Winter of Love Challenge

Let’s spread some love this winter!  Recently, I’ve counted my blessings more than usual.  I’ve been frequently reminded that I have so, so, SO much to be thankful for.  There’s something about reflecting on my gratitude that inspires me to give, be nicer, and spread happiness.

With a whole lot of gratitude in my heart this morning, I stopped at Quick Check en route to school to grab a coffee.  Before heading in I declared, “I’m paying for someone else’s purchase today.”  I’ve heard about other people doing this but never actually tried it myself.  Strangely, I was a bit nervous before walking in.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe I was concerned my gesture would be taken offensively, but I decided to go for it anyway.  When I approached the counter to pay, I asked the cashier to take my $20 bill and pay for however many people she could until the money ran out.  I’m not sure how many purchases it covered, but it really doesn’t matter.  I just hope it put a smile on a face or two, as it did mine, and maybe even inspired someone else to spread a little love.  So my morning events lead me to this…

The Summer of Love Project presents… The Winter of Love Challenge!  In honor of all we’re grateful for, let’s spread love this season through acts of kindness.  Our good deeds don’t have to be over-the-top.  Simple, caring gestures can go a long way.  Simply post a picture or description (or both) of your random act of kindness and tag 3 friends to spread the love and do the same.  Copy and paste this paragraph along with your act of kindness.  Use the hashtags #summerofloveproject and #winteroflovechallenge to track the good deeds and see the love spread and grow (posts should be “public” for others to view).  Here’s to another season of love!

Happy winter, friends!

Love,

Taryn

A Tribute to Pop

Last Monday, August 15, the world lost a most magnificent man, William Lupinacci, Sr., a.k.a. my Pop.  As a United States Marine veteran who served in World War II and a lifelong member of the rescue squad, my pop loved to serve his country and his community.  He was an amazing father, husband, and grandfather and a selfless giver and wonderful role model to all.  I’m fortunate to have had him as my friend and grandfather, and I hope to continue to spread love in his honor.  As I sit here in my “summer office” on this beautiful day, the sun is shining, the warm breeze is rustling the leaves on the trees, and I can’t help but feel my Pop and his love all around me.

I’d like to share a slightly modified version of the eulogy I read at the wake on Thursday.  If you know my Pop’s sense of humor, you may understand why I had to tweak it a bit for the sake of appropriateness.  Although words can’t really describe how awesome my Pop was and how much I love him, I tried my best.

In the wake of my Pop’s passing, my sister and I have tried to imagine life without him, and it’s nearly impossible.  How do you imagine life without someone you’ve been so close to since the day you were born?  We can’t imagine walking up my parents’ driveway without seeing Pop working on his birdhouses or baking in the sun.  We can’t imagine not hearing my Mema and Pop singing through the wall at my parents’ house.  We can’t imagine waking up on Thanksgiving morning without smelling Pop’s cooking and sitting at the counter as he drinks champagne while stuffing the turkey.  We can’t imagine knocking on his door without hearing, “Come in if you’re good lookin’!”  We simply can’t imagine creating new family memories without him, and that makes us sad.
 
But after digging through old boxes of photos over the last few days, not only have I been flooded with some of the fondest memories with my Pop, dating back to when I was a toddler, but I was also reminded of how full his life was, how fun his life was, and how a lot of that fun was because of his brilliant sense of humor.  After hearing a number of stories from my Mema and Pop over the years, it’s clear that Pop was always the life of the party, the center of attention.  He knew life was to be lived and he did just that.  He turned any dull, ordinary gathering into a lively event.  He turned soda cans into shoes and would tap around the house.  He turned water hoses into sprinklers.  He often turned frowns into smiles.  He loved to spread his joy to everyone he knew.  His jokes were hilarious and, often times, a little shocking, and the pictures hanging in his garage clearly showcase this.  But it was all for a good belly laugh, and I’m sure many of us have shared a good laugh with Pop at some point.  His sense of humor never failed, and he continued with his jokes up until the very end.      
 
Not only was Pop funny, but he was so genuinely kindhearted, accepting, and loving of all people, which can be rare for a man his age.  Words cannot adequately express just how good of a man my Pop was.  They also can’t express how grateful I am for his unwavering love and support over the years.  He helped teach me to stand up for what I believe in and follow my heart and intuition.  He was always one of my greatest fans and encouragers in life no matter what decisions I made.  He was, both literally and figuratively, at the sidelines cheering me on at every event that ever meant something to me.  He did this from childhood all the way up to my wedding only 6 months ago.  Not only did he cheer on Jabari and me that night, but he also cheered on all of my beautiful bridesmaids as they made their way down the aisle.  He made people feel good and put a smile on everyone’s face.  
He always let me know he had my back no matter what.  His unconditional acceptance and love accompanied by his amazing sense of humor helped us cultivate a real friendship as I got older.  I’m grateful to say my Pop was truly my friend.  I really mean that.  He wasn’t much of a phone talker, but I knew I could call him on his cell any time.  I could talk to my Pop about anything without feeling judged.  I could tell him secrets I knew he would always keep.  He just cared and wanted to listen, and if I sought his advice he would offer his feedback, sometimes after conferring with my dad first.  He was so good.  So genuine.  I only hope I was as good of a friend to him as he was to me. 
 
My bond with Pop is eternal, and I still feel his love right now.  It has occurred to me that I don’t really have to imagine life without Pop afterall because his memory, his goodness, and his soul will live on.  He’s probably sitting among us now, encouraging us all to laugh or throw a party in his honor.  He’ll be with us when we think of him or when we call on him.  When I attempt to make my first Thanksgiving turkey, I’m sure Pop will be right alongside me, probably cracking jokes.  He will live on.
 
The marines say Semper Fi which means always faithful.  And my Pop was always faithful.  He was also always a perfect grandfather, a great friend, and he will always be one of the brightest lights of my life.  
 
I love you, Pop.
Love,
Taryn
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I would also like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support after Pop’s passing.  You helped us during a difficult time, and you are truly appreciated.  We love you.
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The days in my “summer office” are numbered, as I’m heading back to school tomorrow to begin setting up my classroom.  While I’ll miss blogging outside in this perfect weather, I’m really looking forward to the new school year, being back with my colleagues, and meeting my new students!

The Value of Existence and Real Sugar

“You are valuable because you exist.  Not because of what you do, or what you have done, but simply because you are.” – Max Lucado

This quote hangs in the dining area at Elijah’s Promise, and I often read it as I set the tables.  I originally viewed these words as simply as they’re written.  A pick-me-up for those who feel lost on their journeys through life, or perhaps a happy reminder that one still matters even if he doesn’t have it all figured out.  My experiences at the soup kitchen this summer have made me consider this quote on a much deeper level.

When our house was under construction recently, Elijah’s Promise became more than just a workplace.  It became my happy place.  Upon entering the kitchen last Thursday, I was greeted by some new and some familiar smiling faces.  A few people asked about my morning and updated me on what I had missed earlier in the week.  My worries and cares immediately vanished just by engaging in a short conversation with my friends there.  That afternoon, I got lost in service and forming connections with others, an absolutely wonderful place to get lost.

Later that day, after another enjoyable shift of prepping, cleaning, distributing sandwiches, and getting to know fellow volunteers, a pleasant, older gentleman entered the soup kitchen as the dining room emptied.  He explained why he was late and hoped there were still sandwiches left from lunch time.  When I returned from the back of the kitchen with his bagged lunch, the man’s round eyes brightened, a fleeting reminder that love lives inside us all.  I was immediately overcome with complete gratitude for this man and the expression on his face.  He ate his sandwich quietly on his own, but I bumped into him again as we left for the day.

We exited together, and he mentioned how delicious the coffee is at the soup kitchen.  He thought it was a shame they didn’t have any real sugar left because “the artificial sweeteners ruin coffee.”  Ha!  If anyone knows about needing a proper cup of coffee, it’s me.  I immediately ran back inside to grab real sugar from the storage closet for his black coffee, and when I returned, he thanked me and told me I made his day.  At that moment, I wondered if this elderly man had any idea just how valuable he was to me.  I wanted to reply, “Your kind words rejuvenate me.  Your conversations bring me joy during a stressful time.  Your gratitude inspires me.  You are so much more valuable to me than you could ever imagine.”  But instead of risking scaring the man away, I replied, “You made my day too, sir.”  And that he did.

My energy and love are always restored after spending a few hours at Elijah’s Promise.  My experiences with everyone there have been incredibly valuable and life changing.  Thanks to the people I met along the way, I have not only learned a great deal about others, but I’ve also gained a better understanding of my own strength, compassion, empathy, and who I am.  I feel determined to continue learning and to love others and myself more every day.  Once again, I’m immensely grateful.

Love,

Taryn

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Love is Everywhere

Since the Summer of Love Project began, I’ve been making a personal, conscious effort to be grateful for the present moment no matter what it may be.  I’m a firm believer that everything happens exactly how it’s supposed to.  Each wonderful moment and trial brings me to where I should be in my journey, and each moment is valuable in some way.  Sometimes the most trying times lead to gained wisdom and allow for new-found strength to emerge.  I’ve been practicing constant gratitude, and it truly is a practice.  To be grateful for a perfect beach day, for experiencing a beautiful sunset, or for making new memories with friends and family is easy.  It comes naturally.  Finding gratitude amidst challenging, chaotic times can be a real test.

I had to take a small break from my “official” service projects to tend to some unexpected home improvement issues recently.  I’m thankful to say it was nothing major, a small hiccup really.  But it was a perfect time to continue my practice.  We had a pretty bad leak in our air conditioning, so our floors had to be replaced along with one of our walls.  During the process, we lost some personal belongings to water damage and mold.  Among them were my childhood memory boxes, letters, and old photographs.

Each night last week, as I went to sleep in the middle of our hot living room, I’d reflect on the day and try to find the good.  I’m embarrassed to say I considered throwing myself a pity party for a second or two, but then I remembered our awesome neighbor who was kind enough to make us dinner.  I thought about our good friends, Kristen and Mike, who after a long day at work, came to our rescue when we needed their help.  I remembered my cousin’s incredibly talented girlfriend, Sarah, who took time out of her busy schedule to help me create and decorate my new living room.  There were countless people in and out of our house over the course of the week working hard to repair the damage and quickly get our place looking better than before.  Everyone was so caring and generous, and we appreciate their love and support more than they know.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a roof over my head and so grateful to be surrounded by such love.  The goodness in people amazes me sometimes, and there is so much of it in the world.  Love is everywhere.  Even right now.  It all depends where we focus our attention, I suppose.

Yes, it does stink that I lost my pictures, but I’ll always have the memories.  I’ll just have to brush up on my storytelling if I plan to pass them down to my children and grandchildren.  I’m also happy to say that the last couple weeks have generated new, exciting, and some hilarious memories that Jabari and I will definitely be sharing with our kids one day.  My heart is so full, and everything really does happen for a reason.

Love,

Taryn

The Coleslaw Queen

In my last blog post, I mentioned that love is everything.  That’s my truth, and I believe it wholeheartedly.  Some might agree that food comes in a close second though, right?  For “foodies” like myself, many of our days revolve around thinking about our next meals, searching for recipes, following Instagram food pages, watching the Food Network, eating at top rated restaurants, drooling on our delicious desserts before inhaling them.  I’m not typically a mindful eater, as I’ve tried to be so many times.  I just get way too excited.  For example, I get home from school and stand as I pick at “a little bit of everything” in my kitchen.  Does it cross my mind how fortunate I am to have this food so readily available to me whenever I need to satisfy a craving?  Do I consider how I might feel if I couldn’t eat whenever I felt the tiniest hunger pain?  Am I truly grateful before, during, and after my meals?  I wish I could honestly answer “yes” to all of these questions, but I’d be lying.  Merely saying, “Mmmm, this is so good!” before scarfing down my meal does not signify genuine gratitude.  I’m sad to say I didn’t often consider the answers to these questions until yesterday.

While volunteering at Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, I was removed from my temporary bubble of oblivion.  I entered the soup kitchen without any expectation, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect at all.  When I arrived at 4, a couple hours prior to dinner being served, I was pleased to see the dining room set up like a cute cafe.  Delicious aromas permeated the air.  There were round and square tables and booths available for the guests, pretty pictures and signs hung on the walls, flowers adorned the tables, and the silverware was wrapped nicely in a napkin garnished with a colorful bow.  A few guests sat in the booths, snacking on sandwiches.  I spoke with some of the people in the dining area and met a few volunteers who also frequent the soup kitchen, all of whom knew it was my first time.  They quickly let me know what I should and should not do.  I was appreciative of their guidance.  I especially enjoyed helping a volunteer and military veteran, Will, set the tables for dinner.  He was so kind and welcoming.  He happily answered all of my questions and showed me the ropes.

It wasn’t long before I left my comfort zone with Will and the guests in the dining room and was guided into… dun, dun, DUUUNNN… the kitchen.  (Side note:  I’m only comfortable in industrial sized kitchens if I’m the eater.  That’s about it.)  I was not there to eat yesterday.  Fortunately, my nerves subsided when everyone, including the kitchen supervisor, was incredibly warm and supportive.  All of my jobs were modeled and done with me before I was left to do them on my own.  As a teacher, I’m usually on the other end of the scaffolding instruction, and I truly appreciated the supervisor’s use of such necessary techniques with me in the kitchen.  Her excellent instruction is what led me to…

Cabbage.  500,000 cabbages to be exact.  Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  My main mission before dinnertime was to make as much coleslaw as possible using what cabbages were left.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I chopped and chatted with another helpful volunteer who happened to be from my hometown,  East Brunswick, and knew almost my entire block of neighbors from childhood.  Small world.  So, we chopped, chatted, chopped, chatted until voila!  I was ready to mix.  I threw the ingredients in a bowl the size of Texas and used my hands (with gloves, of course) which was a ton of fun.  I put my whole heart into making it, and I’ve never been so proud of coleslaw in my entire life. The final product was beautiful.  Delicious.  Exquisite!  It was so good, I now have a new self-proclaimed title, The Coleslaw Queen.

As 6:00 approached, the dining room filled quickly.  After hats were removed and heads bowed for grace, dinner was served for an hour.  My main duties were in the back of the kitchen, so I was not one of the servers this time around.  I helped the servers as needed and frequently scanned the serving line and the dining room during dinner.  I could hear and see love flow from the volunteers to the guests, the guests to the volunteers, the guests to their loved ones at the tables.  I witnessed people laughing, talking, and savoring each bite and each moment.    The room abounded with gratitude.  I was especially grateful for the moment and the experience.  I, the Coleslaw Queen, began to see my own privilege in a different light.  Being among wonderful, new souls who were full of love and appreciation for every last bit of food on their plates both filled my spirit and humbled me at the same time.  I went home last night with a new type of hunger, a hunger completely unrelated to food.  While I’m completely satisfied by my experience at the soup kitchen, my hunger to improve myself, connect with others, and spread love has grown.  I think that’s a pretty good kind of hunger though, and I definitely plan to satisfy it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love actual food too.  I’m just going to be more mindful and appreciative of my food experiences.  Today was Jabari’s day off, and he made me breakfast in bed this morning because he’s the best.  I can honestly say, it was the most delicious omelette and coffee I’ve ever had.  Maybe even as good as my coleslaw.

Love,

Taryn

You can read more information about Elijah’s Promise on their website.  They rely on donated goods for all meals, so please consider making a donation.  I will volunteer at Elijah’s Promise every week for the rest of the summer and would be happy to transport the goods for you.  Please contact me if you’re interested.FullSizeRender (37)FullSizeRender (34)FullSizeRender (36)FullSizeRender (35)FullSizeRender (33)IMG_8668

I couldn’t figure out why people were staring at me on my way back to my car.  Turns out I forgot to take my hairnet off.  :o)

 

 

What Matters Most

My beautiful sister-in-law/friend, Chantal, recently shared this poem with me from the book Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.  The poem resonates with me, and I’d like to pass it along to you.  Love is simple, yet it’s everything.  Happy Thursday, friends!

A big thank you to my sissyfrannn for reminding me what matters most.  Love you.

Love,

Taryn ❤

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Fam gathered around Chantal, the recent college grad.  She’s beautiful, smart, and, most importantly, has the kindest heart.  So much love in this photo.
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I’m so fortunate to have these 3 strong ladies by my side.  I adore them.

 

Nice.

“Would you like a free water?” was the question of the hour at Pier A in Hoboken this afternoon.  Based on the initial reactions of the passersby, you’d have thought I inquired about their favorite candidate in the upcoming presidential election.  No one knew what to make of this woman standing there in 100 degree weather with a cooler, a basket of brownies, and a homemade, neon sign an 8-year-old could have created that read “Summer of Love Project”.

After about 5 minutes of standing there, repeatedly posing the same question, one man had the courage to accept my offer.  It only takes one!  After that, everyone realized there was “no catch” and quickly became receptive to my question.  With each water and brownie to leave my cooler, my level of love and satisfaction increased drastically.  For each water and brownie distributed, I met a kindhearted stranger on his/her own journey.  And for one moment, our paths crossed and we connected through a kind act and nice words.  I loved conversing with mail carriers, businessmen and women taking walks on their breaks, the construction workers posted nearby, the high school kids hanging with friends, families on vacation, fellow runners, the list goes on.  It was such a pleasure sharing stories with some and just putting a smile on the faces of others.  I especially loved their pleasantly surprised looks when they realized everything was, in fact, free.

I restocked my water supply after only 1 hour of being stationed at the pier.  On my way back from reloading the cooler at my car, I ran into a group of guys heading to the basketball courts.  They were appreciative of the water and gave me the great idea to stop by the park where people would be especially thirsty.  It was meant to be because on my way there, I ran into an old friend who had frequently stayed at the park near my old apartment.   I hadn’t seen him in years, so we talked for a while and he loaded up on water and brownies.  It felt great to catch up with him.

The remainder of my stash went very quickly once I reached the park.  Basketball games were getting started and kids ran every which way screaming with excitement.  The children at the playground were the cherry on top of an already amazing day.  They sprinted over to me, asking tons of  questions all at once.  They enjoyed the food and drinks and made sure I knew they appreciated them, especially the brownies.  They were incredibly gracious and full of life.  Absolute sweethearts!  Their energy was intoxicating.  They asked if I would come back soon, so I told them I’d be back one day next week.  I definitely will.  I love Hoboken, the little city that holds a big place in my heart.

Today was, by far, one of the best!   I’m high on happiness and love.  Tonight as I lay down for bed, I remember all the new faces I encountered.  I especially remember the little boy at the park who hugged me before I left and simply said, “You’re nice.”  That’s all I wanted to be today.  Nice.

Love,

Taryn

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A Sweet Surprise

Grateful would be an understatement for how I feel right now. When my friend and colleague, Marcy, read about my plans to bring water to Hoboken tomorrow and my need for snack suggestions, not only did she recommend snacks, but she baked and packed them too!  She and her husband, Leo, drove to my house today with a special delivery of delicious, homemade brownies and blondies along with a sampler “Love” mug for me.  What a huge help and a very sweet addition to the day tomorrow.  Thank you, Marcy.  Your baked goods are just as awesome as your loving heart.  And that is really, really awesome.

Now I’m all set to go for tomorrow – coolers ready, over 150 waters labeled, sign painted, and ridiculously delish baked goods packed.  It looks like 97 degrees tomorrow.  Stay tuned…

Love,

Taryn

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Project Prep and Pokémon?

Anyone who knew me when I was in 6th grade knows puffy paints were my fave!  My bedroom walls were “tagged up” by my friends with graffiti art, signatures, and some of my own artistic creations.  I even drew on my sneakers with puffy paints.  So you can imagine my excitement today when reuniting with them in Aisle 4 at the craft store.  Just imagine the possibilities! *Sigh*

After a fun photo shoot this afternoon and a few trips to different stores today, I’m home having a relaxing night with our pets and Jabari, who caved and downloaded the Pokémon app to “see what it’s all about”.  I’m sitting here among tons of water bottles as I create a sign and labels by hand.  So old school, I know.  But there’s something to be said for sprawling out on the floor and getting your hands covered in paint and markers.  It’s fun!  It also brings me back to my days of being a kid and selling random household items on the block with my neighborhood friends every summer.  Hadn’t we heard of a lemonade stand?  Somehow, we always made a killing though.  I credit our homemade signs for that.  So I sit here making these signs and can’t help but feel excited for next week’s events!  In the meantime, Jabari’s taking the dog out for walks every 10 minutes, talking to himself, and darting across the house without warning to catch the pokémon cartoons that are lurking in our hallway.  Typical Friday night at Casa de Prince.

So why the sign, labels, and water?  The temperature is going to reach 100 degrees this week, and I always think back to my beloved Hoboken years when it gets this hot.  I think about my homeless friends being outside all day, the men and women walking to and from the Path train in full suits and heavy work clothes, the nannies and parents pushing heavy strollers of 2-3 children to and from the parks.  When it’s blazing and humid, people get tired, cranky, and thirsty.  I’m hoping to alleviate some of that discomfort, even if it’s just for a few minutes.  I’ll be giving out ice cold water bottles on the hottest day this week, and right now that’s Monday.  I’m also considering baking snacks to hand out, but all the snacks I love include chocolate which would be way too messy in 100 degrees.  Contact me if you have any simple snack suggestions.  It’s going to feel great to get back to my old stomping grounds for the day.  I love that little city.

I was reminded today that giving and loving cost absolutely nothing.  Time and effort are precious gifts, and they’re both free.  How awesome is that?  This weekend, I’ll try to put more time and effort into the little details of my day, especially when it comes to interactions with others.  And come Monday, for a very small price, I hope to put a smile on a few people’s faces.  I’m just grateful for the chance to try.

Happy Friday!
Love,

Taryn 

 

*If you’d like to know where I’ll be in Hoboken or if you’d like to join, feel free to message me on my contact page.*

*A special shout out to my pets, Normie and Xena, for being by my side through literally everything and for making every craft project I do extra messy, difficult, and nearly impossible (see below).  It adds to the fun though!  They keep me on my toes.*

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At least Xena is benefiting from this game.  She goes outside at least 104 times a day. :o)

Motivation to Love More

In the wake of the recent tragic events that have occurred in our country, I think it’s natural to feel depleted of inner peace and happiness, especially after being bombarded for days with the horrific details of these tragedies.  My heart aches when I hear about violence, but sometimes it’s necessary to focus my attention on it.  Changes won’t be made unless we’re properly educated on what’s going on – research is necessary, discussion is necessary, and most of all, a loving response is necessary.  Like many others, I feel an urge to make a difference.  I yearn to wake up and miraculously change the world by pressing a magical button.  I’m sure many of us wish we had this ability, but unfortunately we don’t.  So how can I actually help?  Although, seemingly minor in the grand scheme of things, I need to begin by improving one person – myself.

At times when I’m feeling helpless, I turn to my husband and the rest of our family.  It’s a great starting point to ground and center myself.  It reminds me of what life is all about, what matters most.  I’ve spent a lot of time with family recently – dates with my husband, hanging out at my parents’ house, trips to see my grandfather at the rehab facility where he’s slowly but surely recovering from being ill, family parties, quality time with my fur babies – all of which have helped restore and strengthen the joy in my heart.  My loved ones make me stronger.  It’s amazing how time spent with family or friends, the people who love you most to the core, can mend the worst of feelings and situations.  It just goes to show the strength and power of love (cue Celine Dion song).  I realize it’s important to restore my own loving energy before helping others.  We give what we feel.  A full, loving, happy heart gives nothing but goodness.

Now that I’m rejuvenated, I feel more motivated than ever to spread love and compassion.  I’m happy to say I’ve begun mapping out my summer service projects.  In the weeks to come, I will be volunteering at soup kitchens, animal shelters, various non-profits, and executing small service projects of my own.  I’ll be blogging throughout my “Summer of Love” as a personal outlet to write about my experiences.  I plan to continue with my service beyond the summer, but I’m a 6th grade teacher whose primary focus will be my students come September so I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be blogging during the school year.  Until then, I encourage anyone who may like to join me for a day, a week, or longer to message me on my contact page.  I’d love to collaborate with you to reach more people and spread more love.

Love,

Taryn ❤