airport. I was so nervous that, for some reason or another, this wouldn’t work out. There were a lot of moving parts, after all: I’d fibbed to Jen and said I had a client dinner that would keep me from getting back to the Denver airport until 9:30 that night (in reality, I’d been sitting at the airport since my shuttle from the Springs got me there at six); Jen said she was heading to the airport before Makenzie’s flight even touched down; we’re all connected on Find My Friends so there was always the chance she’d look and catch on. I was fidgety and nervous and excited and anxious, all at once.

And then, we totally pulled it off:

Naturally, once it was discovered that we had an extra member of our little crew that weekend, our plans shifted a bit. A pumpkin patch first became brunch, then became s’mores, then became a fall festival in a trendy alleyway in downtown Denver. The barre class Jen and I planned on taking got pushed back a day and was also Makenzie’s first introduction to the workout. We discovered the glory of cinnamon-sugar donut bites, and the unfortunate irritation of bad service when you’re waiting for brunch and hungry. (In case you’re wondering – Jelly Cafe has amazing food, but don’t go when it’s busy.)

But most of all, we reunited.

And honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered what we did. We could have sat on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother all day, petting the dogs and eating pickled green beans and we would have been completely content. (Oh wait – we did do that…)

All that mattered is that we pulled it off.

And it was one of the best weekends we could have asked for.

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[Special shout out to Quinn, for knowing about it the entire time and not saying a word, and willingly giving up the entire ground floor of his house for the weekend.]

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Cheers until next time, Denver.

Like most girls in their mid-twenties I am, basically and unabashedly, in love with the season autumn.

However, living smack-dab in the Sonoran desert doesn’t exactly offer a bunch of puddles to splash in or leaves to pile up to add to the autumnal atmosphere.

Thankfully, there’s Target to help combat that. And, thankfully part 2, pumpkin patches still exist in the desert (but – and this question is directed at anyone who owns, or knows someone who might own, a pumpkin patch… are they grown here? Are they imported in? However they get to the Valley of the Sun, I appreciate it.)

If you, like me, live in a place where the leaves don’t actually change and drinking a pumpkin spice latte seems a little odd with temperatures as warm as they are (here’s looking at you, Southern California), I’ve rounded up some ways the fully fall for fall, if you will:

1. Embrace the pumpkin candles. 

I’ll start with the obvious here. Scent is one of our strongest human senses, and has the power to bring about a plethora of emotions. That cozy feeling of fall is one of them. I’m just saying – the Bath & Body Works fall line is not just hype; it really adds to the atmosphere of things, even when it’s eighty degrees outside.

2. Hey, find some hay! 

No matter where you’re at, fall activities will indeed, inevitably, pop up. I’m sure even Hawai’i has a corn maze or two this time of year. Whether it’s a full-on fall festival, complete with said corn maze and turkey legs and what have you, or just a pumpkin patch on the corner of an intersection, a little hay goes a long way.

3. Movie marathon. 

One of the best things about fall is that it’s the start of the generally festive time of year — and there’s a movie for every moment. Halloween, Thanksgiving, general, golden-leaf loveliness: it’s a romantic setting overall, and makes for a wonderful movie backdrop. So light that pumpkin candle and pop some popcorn for an all-night autumn extravaganza. Personally, I suggest You’ve Got Mail, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus (duh)and, of course, Remember the Titans. (Before you argue with me on that last one, football season is in the fall…)

4. Road trip! 

Even if you are a desert dweller, chances are, drive a couple hours in one direction or another, and you can find a place where fall actually does exist. For us, it’s only an hour, hour and a half tops, to the nearest trace of foliage. So if you have a free day, hop behind the wheel and go to where the temperature drops and the trees change colors.

5. Find a fall menu. 

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to gorge yourself on seasonal root vegetables and freshly baked pies. Granted, as much as I love baking, I usually actually do save the pies for Thanksgiving (you can’t beat my cousin’s apple crumble… as long as I don’t pick all the crumble off pre-dinner). Ramble aside, I do love a good seasonal recipe. Pinterest has a wealth of them, and hopefully, you don’t end up on the Pinterest fails hashtag, like I am prone to do.

Combine any pick of these 5 things with a splurge in the dollar section at Target, and I guarantee you’ll be feeling the fall festive spirit. And once you’re in it… it’ll be time to start blasting the Christmas music 😉

*raises apple cider mug* Cheers!

To state the obvious: Phoenix is a hot place.

(I’ll interject here to point out the irony that I am actually writing this blog on a rainy, cool October day. But I digress.)

Besides the weather, Phoenix is also a simmering spot for cuisine. It seriously seems like there’s a new restaurant popping up on every corner. We’re a city full of patios, bar games, and delicious, indulgent food.

The Porch in Arcadia brings together the best of all three.

Recently, I had the opportunity to head to The Porch and try out a few new menu items.

First off, let’s talk the space itself. If you’ve never been to The Porch and are looking for a great place for a Sunday Funday, I’d recommend it. There’s cornhole, a slew of big televisions, and pool tables and skee ball in the back. Safe to say, no matter what you’re into, you won’t be bored.

Also, it’s so Instagrammable. As a blogger, you know that I know the importance of that feature. 😉

However, I’d suggest a rideshare, or at the very least carpooling. There isn’t much parking, but I have a hunch that might be designed that way on purpose. When you sell such delicious libations, limiting parking for the sake of safety might be a wise choice.

Speaking of delicious libations, take your pick off their menu. You simply can’t go wrong.

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The fig mule? Refreshing, and not overly figgy, which, for me, was plus. The “My Ex-Wife’s Secret”? A hilarious name and a delicious drink.

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The “Big Trouble in Little Shanghai”? Well, it comes in a takeout carton, so that should tell you how fun it is. Also, it’s made with RedBull, which I’m not a fan of, but you can’t taste it. Or, more dangerously, the alcohol. It’s basically a grown up Capri Sun.

Whatever drink you get, you can pair it with a number of menu items. While I didn’t have them during my most recent video, I can confirm that the fries are top notch. However, I got to get a little taste of some potentially new menu items, which offers a strong promise of what’s to come:

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The black & white Ahi poke was divine. Granted, it does feel a little weird to be having poke at a place that you’re meant to be up and about at, playing bar games and lingering with pals, but the dish was good nonetheless. I’ve never had poke with beets in it, but I have to say – I’ll be having it with beets much more often.

The chicken stir fry, also not on the menu yet, was good. However, be prepared for a bit of a bang for your buck. It’s quite spicy.

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The salmon salad was, hands down, my absolute favorite. I’m keeping all of my fingers and toes crossed that it makes its way to the menu because, if it doesn’t, I’ll have to track down the chef and ask for the recipe.

Oh – and don’t forget the donut holes!

My only disclaimer – besides the parking and the spice – is that you shouldn’t be in a hurry when you come here. The service is leisurely… which gives you more time to enjoy all the takeout-carton drinks you desire, I suppose.

Needless to say, I’ve been a little quiet on the faith front lately. This isn’t intentional, or really significant of anything other than being just plain busy.

Just. Plain. Busy.

Or at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. That’s how I’ve been justifying it.

But that’s not really it, is it? Busyness is an excuse. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. And more than that, it’s a vice. An idol. It’s one of my worst ones, actually. I can prioritize anything over my relationship with the Lord if I try hard enough — we all can.

I mean, take this very blog post for instance! It’s my first Testimony Tuesday in over a month, and in the last one, I was talking about how I’ve been struggling with juggling life, church, and everything else. And yet, nothing changed.

Okay, I won’t say nothing. I’m going to give myself a sliver of credit and note that I caught myself slacking on the faith front, and that should count for something, shouldn’t it?

But again, I’m justifying. beyond that, I might even be rambling, so for that, poor dear readers, I apologize.

The point of this post was not to ramble about my own lack of prioritizing. The point was, quite simply, to share an excerpt of a devotional I read recently, one which touched me, and called me to open my eyes to how I’m viewing the world. Am I viewing it through rose-colored glasses, or God’s prescription? And when my vision is blurred, am I even aware of it?

With a new lens prescription, it can take time for your eyes to adjust. A change in spiritual vision can take time, too, and you might find yourself slipping back to old ways of acting, or thinking. When that happens, remind yourself that God has given you a new way to see the world, and He has enabled you to recognize His presence and His love in your life. What a beautiful difference! – from “He Restores My Soul, 365 Daily Devotional”

These words were so, incredibly comforting to me. I read them on a day I was being particularly hard on myself for letting life get in the way of God’s love for me, and of learning to see that love evermore clearly. But the truth is, what the devotional says is right: it takes time to adjust. It takes time to open your heart in the first place, so opening the rest of yourself to God’s love can be just as slow going too. We are not called to be perfect, after all. We are called to love.

And how lucky are we that He loves us, even in moments where we cannot see so well!

For now we see in a mirror dimly,

but then face to face.

Now I know in part;

then I shall know fully,

even as I have been fully known.

– 1 Corinthians 13:12

We only know in part now, and that is okay. We are called to continue learning, continue growing, and continue loving.

For now, my focus is on exactly that: refocusing. I’m working to spend time each morning, reading my devotional and connecting with God, instead of rushing straight into the business of this earthly world. I’m allowing myself to recenter, without reprimanding myself for doing so, because how is that as forgiving as our Lord is?

Short answer: it’s not.

My hope for you is that if you’re in a place like me, where balance isn’t necessarily within reach, you’re allowing yourself to take a time out and do what you need to do to once again even the scales. I pray you allow yourself time to refocus. More often than not, that’s all we need to, once again, see clearly.

If you’ve been following along for any substantial amount of time, you’ll know two things about me:

  1. My mother and I are Lorelai and Rory. Or Donna and Sophie. Or whatever combination of extremely close, best-friends-level mother and daughter duo you want to insert there. She’s my rock, to put it simply.
  2. Tahoe is my (our) happy place.

So, naturally, combining these two things — my mom, and that magical mountain lake, namely — gave way to the sweetest five days I’ve had pretty much all year.

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Now, I won’t lie to you. There was a part of me that was, admittedly, a little nervous about going back to the lake. I hadn’t been since the very last Christmas we spent up there, the year my grandparents sold their condo. That condo was like a second home to me, something that remained unwaveringly consistent, no matter what happened. While I understood the reasons behind selling it, that hardly made it less heartbreaking. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single member of my family that isn’t still a little sad about it, but honestly, I think that’s a good thing. It’s a sign of a loved, cherished, life-altering place, and that’s exactly the kind of place Number 14 was.

Still, for some reason, I was a little antsy about it.

Mostly excited, though. The boy can attest to this (and so can pretty much anyone else I saw in the weeks leading up to the trip). I barely talked of anything else. One thing, and one thing only, was getting me through the crazy couple of weeks that preceded the trip to Tahoe: that being, of course, the trip itself.

And, as I expected, the second I saw those crystal blue waters, any nervousness I did have dissipated quicker than a sand castle in high tide.

I was home.

My mother and I rented a condo a few down from ours, one that my family has stayed in many times before, particularly when a big crowd at Christmas caused overflow in Number 14. The boys couldn’t make the trip, so it was just the two of us… which, frankly, was perfect (no offense, boys).

Where We Ate

Food is a big part of Tahoe for us. We frequent a plethora of places, to the point where we know, and have coffee with, the people who work there.

Lanza’s

img_1498This, of course, is the place where we know everyone so well, and it’s also the number one spot I recommend whenever anyone says they’re staying on the North Shore. You can’t go wrong with the garlic bread, the salad (extra gorgonzola), and the eggplant parmigiana. In fact, you so can’t go wrong with it to the point where my mom and I have ordered that for so long, our waitress, the sweetest woman on the earth, knows our order by heart… and put it in before we even sat down, it feels like. Oh, how we love and cherish this family joint.

Jake’s on the Lake

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Another iconic Tahoe spot, nestled in the sadly fledgling Boatworks mall. (Is there someone I can speak to about starting a petition to revitalize the Boatworks? This is a serious inquiry. I’ll back that initiative.) Still, Jake’s boasts a beautiful view of the marina, all glass walls facing the water, and, perhaps best of all, Kimo Pie! Of course, my grandfather wasn’t there and my mom is allergic to macadamia nuts, so I didn’t enjoy the latter, but I did have a delicious pair of crab cakes and they brought me a bowl of ice cream with a candle in it once we told them it was a — very — belated birthday celebration. Oh… and we tried something new this time, something we dreamt about for days afterwards… Baked. Brie. Do I even need to say anything else about it? Didn’t think so.

Gar Woods 

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This one is, yet again, a tradition. You just can’t beat their zucchini sticks, their fish tacos, or their view. Their deck is literally as iconic as their Wet Woody cocktails, as it’s the perfect place to sit and enjoy the latter. We got lucky, too, and the weather was absolutely perfect as we lounged and drank and ate and drank some more. The weather is a good thing, too, because responsible citizens that we are, we utilized the TART bus system for the very first time in our entire lives (Ubers are few and far between at the lake). We thought it was a genius idea… until, of course, the bus home was over an hour late! So what did we do? Well, what any sensible person would… we walked home. The full 2.6 miles, through the construction zone.

Hey, like I said, the weather was perfect.

What We Did 

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Let me preface this with a disclaimer: we weren’t there to do much. We were there to relax, to stare at the glorious blue water that stretches out from the end of the pier, to reminisce, to bond, and to drink a lot of wine. However, one of my mom’s favorite things to do is kayak, and I’m a pretty big fan of paddling, too, so we took advantage of our rental’s boats and the couple of not-so-windy mornings. There’s something about sitting atop a still lake, looking back at the September shores, which are decidedly less crowded than the summer ones. It’s simultaneously peaceful, powerful, and perfect.

Besides that, we walked a lot. We had to, with all that baked Brie we were eating. 😉

And we read. We’re both avid readers — being raised by a bookworm tends to make you one, too, oddly enough — and there’s nothing better than sitting by the water with a good book. Now, I let my mother read a particularly special book, but more on that later.

Each night, we’d take our happy hour to where we spent most of our day… the deck. We’d sit out there as long as the sun and the wind allowed it, before the temperature dipped below what even the most warm blooded Arizonan can handle. (Or maybe it’s cold blooded? I’m not particularly knowledgeable about reptiles.)

We’d enjoy dinner — which, after lunches the size of what we ate at Jake’s and Gar Woods, was often just popcorn, hummus, and salad — and watch a movie. Or, rather, I’d talk through one while my mom tried to watch. Whoops.

We’d last as long as the wine did, say our goodnights, and sleep so well in the Tahoe beds. There’s something about the mountain air that makes sleep so, so much more restful.

Each morning, I woke up a little after my mom, we put on a pot of coffee, and read our books until it was warm enough to brave the water or relocate to the porch to start the whole day over again.

It was, in a word, perfect.

And, frankly, it was harder than ever to come home.

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So, thank you, Lorelai/Donna/Mamma. I know I’ve said this a million times before, but I also have no doubt you’re reading this, too. Thank you for the most perfect return to our happy place. I can’t wait for so many, many more.

Ladies, I think we can all agree that some of our best times are spent with our best girls. However, sometimes (or, all the time, if you’re notoriously indecisive, like myself), figuring out how to get some quality gal pal time in can be a bit tricky. There’s just so many options — which, oddly enough, tends to feel like there’s nothing to do at all!

So in the spirit of helping out all my other can’t-make-a-decision-to-save-our-lives readers, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite ways to GNO (or in!) like a total pro. No matter the budget, time, or preferences of your squad, any of these are guaranteed to be filled with lots of laughter and plenty of bonding.

Paint & Sip Classes

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These are all over Instagram these days, and with good reason! You don’t have to be Picasso or Monet to have a blast attempting to recreate whatever masterpiece you and your friends have chosen. Add in a few of your favorite sips, and you’re guaranteed to at least spend a lot of time laughing, even if your actual painting doesn’t turn out exactly like you thought it would. (My pro tip on this one – be careful with how much wine you drink if you want to have any hope of making something decent. My cornhole skills might get better the further into our cabin’s Labor Day block party we get… my painting skills… not so much.)

If you’re in the Phoenix area, I’d highly recommend Pinot’s Palette, in Gilbert!

Budget friendly alternative: Host a paint night yourself! Canvases and acrylics aren’t too expensive at your local craft store, and we all know that a bottle of wine at the store is the same price as one glass at a bar. You can find stencils and tutorials for just about any masterpiece online! Just be careful where you do the painting — outside might be best.

Movie Night 

There’s something about keeping it traditional – a chick flick, some popcorn, and your best gal pal. Now, movie theaters are stepping it up and allowing you to get the whole dinner-and-a-movie experience in one place. At the Studio Movie Grill, they’ve got an assortment of delicious dinner choices (personally, I recommend the flatbread) and table service during the latest films.

Budget friendly alternative: Turn on the Netflix, order a pizza, and pop some prossecco or sparkling cider to keep it festive! Netflix released some killer chick flicks over the summer. There’s nothing wrong — in fact, there’s everything right — with binge watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Sierra Burgess is a Loser for the eighteenth time.

Dressed Up Dessert

I don’t know about you, but I love finding a good excuse to get dressed up, and I don’t have nearly enough reasons. But if you feel like splurging, it sure is fun to put on some heels and hit a swanky restaurant (personally, I’m a fan of the resort restaurants) for a glass of something bubbly and a decadent dessert. Indulge your sweet tooth and give your favorite dress some time out of the closet all at the same time.

Budget friendly alternative: Go in the complete opposite direction and make homemade ice cream sundaes in your PJs! It’s just like middle school — only, without the catty comments and awkward phases, thank goodness.

Wine & Cheese 

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This one’s a classic, and for a good reason. And, if you know me, this is my top recommendation for girls night basically every time, because I just can’t pass up a good charcuterie board. The best part is, there’s tons of places in town that offer their stellar cheese boards on special for happy hour! (Check out my post on the happiest hours in Phoenix for some of my top local recommendations.)

Budget friendly alternative: Make your own! Places like Trader Joes’ offer excellent cheese options, and addictive crackers to go with it, all at a wallet-friendly price. The best part of making your own cheese board, too, is getting to decide exactly what goes on it — which, for me, would just be Brie, Brie, and some more Brie.

Do It For The ‘Gram

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Who doesn’t love a good photoshoot? Instagram exhibits are all the rage these days, so grab your gals and head to something like the Art of Ice Cream Experience, where not only can you indulge in all the sweet treats you could possibly desire, but you’ll get some great candids out of it too, perfect for showing off what a great girls night you had to all of your followers! (Because, you know, that’s important these days… says the blogger.)

Budget friendly alternative: Insta-worthy museums can have a price tag, but a plain old wall and your iPhone certainly don’t! Grab some props, whether it’s cheap photobooth mustaches from the Dollar Spot, or your fave stuffed animal that we all know sits on your bed, and stage your own shoot! You’ll have just as many silly shots, and hardly spend a cent!

No matter where you go or what you do, though, the most important thing is that you’re spending some solid time with your best friends… cheers to that!

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Guys, I had a plan for September. I had it all laid out — every blog post, every media event, every photoshoot I wanted to squeeze in. I was ready to dive into this blog again headfirst, after the August craziness that always comes with my birthday.

That said, it’s now the twenty-first of September (I’m noting that, just in case I don’t end up getting this post up until much, much, later), and I’m just now sitting down to blog. Not only that, but this particular post was definitely not on my editorial calendar.

And yet, I think it’s a pretty important one.

Needless to say, as you can see by that sorrowful schpiel above, this month has gotten away from me. My friend Nicole actually called me last night and we both spend a few seconds in awe of the fact that not only is it the ninth month of the calendar year… we’re more than halfway through it. Aside from the general panic that causes me about the upcoming end-of-the-year events (holidays, travel, potentially moving), it’s also just amazing to me that this month has flown by so quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a fantastic month. I got up to the cabin, I puppy-sat for my brother and sister-in-law as they took their babymoon, my best friend came to town, the boy passed the first phase of his CPA exam (praise!), I got to work yet another rewarding work event, my mom and I took the best Rory/Lorelai trip to Tahoe (more on that later, I promise), and my little niece was born.

Seriously, it’s been a great month.

But even in the midst of spectacular seasons like this one, I often find myself caught up in it all and, as the hype begins to wind down and things settle back into a more normal routine, I tend to find myself feeling a little, well, blue.

It’s not that I’m not appreciative. I’m so, incredibly grateful for the opportunities to live a life so full, and I thank God every day for it. It’s just that, as I transition back to “real life,” so to speak, it can feel a little… anticlimactic.

It’s in seasons such as this that I rely heavily on self-care. I know myself well enough by now — I hope — to know when I’ve run myself a little too thin, and usually, this heaviness is a key symptom of that.

So, I know it’s time to take a step back and take some time to reflect, reevaluate, and, more importantly, relax. In the spirit of doing so, I wanted to share my key elements of self-care this September:

A regular routine. Oddly enough, I thrive on routine. I like to know what’s coming next — it keeps me calm, and lets me feel on top of things. That means planning out my weeks to the best of my ability, including time allotted for workouts, errands, blogging, and reading (yes, I plan out my reading time and yes, I know that’s weird).

Hit the gym. This is a big one for me, and I know it is for a lot of people. I feel all out of sorts if I’m not exercising regularly. My anxiety and stress levels skyrocket, I’m irritated, and I generally just don’t feel my best. Which is why, these past few mornings, I’ve taken advantage of working from home and dragged myself out of bed an hour early to go running — it helps, of course, that Arizona has suddenly decided that autumn can, temporarily, be a thing.

Sit still. I’m terrible at this. Ask anyone. Unless it’s on a beach with a book, sitting still isn’t my strongest point, but I know it’s important. Even if it’s sitting still as I read, binge watch something on Netflix, or sleep, it’s the stillness that’s important.

Go to church. It’s so easy for me to fall out of the habit of going to church when life gets busy. I adjust my priorities, and my spiritual health takes the hit as a result. But I know it’s important to get that structured time with the Lord, to gather an outside perspective on what’s happening, and to spend time in my church community. When I’m not doing that, I don’t feel quite right, which is why it’s always at the top of my self-care to do list.

Cry it out. Okay, yeah, so I’m one of those people who sometimes just has to release it all, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Crying is just as much of a release as anything, and while it can sometimes be embarrassing to walk back into the office with my eyes rimmed and my makeup gone, it also, 9 times out of 10, feels so much better once I’m stopped holding it in. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not professional to cry sometimes. Who cares? It’s still human. 

That said, I’m taking this weekend to do all of these things — readjust my routine, get some good workouts in, sit still for a while, go to church and, who knows, maybe even cry a little, even if it’s just at a sad part in my book (and I’m reading Les Mis… everything is sad in that). We’ll see how it goes.

What are your self care rituals? Whatever they are, I hope you take some time to indulge in them.

Remember, even when it’s so easy to run around taking care of everyone else, it’s just as important to take care of you.