my dream home

If asked to describe my dream home a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have said it was a 1,500 square-foot rancher built in the 70s.

We found it when we were not even thinking about looking (although, isn’t that what happens when you’re married to a Realtor?). Grace was 2 and a half months old. We had just made the decision that I would leave my career to be a stay-at-home mom and I quit my job 5 days before we went to see this house. Corey showed me the MLS listing and I immediately started begging him to see it. I was convinced that if we saw it in person, I would find something wrong with it and then I could let it go of how much I liked it without thinking of it again.

Obviously, things didn’t happen that way. We went to see it that afternoon. We walked in, and Corey and I looked at each other, both of us clearly pleasantly surprised. As we toured it, we found ourselves discussing how we would decorate each room to make it ours. This would be Grace’s nursery. We would put our bed here. Corey would have his wished-for man cave basement. That storage room would become my crafting room. We didn’t want to leave! It felt right. It felt like our home.

Needless to say, we prayed and we made not one – but two – offers and we were elated to find out that we got the house over competing offers. Family and friends were totally shocked to learn we were unexpectedly moving! The next 2 months were absolute madness. In between nursing and holding a newborn, I packed boxes. We rented a storage unit to start moving stuff out of the house in advance and Corey ran boxes over in between appointments. We stayed in the guest room at my mom and stepdad’s house for almost a month while we were quite literally between homes. There were tears and sweat and stress and I don’t think either of us anticipated how hard it would be to pack, sell, move, and unpack with a newborn. Corey was under it from being a new dad and managing files, clients, closings, and showings. I don’t know how he managed all of it. But I wish I would have showed him more respect and appreciation at the time for everything he did for us. I was under it from being a new mom, nursing on-demand, and unpacking. We were both short-tempered, and it felt like we were in that phase of life for much longer than a couple of months.

But now, we both agree that it was so worth it.

When I was young, I envisioned my dream home as brand new; at least a 4 bedroom, 2-story home. Maybe the bathroom would have a jacuzzi tub. An eat-in kitchen but also a formal dining room, for, you know, entertaining. A big walk-in closet complete with a vanity. An outdoor brick oven built right into the patio.

But now? I’d say that I want a quaint home with a cozy living room and an eat-in kitchen. A house where my little one could crawl from the living room to the kitchen to the dining room and down the hall to her bedroom without touching stairs. A house big enough for us to breathe when we needed to, but small enough to be close. I’d say that’s all we’d need. And everything we’d need. A home where Corey and I would grow old together. With a backyard with enough space for Grace to run and play. Maybe a third bedroom for another baby years from now. A place where family and friends could gather around bonfires. I’d say my dream home is a 1,500 square foot rancher built in the 70s.

gracie’s party animal birthday

8Q5A7547 (1).jpg“She wont remember it.”
“But we will!”

Corey and I had this conversation a dozen times in the weeks leading up to Grace’s first birthday party! Admittedly, I probably thought about her party way too much, but I truly wanted her feel the joy that she gives to us every day. And OK, I love to throw parties… and this was definitely the most fun and colorful one I’ve ever hosted!

We had the party at 11am to try to work around typical nap times, so we had brunch style foods. The menu consisted of ham and cheese sliders, chicken and waffle sliders, parfaits, pasta salad, deviled- and red-beet eggs. Desserts are pictured below! Sadly, when Grace woke from her morning nap that day, we noticed she wasn’t quite herself. As the party progressed, we realized she had caught a cold! We felt so sorry for her, but she was such a good sport.

Aubree Shannon graciously spent time out of her weekend to come take photos, and I am so thankful she did! Here are the photos she took of the decor, the cake smash, and a few quiet family moments!

*I purposefully left out photos of our family and friends at the party – we are planning to share those photos privately 🙂

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The wreath we had hanging on our front door the day of the party! I made this with 2 large packs of balloons. sewing pins, and a styrofoam wreath mold. We already had the “G” in Grace’s room, so overall the cost to make this was around $20 (these sell for $60-75 on Etsy). What I love about a DIY like this one is that it can totally be imperfect and you honestly can’t do it wrong!

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I fell in love with this print – I purchased the PDF on Etsy, had it printed at OfficeMax, and framed it in a Target snap frame. Instant downloads from Etsy are my favorite! Pom honeycomb garland is from Target also.

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I made the birthday hat from scrapbooking paper, and made the tutu for around the high chair. The tutu was SO easy to make. I was shocked at the cost to purchase one– $30-50! I bought 1-inch white ribbon and 25 yards of white tulle on a spool. I wanted the tutu to be 12 inches from the top of the high chair, so I cut 24-inch pieces of tulle and looped them evenly around the ribbon using this method. It was SO easy and it was $12 for the materials.

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Allow me to introduce you to JoJo, our beloved stuffed giraffe who has quickly become Gracie’s BFF. She is so limited with her words, but she will point and say “JoJo” and loves to “pet” and say good morning to her. With the party animal theme, we thought JoJo would be good emotional support for cake smash time 🙂

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Balloon garland: Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Had I known what a huge pain it would be, I would have put one balloon on Grace’s high chair! It took over 4 hours… and there were 6 popped confetti balloons. CONFETTI balloons. The tutorials I looked at were not helpful and glue dots popped the balloons. I ended up super glueing in the extras last minute!

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I spray-painted these Paper Mache letters white, and the 1-12 month garland was a $5 Target find! Grace’s monthly milestone pictures were taken each month with her Chloe cuddle + kind bunny that her aunt and uncle got for her for her first Christmas! If you haven’t heard of this company, check them out. 1 doll purchase provides 10 meals to kiddos in need.

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These ostrich and giraffe canvas prints are not typical staples in our living room, nor did we buy them for the party! They usually have places in Grace’s play area in our basement and were purchased from Home Goods.

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Found this idea on Pinterest, but wrote the poem myself. 🙂 All of the animal printables above and below were *FREE* on Caravan Shoppe!

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Grace’s naked cake and cookies were made by The Paisley Pair. We were so in love with them! The animal toppers on her cake were Schleich brand. I made the party hats using this tutorial.

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I saw these milk bottles on Pinterest. I thought they were so adorable. So I purchased a dozen and then last minute purchased a dozen more. Do you know how many of these were used at the party? 3! I don’t know what I was thinking. No one wants to drink room temperature milk. Please learn from me. Save your money. Save the milk. Throw the mini donuts on a plate and call it a day.

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The main foods were ham and cheese sliders (which were also easy to put together the day before, then coat with the sauce and throw in the oven the morning of) and these chicken and waffle sandwiches pictured. We ordered a small catered tray of Chick-Fil-A nuggets, and I popped the waffles in the oven to put these together the morning of the party. So easy!

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Since we had a ‘brunch’ hour party, we had Dunkin’ cold brew and Starbucks hot coffee. It was SO easy. I purchased these packs and made the cold brew the day before. Buying the hot Starbucks traveler boxes was worth it – no need to make pots of coffee during the party and no line for the Keurig. Plus, the boxes of coffee come with cups, lids, stirrers, cream, and sugar — and keep the coffee hot for 3 hours!

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For party favors, I purchased these mini jars in the under $5 section at Target. I spray painted the lids white and superglued these animals to the top! I added some twine around the jars, and filled with frosted animal cookies.

Now for my absolute favorites…

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Trying to share the cake with JoJo!

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When it was time to get Grace changed and cleaned up, Aubree came back into our bedroom and asked if she could snap photos. With the rush and constant go-go-go of the party, I was so thankful she did! These pictures ended up being my absolute favorites.

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I definitely feel like us mamas put an impossible amount of pressure on ourselves to make our kiddos’ birthday parties special. In the world of Pinterest, the ideas are so endless. There are definitely things I would have done differently in hindsight:

  • I wish I would have skipped the arch. It was honestly the only part of the party prep I didn’t enjoy!
  • I started planning Grace’s party so early. Like – 3 months before – early. It resulted in me buying various items and changing my mind so many times. The whole party truly came together in the 2 weeks before. It would have saved me so much time and saved us money if I had just waited and then committed.
  • I would have had less sweets. We had SO many leftover cookies, chocolated-dipped oreos, white chocolate-covered pretzels, mini brownies… I think the cookies and donut holes would have been plenty for the time of day!
  • I would have skipped the Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. They just weren’t super good. I loved them in theory, but they were not practical. I would have also skipped the milk bottles.
  • I regret not trying on Grace’s birthday outfit before the party. Her actual outfit lasted 5 minutes before the cute little suspenders on her denim skirt were falling off her shoulders! I was kicking myself for not picking something more practical. It’s an outfit. Not a big deal. But Corey said her shirt reminded him of this… If you know Corey, you’ll appreciate this. Ha!

The one thing that I am 100% so happy we invested in was hiring Aubree to take photos. She captured Grace’s personality so well, along with other moments of the day with family and friends. Best of all, I felt like I was truly present all day and honestly didn’t pick up my phone once. If you are on the fence about hiring a photographer for your little one’s first birthday, DO IT! And if you’re local, contact Aubree!

If you’re interested in purchasing any of the items pictured for a party, please reach out!

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! It was such a blessed day and it was so fun to be able to share it with you.

Dear Gracie

Dear Gracie

Dear Gracie,

You are my sunshine.

I know our little family has this routine going, and it is all you’ll ever know, but I should confess that things were not always this way. Before you, our house was a lot quieter, our Friday evenings were spent on the town, and rarely were we home, it seemed. Before you, I’d never changed a diaper. Holding newborns made me sweat. I have never been a morning person before my first cup of coffee, as my past co-workers could attest. I thrived on routine, and showed no flexibility.

But then you were here. And I was so unprepared. I knew only as much as the full day of birthing class could pack into my brain. Yet, holding you was so effortless. Changing diapers became second nature. I’m still not a morning person… and I may grumble all the way to your room if it’s time for you to nurse being the sunshine has kissed my face, but then I see your wild hair and 3-toothed smile while you bounce up and down excitedly and I find the energy from Lord knows where. And baby, you got me staying up late writing again… a passion I thought I had lost.

Being your mother has been the hardest and easiest role I’ve ever had. When it comes to loving you, getting up at all hours of the night, braving the crowds so you might get a chance to see the jelly fish swim, or starting a dozen holiday traditions because I want you to grow up with the sweetest memories with Dad and me … it is so easy, even when it’s really hard.

You are fearless and determined. You take a while to warm up before you’ll reach for someone, you must study people first. You only know how to say a few words – mama, da-da, dog-dog, no, ‘nana, yea –  and yet you communicate with us and always find a way to make your point, be it with an eyebrow raise, scrunched nose, wave, clap, or pointer finger. My goodness, sweet girl, you have got the sass, but you have also got the most innocent smile.

This year, Lord-willing, you will learn to walk. You will eat one of my chocolate-chip Christmas cookies. You will throw tantrums at new levels. You’ll push me. You will test me and challenge me and my patience in ways that I never could have imagined. And sweet daughter, I will love you for all of it, just the same – no, probably more.

I look ahead to days that will come. I think of birthdays that we will celebrate as a family. I daydream of putting your drawings up on the fridge and the times you’ll help me dry dishes in the kitchen. I dread the day you’ll come home from school with a crush. And the day you feel shame for the first time. I wonder who you will be. Whoever you become, I pray you will be God-fearing. I pray you will be happy.

I hope I can show you grace. I pray I can teach you God’s word, though I am so inadequate. I pray that you’ll know how strong you are but always act with humility. That it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. That you’ll know when to lead, and when it’s appropriate to follow, too. I hope you will be the kind of friend that people can depend on. And when the skies open, I hope you’ll look up and laugh at the raindrops like you do now. I pray you will know that I think you are magic. I pray for your health, your growth, and that when you rest your head at night, you’ll feel fullness in your belly, the warmth of your grey flannel sheets, and that you will always feel safe and loved as you close your eyes.

My Gracie, God placed you into our care and that has been a gift we absolutely cherish. You have changed us for the better.

You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.

Ma-Ma

in the eyes of my daughter

in the eyes of my daughter

My favorite memory of the fall was taking Grace to the fair last month. We didn’t leave the house until it was close to her bedtime. It was a special night, though, a night that marks the first of many Autumn family traditions to come, so we let her stay up late this time.

We arrive perpendicular to Main Street and park the car. We take her out of her car seat and plant her on her daddy’s hip. She never stays in her stroller these days, so we don’t make an attempt at it tonight. In the eyes of my daughter, there are too many miracles happening left and right to be looking in the same direction for too long.

It was a risk, we said on the way, “hopefully she will be too distracted by everything going on to think about being tired.” We start to walk across the street, and I see her eyes brighten. A police officer is waving walkers on across the street. In the eyes of my daughter, he is dancing.

We make our way to the food stands filled to the brim with funnel cakes and French fries and soft pretzels. Scents of grease and sweets welcome us. The people inside the trucks, stands, and trailers are shouting over all of the noise. In the eyes of my daughter, they are calling out to her. She squeals and waves.

We walk to the Ferris wheel. It’s bright and blinking and spinning. We’ve been waiting to show this to her, sure that if she has no interest in anything else, this will surely catch her attention. This is the moment. She throws her hands up in the air to grab it even though it’s a at least a few dozen feet in front of her and so high, far out of reach. In the eyes of my daughter, it’s big enough and close enough to touch. Yes, in her eyes, this spinning mechanical wheel is magical and beautiful and she could catch it and watch it do the same thing over and over again for hours and her amazement would never dwindle.

In the eyes of my daughter, everything is new. A stuffed animal comes to life. A balloon beckons her touch. Every book she sees needs to be read, every page touched, every picture studied. There is excitement in the unknown of peeking inside a messenger bag or opening a cabinet door. In the eyes of my daughter, the wind teases her and the raindrops fall only to tickle her nose. In the eyes of my daughter, beds are for jumping, shoulders are for resting her head, and hands are meant for clapping in joy.

I pray that I can see life through the eyes of my daughter. That I can drink in the mundane moments and savor them. To explore and to be inquisitive. To always be captivated by the light of a Christmas tree the way that she is. To dance and laugh – really laugh – with no sense of self-consciousness. To see an instrument and stop what I’m doing to make music and admire the sound, even when it’s off-key. To see eyes and smiles of people before seeing made conclusions. To wave ‘hello’ without hesitation or fear of rejection.

Instead, I fall short daily. Too little patience, too much on my mind. Not enough play time, too much housework to do. But when I ask myself, who am I in the eyes of my daughter, I realize I am comfort, warmth, love, silliness, and playfulness. I am inviting, her soft place to land. Her source of nourishment, her release after holding it all together. Her hero, her caught kiss, her encourager, her teacher. I pray I can be the person who is seen in the eyes of my daughter.

Grace Lee: Weeks 34-39

I was blessed to have a fairly uneventful pregnancy – aside from an ER visit early on at around 14 weeks due to severe stomach pain (which resulted in a doctor-recommendation of Colace… that’s a totally different and embarrassing story) – I went to my visits, dealt with the occasional swollen feet and back discomfort, but was overall very healthy… up until I reached the 34th week.

As I was sitting at my desk at work, I suddenly felt dizziness that wouldn’t subside. I couldn’t concentrate. I tried to ignore it and push through, assuming it was just an unpleasant new symptom of pregnancy. Later that evening, I felt an extreme exhaustion that was new. I just didn’t feel like it was normal. I stopped at the grocery store to take my blood pressure reading, mostly because I had drank tons of water and couldn’t think of any other reason for this feeling… 150s/90s. My normal reading had been 110/70 throughout pregnancy. Knowing that those grocery store measures could be inaccurate, I stopped at my mom’s on the way home and used her cuff… same readings. I called the after-hours line and was directed to call as soon as the office opened the next morning.

Bright and early, Corey and I made our way in for an appointment. When the nurse took my reading, my BP had reached 160/100… the doctor never even came into the room – instead, she sent me directly to triage for monitoring. There, I had an ultrasound – everything looked good, but the tech said she could not see Grace ‘practicing’ to breathe. Maternal Fetal Medicine would need to come in to do another ultrasound – thankfully, this ultrasound showed Grace breathing. The next few hours, I was hooked up to a stress test and my blood pressure reading was taken every 30 minutes. I received the first of 2 steroid shots to help mature Grace’s lungs, should I have to be induced. My BP came down with rest. I’d also need to do a 24-hour urine collection to test for preeclampsia. 10 hours later, I was discharged with instructions to lay on my left side through the weekend, and come back to the Heart the next morning for the second steroid shot.

The day after, we dropped off the urine hold, which Corey carried out to the car. Could this seemingly unimportant and semi-gross little tidbit be left untold in this story? Probably. But it also made me realize how helpless, vulnerable, and how any sense of pride or modesty that I had would need to be pushed aside. It also reminded me of my husbands selflessness, humility, and love for me.

When I followed up with my OB on the following Monday morning, after a weekend of rest, my blood pressure was again sky-high. The first thing our doctor said to me was, “You’re done working.” Immediately my heart began racing thinking of all of the loose ends I still wanted to tie up at the office… not to mention a presentation I was scheduled to give to the marketing team of a celebrity’s makeup line that week. Thankfully, my 24-hour hold came back clear and I did not have preeclampsia… BUT again, I was sent to the hospital for more monitoring. My blood pressure came down again with rest, but an ultrasound showed low amniotic fluid. Thus began a 2-3x per week appointment schedule between MFM and my OB – checking my BP, baby’s heart rate with countless stress tests, and amniotic fluid levels – which thankfully stayed on “the low side of normal” which was not ideal but was normal, nonetheless.

Throughout the following weeks, my blood pressure would range from 130/80 to 160/100. Because I was having average readings a few times per day, I was not put on any medications to lower it for fear that it would drop TOO low which would have been dangerous as well.

I’ve been asked so many times what I did during 4 full weeks of prescribed bed rest. When I was pregnant, I would daydream about naps. Like most pregnant ladies, I craved sleep… and a day of doing nothing. Let me tell you, bed rest was great for the very first day… and maybe half of the second day. After that, it was pure torture. So here is what I did:

  • I watched a lot of TV: Catfish, Teen Mom, Law & Order: SVU, This Is Us.
  • I read a book: Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn.
  • I pinned on my phone… but you’d be surprised how quickly that gets boring.
  • I read gossip magazines.
  • I packed our hospital bags VERY slowly. If you’re interested in what I packed, click here.
  • I put conditioning treatments in my hair.
  • I ordered stuff from Amazon that we did not need: a bluetooth speaker, the I Know What You Did Last Summer DVD collector set, motion sensor lights, and an eye pillow.
  • I scrapbooked – until my blood pressure went up from sitting upright… yes, it was that sensitive.
  • I ate… and I mean ate. I gained 18 pounds (on top of the 50 I had already gained…) during those 4 weeks.

But mostly, each day involved sleeping, praying, talking to Grace, and wondering what she would look like, and wondering if today would be the day.

I talk about it lightly now, but it was the scariest time of my life. I had no control of anything, and gosh I worried, and the more I worried, the higher my BP would rise. I reread the same two verses over and over again:

He who started a good work in you will carry it to completion.

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear, I will help you.

And God did help us. He was so faithful to us. I worried for Grace, and Corey put on a brave face but he would later tell me how scared he was for me.

Each week at the doctor’s office, there would be talk of inducing the following week, but we all were determined to keep Grace in my belly as long as possible. At my 38-week appointment, I was 1cm dilated and 70% effaced. The doctor said she saw no reason to keep me pregnant past 39 weeks, so we scheduled my induction for November 24th – Black Friday.

7pm

7pm

You rub your tired eyes and tug at your ears. Your mouth stretches to a yawn but before your lips close, you let out a big sigh… trying to hide the sleepiness because you’re too worried you’ll miss something if I lay you down.

You’re going to be a handful, we say. You’re a riot, we say. So silly, so smart. But you are so genuinely sweet. So analytical and thoughtful. I can tell you’re really going to captivate us. You already do.

I cradle you. Once upon a time, I could hold the length of you with one arm. But not anymore. Now, your legs overflow off of my lap. You cross your ankles and close your eyes. No more fighting the tiredness. You’ve found solace with me. I am your favorite place to be; your mama.

I’ve been rocking you a little longer these days. I’ve been making up more verses to “you are my sunshine” for us. I’ve been sure to hold your hand while you sleep. I’ve been running my fingers through your hair a few more times than I did before. Extra kisses on your nose before I lay you down. Endless whispers of goodnight.

Moments are fleeting, I’ve heard. The days are long, but the years are short, I’m told. For every first, there is a last, and I savor each one as I know this to be true.

29

I wake up to “ba-ba” sounds coming from across the hall. 6:50am. Grace slept in… yes! It’s still dark outside and it’s chilly in our house. I roll over. Corey whispers, “Happy birthday” and gives me a kiss. I smile and make my way out of bed. I open Grace’s door and even though the sun hasn’t risen and her room is still dark, I can see her sleepy eyes and two-toothed smile. She’s bouncing up and down in her crib without lifting her feet, anxiously waiting for me to come scoop her up. I do, and she starts whispering ma-ma’s as we make our way back into our bedroom. I lay her down in our bed and climb in myself. The three of us are cozy for a moment, until Grace crawls over us both like we’re a playground. My favorite 15 minutes of the day.

Corey and I throw on jeans, get the baby dressed, and the three of us are out the door. He drives us into the city to pick up coffee. The man behind us in line at the cafe is holding one of those small foil balloons that belong in a vase of flowers and Grace cannot stop staring at it. I fall in love with how new everything is to her. I make a mental note to pick one up for her next time we’re at the grocery store.

We stop to pick out donuts on the way home. I order one with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles. Corey tells the cashier I’ll also have the pumpkin streusel flavor. It is my birthday, after all. I make big eyes and act like that’s just crazy, but I eat both, happily. Corey has Grace sitting on his knee and I let her try some icing, but she is more concerned about her next banana puff. We finish and leave, a sugar haze around us.

Corey holds my hand the entire drive back in the car. Grace goes down for a nap when we get home and I collapse on the couch, closing my eyes in thankfulness. I open them and ask Corey to come sit next to me. We talk, look at home furnishing ideas for the investment property, and just exist next to each other. Never mind the dishes, the toys on the floor that we so often trip over, or the half-completed first birthday invitations and envelopes I have strewn across the ottoman. The mess can stay today.

Maybe this isn’t a birthday morning that some would call extraordinary. To me, it is magic. I want to soak in and remember every detail. When I turned 27, I was heartbroken. When I turned 28, I dreamt of this day.

How grateful am I that no matter how much I change year to year, God NEVER does. He is with me today just as much as he was in years past, and not any less than he will be in the future. 27 was a time to lose, a time to embrace. 28 was a time to heal, a time to plant. I don’t know what 29 will bring, but he does. Maybe it will be a great year by definition; maybe it will be the most heartbreaking yet. Regardless, I trust him and am thankful for this season of peace.

For everything there is a season, and a tie for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8