Hello, Square One, my old friend. You haven’t changed much since the last time I was here. You know, I truly believed the last time was going to be THE last time, and yet here we are again. I wonder how many more times we will cross paths in my lifetime?

I will tell you this: while it may appear I haven’t changed much either, that would be an illusion. I am not the same person I was in our last encounter, which is why our current reunion will be a brief one.

The most important change is that I now have the power to drown out your taunts of failure and disappointment. When I hear your negative voice creeping into my consciousness, I turn up the volume on the cheers from my dear friends, Jaime and Tina, who have made careers from their passions around health and fitness, and who are two of the most supportive and encouraging coaches I know. When your murky clouds of shame and defeat start to wear me down, I reach out to my sisters, who are masters at sympathizing with me while pushing me to keep moving forward.

Yes, it’s true I haven’t had the courage to revisit my own thoughts in Reaching the Perfect Weight, because I fear your power is greatest in the space where I thought I had finally left you behind for good. But I’m working hard to not let you use my past successes to weigh my present down. I’m learning to let go of should haves, could haves, what ifs, and so closes. There is only right now and what’s next; and what’s next right now is take another step away from you.

This time when I leave, I won’t promise  myself it’s the last time. We may meet again — in a year, or two, or five. If we do, I will have learned more and grown stronger than I am today. You will have less and less power over me as the years pass. And when you are nothing but a blip on the radar, or a pit stop in my journey to overall health, then I will have beaten you once and for all.

Because coming back to Square One is not the failure. Staying here is.

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Life After Santa


“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Her exuberant cries grew louder as she neared the bathroom where I was getting ready for work, “Guess what?! Another elf came – a girl elf!”

“Really?” I feigned surprise, trying to match her enthusiasm.

“Yes! Look!” She held out the two Elf on the Shelf books and a note Marty (our elf) left. She showed me how the new book had a picture of a girl elf, while the other book had a boy. She read me Marty’s note, “Please welcome and give a new name to my cousin. xoxo, Marty”!!

I looked over at my son standing behind her. Eyes gleaming, he had his hands clasped beneath his chin – a gesture he’s had since he was a toddler that tells us he is bursting with excitement! It’s possible that he was even more excited than his little sister, but for a very different reason. You see, it was his idea to get a second elf.

Last year, just a few weeks before Christmas, he asked us if Santa was real. As a logical, literal fourth grader he had been asking a lot of pointed questions that we explained away for the benefit of his younger sister. But when he asked directly, I knew we had to have the “Santa talk” and I called my husband up to the room. We told him the truth, we read from some of those letters everybody pins to use for this very moment, and we cried because he cried.

Later that night, I shared with facebookland that we had crossed that milestone in my son’s life. I got a lot of sympathy and support from all my friends. Most of it was around how hard it is for us parents when our children grow up; and some was specifically about how sad it was to lose Santa. But the truth is, Santa gets way too much credit when it comes to Christmas. We haven’t lost any Christmas magic — if anything we’ve gained magic.

I should have expected it. I haven’t believed in Santa since 1983 and I love everything about Christmas: the music, the movies, the food, the lights, wrapping presents, the smell of the tree, and all the hustle and bustle. Santa is magic; but once you know he’s not real, YOU become the magic. And this year, I’ve watched my son become the magic.

He’s been nagging me all week to get a female elf for his sister. He’s already planned something for Christmas morning to explain why the elf didn’t respond to the first note she wrote him this year. He’s helped move the elf and then watched with real excitement over imaginary magic while his sister hunts in the morning. It’s been amazing and heartwarming and has brought my Christmas spirit to new heights.

It’s hard when our children grow up – it comes with a sense of inevitable loss. Gone are the days of baby snuggles, wet toddler kisses, and early childhood curiosities. But what we gain in the people they become overshadows that loss in unimaginable ways. Leaving Santa behind is a step away from childhood, and it’s hard. It is also a step closer to the amazing people our children will become, and a glimpse into the imagination they will use to change the world. And that is where the real magic is.

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Fiction Fun Time

I’m all blogged out lately. I’m just worn out from all the opinions on the internet – even those with which I agree are exhausting at the moment. So here’s a break from all that with another chunk of a story. And THANK YOU to all my facebook friends who helped me find the name of my main character. Although I didn’t use any of the names specifically mentioned, the brainstorm sent me down the right path. Here, you’ll get to know her a little better. (And I’m not proofreading anything here, so forgive (or let me know of) any typos.)


“Ella, right? Can I join you?” I looked up from my books to see Blaze pointing at the chair opposite me.

“Uh, sure. But it’s Aella, not Ella.”

“Eye-uh-la?” He sounded out slowly, sitting down.

“Almost, but the first sounds are almost one syllable.”


“Close enough.” I said.

He shook his head and started paging through his book, “You don’t make it easy, do you?”

“Some of my friends call me Sky. That might be easier for you,” I offered with attitude.

“Sky? As in the air above us?” He asked in a way that pissed me off even more.

“Yeah. So? You’re named after fire. How is that any better?”

“I’m just not sure how you go from Aella to Sky.”

“You don’t,” I said shortly, “I like to fly and it’s a nickname from my mother that just stuck.”

“Hmm…” he mumbled, staring over my right shoulder. I thought about punching him while he wasn’t looking, but that would probably be frowned upon during study hour. “What’s Coach’s real name? Does everybody really just call him Coach?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said. I tried to think what his real name was. Surely at some point over the past four years I would have heard someone call him by name. But I couldn’t think of it, he was just Coach to everyone who knew him.

“Sky for someone who flies, and Coach for someone who coaches. Huh.”

“So, what, a descriptive nickname is no good?” I was seething. “We should all just pick nicknames that are practically the same as our real names? From Blake to Blaze is the only way to go?”

“Blakely is my middle name. My first name is Zinan,” he said, turning his attention back to me, locking his eyes onto mine.

“Oh,” I said lamely, not sure where to go with that and feeling trapped again by his gaze. “Coach said your name was Blake.”

“That’s what all the paperwork says. Very few people know my real name.”

I swallowed hard. Why was he telling me something that very few people knew? Between that and the stupid eye-trance, my anger was quickly deflating. “So then Blaze is because…you like fire?”

“I like the rebirth that happens after fire burns away everything rotted and decayed. Phoenix would have probably been more representative, but that seemed a bit much.” He smiled.

I smiled back. “It’s a bit ironic that your name means fire when your eyes are the color of deep water.”

“It’s all part of my mystique,” he said with a wink.

Shit. Did I say that out loud? I frowned, trying to get a grip on my thoughts so I could change the subject. “And where you learned to fight – is that part of your mystique, too?” I could see his jaw clenching as he looked away from me. “Because, ” I continued, “that’s not machine sector street fighting, that’s serious training.”

I waited for a response but he just shrugged and then went back to his book without looking at me again. “You know, ” I said, “being evasive is not exactly the same as being mysterious.”

He sighed and looked at me. “You know,” he said, mimicking my tone, “being curious is not exactly the same thing as being friendly.”

My face burned. “I wasn’t trying to be friendly. And I am curious where you learned to fight like that.” We glared at each other for a few moments. Then he shrugged and closed his book. Without another word, he stood, gathered his things, and left me staring after him. Steaming from the emotional roller coaster he had just put me on, I shoved all my books into my bag and stalked off in the opposite direction, heading straight to the flight lab.


I closed my eyes to mentally replay my third and final simulation, as was my ritual. What could I have done differently? Would that have affected the outcome? Could I have achieved victory more quickly than what I recorded in this session? I relived and considered each moment of the flight

So I didn’t notice that he was standing right behind me.

“Wow,” he said, “I thought you were good on the mats, but that was — wow.”

I nodded without turning around, instead I watched my hands as they slid across the controls. “This is my center,” I replied. Whenever I flew (or fake-flew in a simulation), everything around me fell away. There is nothing but me, my aircraft, and my mission. No hurt feelings, no questions, no complications of day-to-day life; only what is in front of me. The adrenaline during the flight energizes me, sharpens my reflexes, and focuses my thought. But after the flight, everything subsides to an all-encompassing calm. That calm could last for hours following an exercise, or days if everything is going well. If he left right now, I could keep my calm; it hadn’t been disturbed yet.

Then he pulled up a chair and sat next to me. I frowned, wishing he was just a figment of my imagination, hoping that if I closed my eyes and opened them again, he’d vanish like a puff of smoke. When I turned, he was still there. His eyes were glowing with excitement, and he was sitting on the edge of his chair, looking at me.

“Seriously, Aella, where did you learn to fly like that?” He asked.

“My father taught me.”

“Is he a pilot here on Gemini?”

I tensed, as I always do when I have to say it out loud, “He died when I was thirteen.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said, and I could see in his eyes that he really was.

I shrugged, “It was a long time ago.”

“So, if he was your teacher, you must have started early.”

“I’ve been flying for as long as I can remember. My mom always used to say that when I was a baby, the only time I wasn’t crying was when I in the sky.” I smiled at the memory.

Blaze smiled back and asked, “Was he an instructor?”

“No, a pilot. He could fly anything. Huge cargo planes, military transports sometimes. But mostly he flew chartered passenger flights.” He nodded but said nothing, somehow compelling me to continue. “My mom worked long hours at her hospital, so whenever it made sense, my dad would take me with him. I sat in the jump seat, absorbing everything I could, until I was old enough to sit in the copilot seat – if there wasn’t already a copilot. As soon as I turned eleven, I got my license. After that, we’d go to the airfield together and he started to teach me more complex maneuvers and patterns. He was never an instructor, but, man, he was the best teacher.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how did he die.”

The familiar sting pierced my heart. “One day he chartered the wrong people and someone shot them all down.” After all this time, it was still nearly impossible to get through that short explanation without my voice wavering. I cleared my throat and looked at him again.

“So,” he asked, “how did you end up here?”

“About a year later, Fleet came to the house to recruit me. My mom resisted for a while, but there weren’t a lot of options for fourteen-year-old to fly, and she could see how it was killing me being grounded for so long. Fleet promised live flights and simulations would be part of my daily education. So finally she said ok, just so I could get back into the sky. I came up on the next transport after my fifteenth birthday and I’ve been here ever since.”

I wanted to ask him what his story was. How did he end up here? And why did he go to the machines first? But he spoke again before I summoned the courage.

“Can you teach me to fly like that?”

“Uhh, no.”

“You can’t teach me to fly?” He sounded disappointed.

“Oh, I can teach you to fly,” I said. “I can teach anyone to fly. I just can’t teach you to fly like this.”

“I see,” he said, “because you’re so amazing I couldn’t keep up?”

“Your words,” I smiled.

The bells for first dinner seating echoed in the hall. “We should go,” I said. “First seating always has the best desserts.”

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Thoughts of Suicide

This will be one of about 79 million blogs written about suicide over the next few days. Maybe it’s the same as all the others, maybe it’s different. It is just an account of my own experiences.

My first real encounter with suicide was the weekend of my college graduation. The phone in my dorm room rang (this was before cell phones) and my brother’s friend was on the line, trying to track down my brother. “I don’t want to ruin your weekend,” he said, “but I need to tell your brother that D killed himself.” I didn’t know D very well myself, though he was roommates with my brother their freshman year of college (at least I think they were). I had crossed paths with him many times at swim meets and parties, and I knew his cousins, but he was older and gorgeous and I was much to unsure of myself to ever have a meaningful conversation with him. I knew he had suffered fairly serious depression when my brother lived with him, but from afar he still seemed like one of those guys that have it all going for him. I remember thinking it was sad and tragic, and despite having been on antidepressants myself by then, I didn’t understand how anyone could take their own life.

My second encounter happened several years later. My sister’s friend, B, killed himself. B was also the younger brother of one of my good friends in high school. I don’t remember how I found out, whether through my sister or perhaps my mother who could have heard through the neighborhood. I also don’t remember how I got my friend’s contact information, having lost touch with him through college (this was before facebook), but I remember being on the phone with him. We talked and we cried for hours. I wished so hard I could hug him through the distance; I was helpless to ease his pain. I remember being angry with his brother for doing this. I remember thinking he was selfish and should have known the enormity of the pain he was causing.

My third encounter was a little more personal. Behind the locked master bedroom door, behind the locked master bathroom door, on the floor of the master closet, curled in the fetal position, I sobbed. With an ache so deep, so encompassing that I could barely breathe; with my soul shattered, I cried in silent pain. I can’t do this. If only I had killed myself years ago, everybody would be over it by now. I don’t even remember what had set me off, but I remember wondering if there was anything in the bathroom that would do the trick. Luckily, I had enough of my rational self in tact to be terrified by the thoughts. And I knew in my heart my friend wasn’t “over” his brother’s death, that he never truly would be. When I had the energy, I picked myself up and went downstairs and told my husband that I needed help. It was, I think, the first time he truly realized how deep and dangerous depression could be. Within a week, I was back on Zoloft and had an appointment with a therapist on the schedule. It’s the lowest I have ever been, and I hope that when I’m 103, it is still my rock bottom.

My fourth encounter was about five years ago – the younger brother of my younger brother’s friend. We knew them all through swimming. In my mind’s eye, he was a gangly 10-year old with a wide smile and a Speedo that never quite fit right (they never do at that age). That’s how I still picture him, though he had grown into such a handsome, young man. I am facebook friends with him, and after they found him dead, so many of his friends posted the saddest, most loving posts you could ever read. I cried every time one showed up in my newsfeed. Oh, D, did you know how loved you were? Would it have made a difference? Would you have been able to see it? Were you so hurt and broken that you couldn’t have believed it, even if we showed you over and over? I wasn’t angry with him. How could I be? I had felt the despair, the heavy, inescapable darkness. I knew the temptation of letting it all go, and the allure of feeling nothing instead of pain. He had caused the same agony for his friends and family, but I couldn’t blame him. Something inside of him had broken, and only by luck did I find help before the same thing broke inside of me. I cried for his family, his friends, his life that could have been. But mostly I cried for him, knowing how deeply he must have hurt, how hopeless he must have felt, how heavy his burden must have been, and knowing that the anguish broke that last piece of him that could have saved him.

Depression doesn’t have to be fatal, but it certainly can be. If you can’t understand what it would take for someone to end their own life, consider yourself lucky. If you can understand it, I hope that you have found the help you need to keep that last little piece from breaking.

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Thank you to the ones who lift me up

Ugh, I just feel like I’m swimming in negativity lately – in the news, on facebook, at work. It’s everywhere, and as much as I joke about being a crabby person, this negativity has taken a turn and is dragging me into depths where I do not thrive. I don’t expect everybody to be in a good mood all the time (I am, as stated above, a generally crabby person!), but this is more than the usual bitch sessions that I think are an important part of life. You should always be able to tell the world that you’re having a bad day, or turn to a trusted friend and say, “Can you believe this shit?”, or message your sisters and say, “OMFG, did she just say that on facebook?” But it’s gotten so much more than that lately.

It’s been bouncing around in my head for weeks. How do I complain about complaining without adding my own vitriol to the swirl? I can’t. And thus I am reminded of a saying/quote/meme/whatever:

Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

So here is a THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to all the people who make my days brighter.

Thank you to everybody who makes me laugh with a silly joke or funny story – especially my coworkers who keep me sane (relatively speaking) during a strange time in our department and company.

Thank you to the amazing ladies at boot camp who not only give me a reason to get out of bed at 4:45am three days a week, but make me look forward to it! Special thanks to our coach and my good friend who has this amazing ability to challenge us to push ourselves to work harder, by using only positive and encouraging inspiration.

Thank you to my husband and kids for being three of the top huggers in the world.

Thank you to everybody who knows the difference between a blog and an article and gives the appropriate amount of credit to research versus opinion.

Thank you to the people who know that not every piece of information should be shared with everyone; for those who can tell whether sharing information will be helpful or just plain hurtful to a person, relationship, situation, team, etc.

Thank you to SoundCloud, Rhapsody, and iHeartRadio for always having the right music to get me through a mood, whether it’s R3hab, DMB, Pink Floyd, or The Hunger Games soundtracks.

Thank you to the parents who remember to thank their children’s teachers, coaches, and other individuals who sacrifice so much of their time to benefit other people’s kids. Special thanks to those that bite their tongue when they have a criticism born of difference of opinion rather than a true concern for their child’s welfare.

Thank you to all the shoulders on which I cry, and all the listening ears that I fill with my problems.

Thank you to people who share pictures of cats falling off things more often than op-eds about how we should ALL be living our lives.

Thank you to my friends that can have a civil debate with me about actual, real issues without ever accusing me of being stupid, wrong, or misinformed just because we disagree.

Thank you to those who can listen to me vent (about kids, work, husbands, hangnails, anything) and then offer a hug (real or virtual) while holding back their opinion and advice on how they think I should be doing things differently.

Thank you to the people who take responsibility and take tangible action to make the world a better place instead of placing the onus solely on unseen forces.

Thank you to friends who always have the right pick-me-up, whether it’s an inspirational quote, a picture of Adam Levine, or a reminder of the number of days left until JT.

Thank you to all the parents who share pictures of their kids just being happy and just being kids, without always bringing up all the other baggage that comes with parenting.

Thank you to all the parents who are honest about all the other baggage that comes with parenting so none of us have to feel so alone in our frustrations.

Thank you to people who check Snopes when something flying around on the internet seems off.

Thank you to all the cultures that invented and perfected flatbreads – pitas, tortillas, naan, all of it.

Thank you to the people who treasure our individual differences and know that we can always learn something about life, the universe, and ourselves by exploring ideas rather than pushing conformity.

And a big, special thank you to everybody who reads my blog, and those who encourage me to keep writing. It keeps me from sinking too far into the depths where I do not thrive.

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More Untitled – but much later in the story

Here’s another piece of my story that has finally made it from my brain to the computer. I really need a self-imposed NaNoWriMo to get this all out more quickly. And to support the NaNoWriMo philosophy, I haven’t proofread this to perfection yet. Just getting it out of my head as best I can, so please forgive any typos and awkward sentences.

“Deacon!” I screamed, stretching my arms toward the building, as though I could somehow reach him and pull him out. My mind was racing to the point of incomprehension, I couldn’t process anything in the moment so it might as well have been blank. All I knew was that I had to get to Deacon and was sprinting toward the door where I last saw him.

Out of nowhere, and arm reached out and grabbed me around the waist. I hit it so hard, my feet left the ground, and all the wind was knocked out of me. I folded over his arm as he spun around and started moving in the opposite direction. I wanted to scream, but I still had no breath. I tried to get back to the building, but my feet were still off the ground. I was being carried away from the fire. Away from Deacon.

The second blast ripped through the air with deafening finality. We floated for an instant before my right leg hit the ground and thousands of tiny daggers sliced through my skin. My left forearm hit next, screaming along the same ragged, biting pavement. I braced for a head impact that never happened. Somehow Blaze had cocooned himself around me. The impact took my breath away again, and I instinctively curled myself into a ball. I could feel Blaze’s hot breath on my neck and could faintly make out his scent under the smell of smoke of and char.

His protective presence started to calm me and bring me back, my brain clicked through the fractured images of the last few minutes. Deacon. A new wave of grief washed over me and my insides crumbled. I began to whimper. Deacon. No, no, no. Blaze got up and stood over me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that he was surveying the landscape, looking for the next immediate danger, determining our options. I should be doing the same, but I was shattered. I pulled myself to my hands and knees. I wanted to wail, instead I vomited. Bile blackened by soot formed a sticky pool beneath me. I spat, trying to clear the taste of death and fear from my mouth. No, no, no, no.

Blaze hooked his hands under my armpits and hauled me to my feet. Grabbing my good arm, he pushed and dragged me forward, my feet stumbling along at first. I cleared my mind of everything except the sound of his feet hitting the ground and forced mine to match his pace. Soon, we were both sprinting away from the city and toward the woods. I fell in line behind Blaze so he could control the direction. We hit the woods at breakneck speed and didn’t slow down until we were far enough in that it was impossible to see or hear anything from outside the trees.

Blaze put his arm out to stop me and looked around. He seemed to be already catching his breath while my lungs were screaming and my heart was racing. I closed my eyes, gulped a deep breath and forced everything to slow down. I heard the trickling of a stream and looked at Blaze. He nodded and started walking toward the sound. When we came upon the stream, he looked carefully up and down to make sure nobody was around before kneeling by the water’s edge and scooping handfuls to drink. Then he stood up and started to walk around as though he was searching for something.

I sighed and looked down at myself. My clothes were torn and smeared with red and black. My leg and arm were caked with blood, dirt, and soot. I was certain my face was streaked with dirty tears. I peeled off my shirt and shook it, getting only the most superficial dust and ash off. I draped it over a branch of a nearby tree, found a stick on the ground and started beating the shirt. I was pretty sure I had seen something like this in an old history film. Sure enough, with each whack, a small cloud of gray billowed out of my shirt and into the woods. There was something very satisfying and cathartic about it all and after a few minutes, I was feeling almost collected. The shirt was still dirty, but looked far less menacing and could pass as not-well-cared-for instead of from-a-war-zone. My pants were black, so I only gave them a few whacks after hanging them next to my shirt.

I looked around for Blaze but couldn’t see him. I heard rustling nearby and assumed he was still searching for whatever it was he was searching for. I walked to the stream and took off the rest of my clothes, dropping them with my shoes onto a rock. The water was frigid and flowing quickly, though the stream itself was not very deep. Gritting my teeth against the cold, I walked in until the water was almost to my knees, and then I sat on the bottom of the creek, with my toes pointing downstream. I gingerly brushed my wounds while the water flowed over them, carrying away scabs and dirt. I could feel another bubble of sadness filling me as I thought about Deacon. No, no, no.

The tears stung my eyes and before they could drop over the edges of my eyelids, I laid back in the water. I was fully submerged now and had to concentrate on digging in my heels and hands to avoid floating away. I opened my eyes and looked up at the sky. Through the blurred sheen of running water, I could see deep blues and bright white clouds, while green and gold shapes bowed in and out of my peripheral. It could be just any beautiful, early summer day.

I stayed under until my lungs ached and then sat up with a gasp. Blaze was back on shore and obviously trying to look in every direction but mine. I felt heavy. He had already seen me at my worse, I didn’t care if he now saw me naked. I bent over to splash water on my face and scrubbed it with my hands until I was certain there were no traces of tears. I leaned farther to get my hair in the water, combing it with my fingers as the water flowed through it. Then I shook my head and stood up. Blaze had his back to me, watching the woods, as I came out of the stream. I dressed as quickly as I could manage.

“You can turn around now.”

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Maleficent with a 7 Year Old

I’ve mentioned before how my daughter’s commentary is sometimes the most entertaining part of a movie or program. I shared her quotes last year when we went to see Iron Man 3, and again in February during the opening ceremonies for the Olympics.

Today, we saw Maleficent and I giggled much more than the first time I saw it with a couple of my grown-up girlfriends. I really should mic her up when we go to movies, but I think I did a fair job of remembering her most quotable quotes.

SPOILER ALERT: some of these quotes will actually give away parts of the movie, so consider yourself warned.

First of all, she had Stephan’s number when they first said that true love’s kiss “wasn’t meant to be.”

Is that why she turns evil? Does Stephan do something to her?

And it just kept getting better.

Is she on the Mighty Girl website? She’s strong, she should be on the Mighty Girl website. Yeah, I think she is.

He’s a terrible boyfriend. I’m glad I don’t have wings that my boyfriend can take… Well, when I have a boyfriend.

That’s a strange way to cry. But she’s in pain and she’s sad so it’s like she’s being torn apart.

BOOOO! [When Stephan was crowned king]

She’s going to do something evil – you can tell because she said, “How wonnnderfulll.” And then she smiled. And a baby shouldn’t have a grand celebration.

Ooooh, she has a hat and an outfit now!

She has a little left. [Tapping her heart] A little love left.

I hope that doesn’t happen to me on my Golden Birthday… [she was born on the 16th]
Me: What? Get cursed?

Why doesn’t Maleficent kiss her? I mean, it’s true love, so….

Why is he trying to kill her?
Me: Because he’s a terrible, terrible person.

Yeah. And boyfriend.

It’s good that she killed him. And got her wings back. Aurora was a big help, I’m glad they’re getting along now.

And the best quote of all:

That’s the best movie I’ve ever seen! Even better than Frozen. Because they both have the same moral… That true love isn’t always what you expect.

So, yes, she talks incessantly during movies. And if she wasn’t so darn entertaining, it might be annoying. But I find the insight and observations of my young lady to be well worth the price of any ticket (or two if I want to see the movie first in a little peace and quiet).

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