Category: Event Planning

Communion Meal Brainstorming

Tonight I’ve been working on ideas for a communion meal at a church. Here’s the brainstorming document I put together after Googling and thinking. I’m quite curious to hear your creative/unique/symbolic ideas for communion services or meals.

My youth pastor from high school is planting an international church in the Netherlands. Kent and his wife, Leslie, have been missionaries in the NL for seven years, and they’ve been in Maastricht since January, starting Damascus Road International Church. I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in little ways from a distance, and Matthew and I had an incredible visit with them when we were in Europe in September.

I remember from the beginning, back in January, Kent has talked about wanting to host communion meals with the church, where it’s more than just taking communion in a church service–it’s a full meal, shared together. They’re doing it for the first time on December 12. Kent and I got talking about it via email a few days ago, and I ended up putting together some ideas.

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Harry Potter Party Plan

I kept a running list of ideas for the Harry Potter Party in a text document in the Parties folder on my laptop. When the party finally came together for the Deathly Hallows premiere, I just opened the doc, added new ideas, created to-do lists, and organized it. I was able to send it to the hosts a few days before to keep them in the loop.

Here’s the plan for the party. I had to make some alterations the day of the party–those notes are in green.

Party Order:
Guests arrive on platform (7 pm)
Photos against backdrop
Sorting into houses (teams)
Muggle quidditch relay (back yard)
Feast (dessert – dining room)
OWLs trivia game (dining room)
Reading from Deathly Hallows (library)
Astronomy tower (upstairs balcony) We ended up switching the library and the astronomy tower for flow reasons.
Awarding of prizes – House Cup (dining room)
Movie (Theater – several of us got tickets for the 12:05 showing)

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Harry Potter Party Prep

I’ve been planning this party for three years.

Seriously. (Siriusly?)

Three years ago, in the fall of 2007, I started reading the Harry Potter books. (Finally. I HATE having to wait for books to come out, so I never start a series till they’re all done. Waiting for multi-part movies is bad enough.) So of course, as I read them, I couldn’t help but come up with party ideas. I think Patronus Cookies were my first idea, when I found a reindeer-shaped cookie cutter in a Christmas set. I’ve had a Word doc going on my computer for probably that long, where I’ve jotted recipe, game, and decoration ideas.

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How to Plan a Pirate Party in 7 Easy Steps

Step 1: Drink a bottle of rum.

Step 2: Watch all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Step 3: Duly inspired, sit down to plan your pirate-flavored invitations, menu, decorations, and games.

Step 4: Drink another bottle of rum.

Step 5: Stumble back to your desk to finish planning.

Step 6: Decide you’re too inebriated to plan anything. Peer into the now-empty liquor cabinet.

Step 7: Light a fire in your living room; dance around it asking, “Why is all the rum gone?”

OR, alternately, if you actually want to get a pirate party planned:

Step 1: Occasions. Talk Like A Pirate Day is Sept. 19…now is the opportune moment to plan a party. If you really like to plan ahead, the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie comes out May 20, 2011. And Pirates make a great theme for birthday parties, movie marathons, New Year’s Eve parties, bar mitzvahs…okay, maybe not bar mitzvahs. Choose an occasion – or no occasion – for your pirate party.

Step 2: Venue. Pick a piratey venue. If weather permits, outdoor parties work really well with a pirate theme, especially if you can hold the party near a body of water. Beyond ambiance, an outdoor party has the added benefit of allowing you to actually bury a treasure chest. If you do have an outdoor party, ensure there are adequate restroom facilities. I once did a pirate party in a park without porta potties; having to shuttle guests to the bathroom a couple miles away at my house really slogged up the procession of the party plan. But it was worth it – here’s the party location, the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park in Providence, RI.

Step 3: Invitations. Make invitations as soon as you’ve picked the date and time. If you’re mailing invites, send them out at least two weeks ahead of time. Whether you mail, email, phone, or Facebook your invitations, use your best piratey language. Lots of “arrrs,” “ayes,”  and “avasts.” Here are the invitations I made for my pirate birthday party 3 years ago. Hint: don’t make the language so piratey that people can’t understand it…with these invites, several people had to call me and ask for translations.

Step 4: Costumes. What good is a pirate party without costumes? Seriously. It’s one of the best costume party ideas. Plus, your guests will be apt to have more fun and take themselves less seriously if they’re sporting eye patches, hook-hands, and parrots. Everyone walks with more of a swagger when they’re wearing sashes and tricorns. Here’s a fantastic list of ideas and links for putting together pirate costumes.

Step 5: Menu. Unless you want to serve hardtack, citrus fruits, and maggoty meat, I suggest going with an inauthentic menu. Eat whatever you like and focus your creative endeavors on the drink menu. If you’re going non-alcoholic, root beer in bottles is a must. If your pirates are NOT tee-totalers, the Talk Like a Pirate mates have an excellent list of pirate drink recipes. You can fall back on the standard grog, but, frankly, it tastes terrible. The cake is the place to shine with creativity. Here’s the treasure chest cake my mom made for my birthday a few years ago.

And the stellar cake my friend Jenn made for a Pirates movie marathon.

Step 6: Decorations. If you’re not lucky enough to have your party onboard a ship, like this amazing couple with their pirate wedding, decorate as best you can with a nautical flair. (Did you click on that link? Go back and do it now. Go on, I’ll wait.) Think treasure chests, strings of pearls, dubloons, sashes, tricorns, maps, model ships… In the cake pictures above, you can see some of the decorations I’ve used at various pirate parties.

You can ask each guest, or team of guests, to design and make their own pirate flag. Provide supplies – black fabric for flags, white and red felt for cutting out their own pirate symbol, and glue guns to attach them all together. This activity then adds to the decor.

Step 7: Games.

I Don’t Have Scurvy - guests compete to eat cut-in-half citrus fruits, racing a clock and each other. The fruits get more sour as the fastest contestants progress through the rounds. No matter who wins, it’s guaranteed that all contestants will be scurvy free.

Plankman – a living game of hangman. When players call a letter that’s not on the board, there’s not drawing of fictional body parts on a hangman’s noose – each team’s plankman must take a step further down the plank. (If you can do this over an actual body of water, this is much more better.)

Captain Says – like Simon Says, but the Captain calls the shots and does pirate-themed actions (i.e. hop on one foot like a peg leg pirate).

Blind Man’s Bluff - use two eye patches for a blindfold.

Pirate ScrabbleSpeed Scrabble with a twist. Contestants may use only pirate-related words (stretch this as far as you want, but you have to give a justification for each one). The fastest finisher must tell a pirate story using all the words on his or her board to claim the win.

Pin the Kiss on Jack Sparrow/Will Turner – This one is for the ladies. Hang a poster of Cap’n Jack or another dashing pirate. Give each guest a cutout of paper red lips labeled with her name. Put tape or sticky tack on both sides of the lips. Blindfold the player, spin ‘er around, and send her wobbling toward to picture to plant a kiss on Jacky’s lips. Closest one wins.

This post was inspired by my friend Joleigh, who threw a pirate 16th birthday party for a friend last weekend. Jo, you’ll have to send pictures and let us know how it went! Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Clean Up’s A … Watermelon

So, I just finished officially cleaning up from the party.

Saturday night’s party. (It’s Wednesday.)

I just swept up the crumbs and hand-washed the last two pieces of china. (There were kind of a lot of dishes.)

Every bit of the party had been clearly planned, delegated, and executed upon…except for the clean-up. I wasn’t billed as a hostess for this party…it was Matthew, Joanna, and Phil giving a party at my table, so I assumed they had an clean-up plan as well. Joanna and Phil kept up with things in the kitchen during the party, and Matthew did several loads of dishes on Sunday and Monday. Even the babysitter who came over Monday night sent a load through the dishwasher! (Yeah, she’s a keeper.) But there was just SO MUCH CLEAN-UP.

(The aftermath Saturday night)

Matthew noticed yesterday that there was a funny smell in the kitchen, so he took out the trash and thought that got rid of it.

Today, I decided to just jump in and finish it myself…and I found…well, here’s part of the email I sent Matthew earlier today:

Behind all the dishes, someone left half a watermelon out. It rotted and leaked mushy liquid all over the counter, under all the dishes, and last night, over the front of the cabinets and onto the floor. It turned brown and sticky as it dried. THAT was the horrible smell in the kitchen. The cats tracked it onto the window sills.

It mightn’t have been as bad if we lived somewhere hotter, somewhere with central air in every building, somewhere that the AC just runs from May through September. As a given. Here, we have window units and try to do without as much as possible, partly to control the electric bills and partly so we don’t risk blowing the circuits in this old house. So it’s September 1st, and 95 degrees, and we had the windows open. And it was hot.

And the watermelon didn’t like that.

So, that’s what I spent my afternoon doing. How was yours?

Lesson learned: next time we have an event, we’re going to clearly delineate whose job it is to finish all the cleaning. And throw out the watermelon.

How to Host a Guest Speaker

I am honored to be one of the speakers at a teen camp in Wisconsin this week. This is the first time I’ve been flown somewhere to speak, so I’m still not sure what to do with this!

At the end of June, I spoke at a national teen convention in Pennsylvania, where I connected with my friend Joleigh. One of her camp speakers dropped out at the last minute, so she asked me to fill in. In just two weeks, she pulled together my travel plans and I pulled together my presentations (well, sort of – I got mostly ready before traveling out here, but I am currently up at 2:30 am finishing my PowerPoint for a session tomorrow).

I have felt so much hospitality from the whole camp team this week. They’ve done an amazing job of making me and my kids feel welcomed. If you are planning an event that involves speakers traveling in, here are some great hospitality lessons you can learn from Joleigh and her team.

1. Issue the invitation

Give as much detail as you can up front so the speaker can decide if the event fits in with her schedule and priorities. For example, “We would love to have you speak at our camp. It’s July 11-16. We could fly you in and cover all your costs during the week. Your children would be welcome to come with you. My camp team will be happy to help take care of them.”

I had to clear the timing with my boss and check the family calendar with my husband before I could commit, so I took a few days to decide. Joleigh followed up just enough to remind me to make the decision in time for flights to be purchased, but not so much that it was annoying.

2. Make travel arrangements

I’ve never had someone schedule my travel for me before. It was amazing. She checked flights from my airport to hers and offered me several flight times to choose from and made sure I would return home on Friday in time for a commitment that night. I HATE searching for flights. This made the process so easy. She also arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport and drive me to the camp. It was a relief to not have to worry about any of the transportation details.

3. Plan for their preferences

Joleigh thought of all kinds of details that made me feel welcomed. Particularly, she remembered that I like to run, so she connected me ahead of time with camp team members who are runners. I was able to check and scope out routes before I got here. I had a fantastic trail run with one of the high school camp team girls today on a woodchip trail at a local park. She also checked food preferences for me and my kids and bought special snacks for us. Thoughtfulness like that takes hospitality to the next level.

4. Take care of their kids

Knowing my two small children would be welcome with me made it easy for me to say “yes” to the invitation. Joleigh went above and beyond and arranged for one of the camp team girls to bring carseats and a pack-n-play from her house when she picked us up, so I didn’t have to travel with any of those bulky items. The camp team has been amazing to play with Joshua and Katherine so I could prepare for sessions, speak, nap, and run.

5. Get them settled in

The camp staff has been wonderful too. We had two rooms side-by-side set aside for us, which was really nice. I love co-sleeping with my babies, but once they become toddlers, we all sleep better in separate rooms. We arrived in plenty of time to allow for naps and unpacking before we had to do anything or be anywhere.

6. Give gift baskets

There is something so welcoming about a gift basket. They’re never expected but always appreciated. Joleigh had put together a gift bag for me with magazines, a mug, candy and cocoa, and other items that showed she knows me and knows what I like. Being observant of your guests and noticing little things they like and then acting on those likes shows great hospitality. She also had toy totes for K and J with age- and gender-appropriate toys and craft items. AND she had made them mini-camp-t-shirts to match the big kids!

7. Feed them well

I have relished not having to cook or wash dishes all week. We’ve eaten excellent, healthy meals and snacks, and there’s even a section of the walk-in fridge designated for the camp team with “special” foods and snacks. I got a free pass to the coffee shop all week and the kids got a free pass to the candy store.

8. Welcome them into your culture

I think this is the most important point. The camp team has shared their inside jokes with me, let me in on their late-night planning sessions, and let me join in teasing them. Joleigh says it’s important for the speakers she picks to be “campatible.” I think the reverse is also true, and camp is quite “patible” with me.

5 Hospitality Lessons from Running a Speech Contest

The oratory contest on May 1 went amazingly well. I had been quite overwhelmed with the last-minute entries (that more than doubled the number of contestants), but with a lot of support and help, it all came together.

In my second year of running this contest, here are a few things I learned about hospitality:

1. Market the heck out of your event
Invitations are a type of marketing. Your goal is to get the people you want at your event to attend your event. So essentially you’re “selling” your event, even if there’s no ticket price. There’s a cost for people to come: their time, their attention, transportation costs, and, for a contest, the time they take to prepare their entry. You have to convince them that the benefit is worth the price. This means you have to ask.

I hate selling…I hate “the ask”…because any time I ask someone for something, there’s an opportunity for rejection. But I try to overcome this to promote things I believe in, so I did a lot of asking in preparation for the contest.

The best thing I did was focus on inviting several specific teachers to help their students attend. Taking an idea from a teacher involved last year, I suggested they give their students extra credit for participating. I got my 13 last-minute registrations from two teachers.

2. Deal graciously with changes to make people feel welcomed
More important than my stress about having to restructure the whole contest two days before it was that all the participants feel welcomed. I went out of my way to assure them we were delighted to have them involved.

3. Realize there’s a difference between “coordinating” and “hosting”
Coordinating involves making sure all the details are coming together. Hosting involves making sure all the people are coming together. I confused the two and was running around at the start of the event focusing on score sheets, pens, stop watches, and chairs instead of ushering in the contestants and their parents as they arrived, making them feel at ease. My husband pointed this out to me in a whisper, and I realized I needed to delegate the details and focus on the people. (As an introvert, it’s MUCH easier for me to do the opposite.)

Next year I will get more help with clearly defined roles: One person to MC and one or two people to set up the details, freeing me to actually host.

4. Don’t go it alone
I could never have pulled off this event without a lot of help. My high school intern Meagan helped me plan the event and arrived early to set up tables, chairs, signs, etc. My husband helped with my kids all morning as I printed certificates and sign in sheets, then he wrangled the kids at Office Max while copying score sheets so I could head to the venue to set up. Our executive assistant – with 4-month-old baby in tow – made sure we had enough snacks and refreshments. The judges who arrived early even helped me finish setting up the competition rooms. Don’t think you can host alone – not only is it more feasible with help, it’s also more fun to work in community.

5. Hosting is a type of leadership
I forgot this when I focused on the details. Hosting is about leading people. You need to subtly guide them with verbal and non-verbal cues through the event. When people walk in to a new situation, they often gaze around, frozen and lost. The host is the one who notices them, makes them feel important and welcomed, shows them where to go and what to do, lets them know what’s coming next. The best hosts are able to communicate to their guests how to act in any situation without the teaching being overt. That’s the kind of host I strive to be.

What else have you learned about hospitality from big events such as contests or meets?

Dealing with Last-Minute Entries in a Contest

I am running a speech contest for high schoolers this afternoon. This is my second year of organizing this contest. I created it from scratch for a non-profit organization as part of our strategy of engaging more young people.

Last year, we had 8 contestants. This year, it was looking like we’d have 10. On Thursday I got ready to prepare the programs, print name tags, etc. Then I heard from two teachers who have students who want to jump in – I ended up with 23 contestants, almost tripling our number from last year!

That’s why it’s 4 a.m., and I’m still up working on contest details. I had to rearrange the judging brackets, figure out how to coordinate extra rooms in the facility we’ll be using, track down the speech titles of all the contestants, find more timekeepers and another judge… I finished the program a few minutes ago, but I’ll have to wait to print it till morning when I can get bio details on the last couple judges.

In the morning, I’ll still need to print name tags, signs for the venue, the programs, the judges’ ballots, and certificates. The executive assistant is going to pick up extra snacks and water bottles tomorrow. My high school intern will hopefully be able to find more stopwatches and help me set up the extra judges’ tables and chairs on-site.

It’s thrown me into a tizzy the past couple days to figure out all these additional details at the end of a very busy week…we did have a registration deadline, but I hated to turn away eager participants. (Or maybe I just have a fond place in my heart for fellow procrastinators?) One of the teachers offered her students extra credit to participate, which made up a big chunk of the late registrants.

Any suggestions for how I can encourage earlier sign ups next year? What have you done with late RSVPs for a party or event?

How to Host a Cookout

I was just talking with a friend who has been unexpectedly thrust into hosting a cookout for about 20 people at her home in a couple days. She had a minor panic, being unsure about how to put together the event, how to handle the food, what was expected of her as the hostess. Here are some ideas I threw out there for her…with summer cookout season still going strong, especially heading toward Labor Day Weekend, maybe these will help someone else too.

-It’s less about the venue and the appearance and more about the warm welcome
For a casual cookout, you don’t have to have perfectly coordinated luau themed decorations and linens, tiki torches, and a roast pig (though that would be hecka fun). You don’t even have to have a sculpted lawn and matching patio furniture. Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, just reasonably picked up. Just be prepared, then remember to be calm and smile. Your guests will remember the feel of the party more than the details of how it looked.

-The role of the host is to give direction without overly herding people
You don’t have to force people’s every move, but you do need to give gentle direction. Laissez-faire hospitality can leave people wandering around aimlessly and having to ask awkward questions. Anticipate their questions and provide answers before they have to ask. “I’m so glad you’re here! Thanks so much for bringing chips. You can put them on the table there. Please help yourself to a drink from that cooler there. The bathroom is inside through the patio doors, on the other side of the kitchen. We’ve got burgers on the grill – we’ll be ready to eat in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, enjoy the veggies on the table.”

Make introductions. Try to mention a common interest as you make the introduction. Make sure everyone has someone to talk to. You cannot make people be friends, but at least you can set conversations up for success.

Orchestrate the evening. Let people know what to expect, what will be coming up – think of it as a casual Order of Ceremony. “Okay, the burgers are coming off the grill! We have buns and condiments on the table by the plates. You can form a line here. Sarah, would you mind going through the line first?”

“It looks like everyone’s almost done eating. There’s a trash bag right here when you’re done with your plates and cans. In about 15 minutes, we can move to the lawn – we have croquet over here, bocce there, and a volleyball net in the backyard. We’ll eat dessert around 8:30.”

-Cookout food should be simple
If you have grill skills, you can do hamburgers, chicken (boneless skinless thighs fit perfectly on a bun and are less expensive than breasts. If you do breasts, you can usually cut them in half for grilling), and sausages (bratwursts or sweet Italian sausage can be a nice change from hot dogs). You might want to have a box of veggie burgers on hand in case you end up with some vegetarians. Provide nice buns, sized appropriately for the various meats. Have condiments – ketchup, mustard, mayo, and a plate of lettuce and sliced tomatoes (skip the sliced onions – no one wants to be concerned about onion breath at a social occasion).

Really you can skip potato salad, coleslaw, etc. Cookouts seem to be more about the meats anyway. Maybe do a veggie tray and a fruit tray, some chips, maybe cheese and crackers.

Desserts can be simple too – cupcakes, watermelon, and brownies.

If you have a gathering of foodies, then definitely grill marinated fish and vegetables, serve exotic salads and appetizers, pair wines with the food, and have your pastry chef friend bring dessert. (And invite me.)

Get enough flats of water bottles (they often come in 24-packs) for each guest to have at least one bottle of water. Have a nice mix of carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, caffeinated and non-caffeinated. So, maybe Coke, Root Beer, 7-Up, and Lemonade or iced tea. If you’re doing alcohol, you can serve bottles of beer (some light, some regular – the Sam Adams summer pack is a nice assortment: Boston Lager, Light, Summer Ale, Blackberry Wit, Hefeweizen, and Pale Ale) and bottles of malternatives like Mike’s Hard Cranberry Lemonade. Stock a couple coolers with ice ahead of time.

-Paper goods
If you do drinks in cans and bottles, you don’t have to buy cups. This leads to fewer spills and avoids the whose-cup-is-this? awkwardness. If you have only finger foods, you don’t have to get silverware. Sturdy paper plates (like Chinet) and napkins (or a roll of paper towels can be less expensive) are all you need.

-Getting guests to contribute
It’s generally acceptable for a cookout to be a potluck. You can either wait for guests to ask what they should bring or just declare it a potluck from the outset. Give clear direction about what you want guests to bring. Single guys should usually be tasked with bringing drinks or chips or ice. (Be clear about what kind of drinks, for example, cans instead of 2-liters.) You can assign desserts and/or side dishes to the ladies or culinarily skilled men. BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat) can work well.

-Have fun
Relax and enjoy the summer with your friends.

What are your best cookout hospitality tips?

Recuperating from Hospitality Overload

I finally felt “UP” yesterday…I have felt “down” for the past two weeks. Today I have energy and vitality and spark again!

Two weeks ago when Hannah visited, I overcrowded the week and wore myself out. I had some major work projects that fell that week…speaking briefly at my church on Sunday, speaking at the rally at the State House on Monday, media committee meeting Thursday night, and giving a presentation to 45 high schoolers on Sunday. I didn’t realize till those things were over how very much they had been stressing me out. Even though I can do my teen workshop in my sleep now, and I love doing them, preparing to get up in front of people makes me tense and irritable.

I feel really badly that those all fell the same week as Hannah came. I also tried to pack in AS MUCH FUN AS POSSIBLE! So we were going-going-going. The next time we get together, I’m going to schedule nothing but sewing, dancing, watching movies, eating, shopping…dang it, see? There I go again.

The week culminated in Matthew’s Super Bowl Party of His Life dot com. He had told me he wanted to have one and asked if I could help…I told him I couldn’t do much since Hannah would be visiting, but that I would straighten up the house and make a huge pot of chili.

Saturday night came, and we sat down to talk logistics. I asked Matthew to go over the RSVP list and it went on and on…neither of us had realized till then that 30 adults were planning to come, along with 8 children. We have a smallish apartment with only one bathroom. Matthew realized he had literally invited too many people. The thought of almost 40 humans crammed into my home sent me into an internal panic. And I realized that after the crazy week we’d had, “straightening up” the house would take hours, and we would need a lot more food than a pot of chili.

Hannah and Matthew both helped a ton, and Dan and Jenn came over early to help with last minute prep, and by the time 5:30 rolled around, we had 6 screens (laptops and TVs) set up throughout the house, chairs dispersed, drinks filling three coolers, and snacks spread out on the table. Total count ended up being 33 people. It took the rest of the next week to clean up, but we also got comments all week long about how much everyone had enjoyed the party.

By the time I had recovered myself and the house, it was time to get ready for a baby shower I was co-hosting with my friend Bekki (thankfully at her house, not mine!) on Saturday the 7th. The mom (Onalee) is doing the nursery in a circus motif, which provided a great party theme (most of the guests had all been involved in a couples Bible study for several years, so we’ve done SO many baby showers for each other that we were running out of themes and games!).

Katherine got sick on Thursday, and especially after staying up till almost 3 am Friday night getting ready for the party and catching up on other things, I was very sick myself by Saturday afternoon. (Joshua was a huge help – he actually slept 7.5 hours straight Friday night! 11 pm to 6:30 am) I doped up on cold medicine and ringmastered the party, but by the time it was over I was a wreck. Jenn took care of me afterward since the significant others were mostly all playing video games at my house still. I got worse and worse, and she realized I was in no condition to drive, so she had Dan bring Matthew to drive me home.

I spent Sunday in bed…Matthew left for church giving Katherine instructions to stay in her room till Mommy got up. By the time I did, around 1:30, K was naked (?) in the living room and Cheerios covered the floor in 70% of the house. (Sweeping was a small price to pay for that blessed sleep.) Then Katherine and I watched Back to the Future movies till bedtime.

So I’ve spent this week so far recuperating from the sickness and decompressing from all the hospitality. We’re mostly all well now, except for Joshua, who has a terrible stuffy nose.

Gwyn put it really well when I told her about the Super Bowl party: “wow. that is a becky nightmare + fantasy. the hospitality! but the PEOPLE! but the hospitality! and the cooking! but the PEOPLE, and muffliato isn’t WORKING!”

I think God knew He had to give me the gift of hospitality to combat my introvertedness, or I would live in constant disobedience. As it is, the two work in tension with each other, causing me to cycle through wearing myself out and recuperating. Hopefully I’ll continue to work toward finding a better balance.

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