Holiday Traditions…

Let’s talk holiday traditions here.  I love hearing about the things people did growing up and what they are now doing with their families.  Here are the traditions we do every year:

  • Photo Christmas card – Each year we get professional pictures taken and have Christmas cards made with our family photo on them.  I always save one of the cards and with my kids, we make a scrapbook page out of it.  I let them decorate it however they want (and yes, even if it means putting a sticker over one of our faces).  I love pulling out that scrapbook every year and can’t wait to see how their art skills progress over the years. Christmas Card 2013
  • New pajamas on Christmas Eve – My mother did this with us, so I am also doing it with my kids.  Each year I get them new pajamas and wrap them up.  They get to open them on Christmas Eve and wear them that night.  This year, my 4 year old wanted to make her pajamas, so we are in the middle of doing that.  Stay tuned! IMG_5295  IMG_5223
  • Snowbabies collection – When I had my first baby, I wanted to start a collection of something for her that I could add to each year.  I looked around a bit and really fell in love with the Department 56 Snowbabies.  There are so many different figurines to choose from and each year I get each of my girls a new figurine that depicts something either in their personality or something that interests them.  Last year, I got Annalie this superhero figurine snowbabies and I got Stella this Mickey figurine. snowbabies2 This year, Annalie is getting this t-ball figurine (since she just wrapped up her first season in t-ball) snowbabies3and Stella is getting this cute little monkey figurine because this is about how the three of us look most of the time since she always wants to be picked up. snowbabies4
  • Baking cookies – When I was growing up, we made a massive amount of goodie plates every year for our friends and neighbors.  My mom has the absolute best recipes for holiday goodies.  My sister and I have attempted to recreate it several times and I tell you, it is a ton of work.  But, each year, even if I don’t have time to make everything that we did with my mom growing up, I try to have my kids help make at least a couple of things to give out to coworkers and neighbors.  When they get older, we’ll go for the huge variety. 392576_10150435443457509_1854831664_n
  • A real Christmas tree – I have never and will never, ever, ever get an artificial tree.  We never had one growing up and still to this day, we always get a fresh tree.  Unfortunately there are no Christmas tree farms in Las Vegas, but each year Costco gets one truck full of the most amazing Christmas trees (and you really have to be on it to get one before they quickly sell out), so we get one and take it home and decorate it each year.  Nothing beats the smell of a fresh Christmas tree and when the holidays are over, we take the tree to a recycling center where it will be turned into mulch. IMG_5269
  • Ethel M Chocolate Factory – This is a great little place that we visit every year.  They have a cactus garden that they decorate with millions of lights each year and you can walk around sipping hot cocoa, listening to holiday music and even get a picture with Santa if you feel so inclined.  You can also walk through the factory and see all the workers making yummy chocolates and sample some inside.  It’s really close to our house and it’s free!  Definitely a must do if you are in Vegas. IMG_5294
  • Love Actually – Hands down my favorite holiday movie.  I mean there really are some other great classics (Elf, A Christmas Story, The Holiday, etc.), but this one tops my list. untitled

 

What are some of your holiday traditions?

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Finding the Perfect Dollhouse

Christmas is coming and have been so excited to search out the perfect dollhouse for Stella, my 2 year old.  Every time we go somewhere that has a dollhouse, she is stuck to it like glue.  She loves pretend play and playing with dolls, so I know this will the perfect gift for her this year.

Now when I buy my kids toys (which isn’t very often because between my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law, my girls come home with a new toy almost weekly), I do a ton of research.  I always want the best for them.  Toys that are good quality, durable, will grow with them, and that are made to last.  I have this vision of being a grandma someday and pulling all these old toys out of storage for my grandchildren to play with.  Wouldn’t that be so neat?  So, with this in mind I set out to find the perfect dollhouse for my little girl.

I’m not going to lie when I say I researched this dollhouse more than I researched the actual house we live in.  I have spent hours pouring over websites and reading reviews.  Nowadays, when it comes to buying just about anything, there are a million products to choose from.  So, I started narrowing it down.

I knew right off the bat I wanted a wooden dollhouse for her.  I’m not a fan of plastic toys because they often times break easily and don’t feel as sturdy or hold up to rough play as well as wood.  I initially came across some really cute KidKraft dollhouses.  I like the KidKraft brand.  We have a few of their toys (play kitchen, play house in our backyard, etc.).  Their quality is pretty good and their customer service is excellent.  I will say with KidKraft dollhouses, you definitely get the most bang for your buck.  Their dollhouses are HUGE.  And they all come fully furnished.  But, what I didn’t like about their dollhouses was that each room was painted to be a specific room.  Like the kitchens are painted with cabinets and appliances, the bathroom is painted with a mirror and sink, etc.  There’s not much room for creativity and open ended play.

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They do have one dollhouse that is much more plain that I was really eyeing, but it is so big, I honestly just don’t know where we would put it!

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So, I continued on with my research, looking for something a little more plain.  The next dollhouse I came across that seemed to fit the bill was the Hape All Seasons Dollhouse.

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It is smaller than the KidKraft dollhouses, but does come furnished and the rooms can all be switched around.  But some of the reviewers said it was a little flimsy and might not last through multiple generations.  So, the search continued.

And then I found it.  The perfect dollhouse for my little girl.  It is made of wood.  It is plain.  It is not too small and not too big.  It can be played with on all four sides.  And it is very well made.  Heirloom quality.  It is the Terrace Dollhouse by Plan Toys.

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All of Plan Toys products are made from preservative-free rubberwood and they are one of the leading companies to create new material and process to minimize waste up to zero.  Plan Toys is a green company and has gained global recognition for its philosophy with natural aesthetic quality through wooden toys.  In a nutshell, their quality of toys is top notch and you can feel good about buying them too.

I absolutely love this dollhouse.  It is three stories and big enough that both my kids can play with it at one time.  All of the doors, windows and partitions are moveable, so you can open up the entire house, rearrange everything, and put walls wherever you want to create any size of room.  There is nothing painted on the walls, so my kids’ imaginations can run wild with this dollhouse.  And because it is such good quality, I imagine it will be in our family for multiple generations.

The dollhouse itself is not too expensive compared to other similar dollhouses, however it comes unfurnished, and when you consider each room of furniture costs about $20, it can really add up.  Now, I don’t necessarily mind paying more for quality products, but if there is a deal to be had, I’m on it.  I started scouring the internet for sales or deals to bring down the price tag.  Fortunately for me, a nice lady in California had purchased this dollhouse (only last year’s version) and 5 sets of furniture for her daughter and come to find out her daughter didn’t play with it.  So she put it up on eBay for quite a steal and after several emails back and forth (she really was a saint for putting up with all of my questions), I snatched it up for a little more than half the price of what it would cost me to buy and furnish a brand new dollhouse.  I just love a good deal!

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I am so excited to watch my little girl come out on Christmas morning and see this under the tree (or next to it as it will be too big to actually fit under the tree).  I really hope she loves it and I hope she plays with it for many, many years.

 

Do you get as excited to give gifts as your kids are to receive them?  What toys have you spent an insane amount of time researching?

Temecula Half Marathon Race Recap

Last year, around this time, if you would have told me that I would run 5 half marathons in 2014, I would have laughed in your face. At the time, the longest I had ever run at one time was about 7 miles. My goal for this year was to run 1 (yup, just 1) half marathon. And here I am, with number 5 in the books. It is an amazing feeling.

But what is even more amazing than that, is that my husband just completed his very first half marathon. And let me tell you, this was not a beginner’s half marathon. Quite the opposite. And he rocked it. I am so proud of him.

We got into Temecula Saturday afternoon.

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We made it there in time to hit up one winery (Doffo), which I would highly recommend (and coincidently led to us purchasing the most expensive bottle of wine we have ever bought to date).

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We then went to Garage Brewing Company for a casual dinner. Great restaurant. Sort of like the Subway of pizza. You go to the counter, pick your sauce and cheese, and then they build your pizza for you out of the expansive array of toppings they’ve got right there for you to choose from. They had a really yummy Mango Hefeweizen that I got to go with the delicious pizza. Great little place! After that we hit the hay so we could be up bright and early for the race in the morning.

We got up at 5am the next morning and I was really indecisive on what to wear for the race. It was in the 50’s and the weather predicted it warming up to the high 60’s by the end of the race. I wasn’t sure whether to wear pants or shorts, or a long sleeve shirt or tank top. I consoled Runner’s World’s nifty little website where you put in the conditions and it tells you what to wear. It told me shorts and a tank, sop that’s what I went with. We drove over to the parking area where we would catch the bus to take us to Wilson Creek Winery (the start/finish area) and I immediately was so worried about my attire choice. I was FREEZING. My body was shivering. But, as the minutes ticked by, it gradually started to warm up.

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We picked up our race packets, got our bibs on and our bags checked and headed over to the stage area for a fun little warm up to Thriller (you know, it being Halloween season and all). After that it was time to go!

We lined up at the start line, gave each other a kiss and we were off!

If I had one word to describe this race it would be H-I-L-L-Y. Holy crap was it hilly. I don’t think there was a single flat section of the entire course. The first 5 miles was an out and back and were gradual hills. Then we ran past the start line for the back 8 miles. Those were the most intense 8 miles ever. The only thing that I could compare it to is the Xterra Trail Half Marathon I did. Every single hill was really, really steep and once you got to the bottom of a hill, there was another steeper, higher and longer hill in front of you.

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A lot of people walked the hills. Some people started out charging up them, and then started walking halfway up. I ran up each hill, but ran very, very slowly. In fact, I think someone walking up a hill passed me at one point.

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Honestly, as tough as the hills were to get up, they were ten times more difficult to get down. I really dislike running down hill. So much so, that I’d rather run an entire race uphill than have to deal with that kind of steep down hill ever again. It just makes my entire body hurt. Around mile 8, I was hurting pretty bad from all the up and down and I was really hoping that Vince was doing okay. We hit the turn around and a few minutes later I passed him on his way to the turn around. He was running with the 2:00 pacer! We high fived each other and instantly I got a second wind. That last 5 miles I felt much better. It was still hard work getting through the hills, but I started really concentrating on my form and was able to maneuver the down hills with considerably less pain that in the previous miles.

I finally reached the mile 12 marker and couldn’t have been happier. There were some people out on the course for the last mile with signs and cheering us on. I rounded the last bend, saw the finish line and ran like hell. When I crossed the finish line, I threw up my arms and smiled a big smile. It was over. I survived. I ran the entire thing without stopping. I got my medal and some water and waiting for Vince to finish.

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About 5 minutes later he came around that bend, crossed the finish line and threw his arms around me. He had also run the entire race without stopping (and he didn’t even drink any water the whole time!). I’m so proud of him. This was a really tough course, especially for a first half marathon and he crushed it.

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Our official times:
Me 1:55:17.5 (14th age group, 39th overall female, 99th overall)
Vince 2:00:27.1 (20th age group, 78th overall male, 135th overall)

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And, boy, I tell ya. The competition was stiff on this one. Those Californians…they are amazing. The overall winner’s time was 1:18:04.1. That’s a 5:58 pace. On those hills. He is a 35 year old gentleman from Encinitas. Blew us away with that time.

In the end, I was really happy I went with shorts and a tank top, because it really started to warm up. The course was beautiful. Most of the race was on dirt roads through wine country. Beautiful hillsides of vineyards and you could see the hot air balloons in the distance. Very lovely.

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After the race was over, we picked up our wine glasses and headed over to the tasting area. I really couldn’t stomach the thought of drinking wine at that moment, so I opted first for a glass of almond champagne to celebrate our finish, and then switched to beer. Great recovery drinks haha!

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When we were done with our tastings, we took the bus back to our car, and went back to our hotel room to shower. After that we hit up some more wineries. Bel Vino for one of the most informative wine tastings I’ve ever had from Dennis, along with a beautiful lunch outside listening to their live house band and enjoying the view of the hillside vineyards.

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Then off to Hart for some great reds and fun conversation with the wine pourers. And finally, Wiens for some yummy wine, but a not so informed pourer (can’t win them all).

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After that we hit up Crush and Brew for some dinner and beer flights (we were a little wined out at that point) and then we went back to the hotel room where we were asleep in bed by 7:30pm.

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It was a great little weekend getaway. I loved running with my husband. I am so proud of him and I love that we can have little race-cations. Good times, good times!

 

Did you race over the weekend? Tell me about it!

The Dreaded Family Photos…

Is there anything more stressful than family photos?  I don’t think so.  First you have to book a session with a photographer (thankfully we have an amazing photographer that has been doing our photos since before our kids were born).  Then you have to choose outfits that match just enough to look good, but not too much because you don’t want to look cheesy.  Then come photo day, you’ve got to get yourself ready, and all the kids (which means I actually have to do their hair for once and not just put it in a ponytail).  Then you have to head over to the photo location and hope that in that 20 minutes your kids don’t spill anything on their clothes, fall and dirty up their outfits, pull out their hair, etc.  Then once you get there, you have to bribe them with little bags of candy in between each pose in hopes that you might just maybe get one picture where they are both looking, and bonus points if they are actually smiling!  Not to mention trying to keep them from getting dirty in between takes.  It is enough to drive a parent to drink.  A LOT.

But, in the end it is all worth it because we will be able to look back at these beautiful photos and remember when our lives were full of blissful chaos.

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Do you think family photos are stressful?

Grapes and Hops Festival

On Saturday evening, my husband and I attended the Grapes and Hops Festival at the Springs Preserve.  We love wine and beer tasting events, and had been wanting to go to this one for a couple of years now, but always had some prior engagement.  We were really excited to be free to attend this year as we had heard such good things about it and always love events at the Springs Preserve.  Well, we were not disappointed at all.  This was hands down, in my opinion, the best wine, beer and food tasting Las Vegas has to offer.

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First of all, the venue couldn’t have been any better.  It was all outdoors, and anyone who knows anything about Las Vegas weather knows that October is the best time of year here.  The weather is just perfect right now, sunny and warm during the day and cooler, but not cold, at night.  Top that off with the beautiful surroundings of the Springs Preserve and you’ve got yourself the perfect spot for a social event.  My favorite part of the Springs Preserve is the gardens.  Lots of walking paths surrounded by greenery.  Little seating areas everywhere, fountains, art work, etc.  It is so peaceful and beautiful.  I just love walking around there.

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And because the Springs Preserve spans such a huge area, even though the event was sold out, it didn’t seem crowded at all.  Some wine tasting events we’ve gone to, you end up spending half your time in line waiting to get a sample.  But not at this one.  There were more than enough sampling stations set up that we practically walked up to each one without waiting.

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And speaking of samples…the wine and beer was top notch.  Great wines, even some reserves and a really good selection of beers and hard ciders.  Not only that, but the people pouring the samples were all really knowledgeable about what they were serving.  When I go to these types of events, I like to learn a little about what I’m trying and nothing is more disappointing than asking some questions about the wine or beer and having the person tell you that they were just hired for the night and they don’t really know anything.  Just about everyone we talked to at this event knew about the history of the beverage they were pouring, extensive background on it, where to buy it, what food it goes well with, etc.  I really enjoyed talking to each person and finding the story behind the drink.

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And then there was the food.  Oh my, oh my!  When I saw there was going to be food samples, I pictures little bites of this and that, not really a full meal, but enough to get us by for the evening.  Wow was I wrong.  They had food stations set up for at least 5 restaurants (Stripburger, El Segundo Sol, Mon Ami Gabi, M Street Kitchen and Stella Barra Pizza) and were serving full on meals.  Like you walked up and they gave you an actual dinner sized plate full of food!  They were cooking it all right there so it was fresh and hot and you could go through the line as many times as you wanted.

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Not only that but the desserts too.  One station they had set up was baking chocolate chip cookies the size of my head and serving them right out of the oven still warm.  Another station had all these amazing Halloween goodies to sample.  Let’s just say it was a good thing I ran 11 miles that morning because I definitely indulged!

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Top this all off with a really great live band that was piped throughout the entire event, pretty lights strung everywhere and some great company and it was just the perfect night.  Oh and did I mention that it only cost us $33 each for the tickets?  I’ve been to wine tastings that were triple the price and not half as great.  This one is definitely on our must do event list every year.

 

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Midnight Cowboy Run Recap (and Lavilin winners!)

Well, I’m pretty certain that my 5k days are over.  My body just does not like running 5ks.  Here’s why.

A while back, Jus Run, a local race company was offering a deal on their races for one day, so my husband and I decided to sign up for their Midnight Cowboy Run.  Vince opted for the 10k, while I wanted to try to PR a 5k since I hadn’t done one in a while.

I am in the middle of training for my next half marathon, and didn’t want to get behind on my long runs, so I met up with my run club Saturday morning and did a 7 mile run.  I took it nice and easy so I wouldn’t tire myself out for the race that night.

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This was another midnight race and once again I was questioning what in the world I was thinking signing up for a midnight race.  I was pretty tired Saturday night, so after we dropped the kids off at Nana’s, I took about an hour nap before it was time to head over to the race venue.

It had been raining on and off all evening and there was a ton of lightening and thunder all over the valley.  We were actually wondering if the race would be cancelled, but once we got there the rain had mostly subsided.  We picked up our packets and got our bibs and timing chips on.  Then it started raining again, so we went back to our car and waited it out.  We had about 10 minutes until the start time and the rain was starting to subside so we got out and headed over to the start area.  Before the race started, we all sang the national anthem and right in the middle of it, we got a complete downpour.  Everyone headed for cover hoping it would subside as quickly as it came on, but we were not that lucky.  We had about two minutes until go time and it was just a torrential downpour.  We all reluctantly headed over to the start line and everyone was just completely soaked from our head to our toes.  My shoes and my socks were drenched.  Ugh.  Finally it was go time and we were off.  It was still pouring rain, but thankfully after about five minutes into the race it stopped.

I could tell almost immediately that I wasn’t going to PR this race.  My legs were tired from my morning run and combined with having soaked shoes and socks, I just knew it wasn’t going to happen.  But, I gave it my all as best as I could.

The course was on a trail that parallels our beltway freeway here, so nothing really scenic.  Just an out and back which was mostly flat except for one area where there was a ramp going up to a bridge that crosses over the freeway.  There were two girls ahead of me that I was trying to catch, but at the turn around, one of them kept going, so I knew she must have been doing to 10k, which meant I was in 2nd place for the females.  After I turned around, I saw Vince and he yelled at me to “Go!” which was just the push I needed to wrap this thing up.  I was running neck and neck with a guy on the last mile.  I think we were really pushing each other, which was pretty cool.  The finish line was finally in sight and I pulled ahead of him and ran as fast as I could towards it.  And then….disaster!  I started dry heaving.  I kept running but it wouldn’t stop.  And then, literally about 5 feet from the finish line, I started throwing up.  Horrible.  I stumbled across the finish line, threw up some more (I can’t wait to see my finish line photos ::insert sarcasm:) and sheepishly apologized to the photographer and the people handing out the medals.  I was so embarrassed.  I grabbed some water and headed over to the computers to see my time.  I still ended up getting 2nd place overall for the females, with a time of 22:55, but it wasn’t a PR.

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Oh well, I can’t complain.  I did the best I could given the circumstances.  Oh and I got this pretty award!

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After I got settled, I waited at the finish line for Vince.  When I saw him coming, I could see he was almost neck and neck with another runner.  They were hauling towards the finish line, and the other guy just barely got there before him.  They shook hands and congratulated each other.  Vince did such an amazing job.  The guy he was so close with was in his age group, and ended up with 2nd place, which put Vince in 3rd place in his age group!  His official time was 53:55.  Awesome job my love!

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The race was put on very well, as usual and Jus Run always gives out great awards.  All the finishers got this cool bottle opener medal and a nice tech shirt.

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So while everything ended up okay, I don’t know if I want to do any more 5ks.  The last 5k I did, the exact same thing happened, except earlier in the race, so I actually had to stop twice to throw up.  My body wants to run faster, and is fully capable, but my stomach just won’t allow it.  When this happened before, I thought maybe it had been something I ate, but I think this is just my body’s reaction to really pushing myself.  Sometimes I feel this coming on when I do speed work, but doing the recovery laps in between sets makes it subside.  If anyone body has any suggestions, I’d love to hear it.

And, now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for!  Our Lavilin winners!

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Congratulations Billie and Robin!  I’ll be in touch to arrange your prizes!

 

It’s Okay to Say No {Finding Balance}

I recently had the opportunity to participate on a relay team for a triathlon here in Las Vegas with some really great athletes.  I initially was totally up for it, but once I got into looking at my calendar, I realized that it conflicted with something else my husband and I had going on (aka beer and wine festival the previous night).  Yeah, drinking beer and wine the night before running a half marathon just doesn’t really sound appealing.  I thought about my options.  I could still go to the festival, but not drink.  I could skip the festival all together.  Or I could say no to the relay.  I said no to the relay.  Why?  Because I need balance in my life.

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As much as I love running, and love any new running opportunity that presents itself (after all I’ve never participated on a relay team before), I also need balance.  If I let running dominate my entire life, I would be a very unhappy, unfulfilled person.  The same goes with every aspect of my life, my husband, my children, work, etc.  I love my husband and my kids are my world, but I also need time for myself.  This is what makes me happy, having a very healthy balance of each aspect of my life.  And, unfortunately that means saying no sometimes.

It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”  – Steve Jobs

Like drinking wine with my husband and friends.  Haha.  But really, sometimes a night out with my husband needs to take priority over everything else.  It’s all about balance.

For some reason, this year seems to be the year of many opportunities.  I’ve been asked to do so many things this year that I’ve never done before.  Things that take up my almost non-existent spare time.  I’ve said yes to the things that I think are important and that I want to do and I’ve said no to the things that don’t rank as high.  But I’m not going to feel guilty.  New opportunities will come and life is too short to spend doing things that are not meaningful to yourself.

 

Do you ever feel guilty saying no?