Fifty Years of a Golden Life and Love

Love

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

This is the song that played as my  mother walked down the aisle, 50 years ago today, the day she married my father. June 10th, 1971. A different age. A different world. Could they have known on this day what kind of future lay ahead for them, for their family or their lives?

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The all important wedding photo with the parents.

This blog post is not a historical perspective of the past 50 years, nor is it the text of a speech that I would have shared, with a group of family and friends, had the world not been what it is today. My intent here is to share some highlights, thoughts and memories of a most wonderful love story, of a close intimate friendship, of two people.

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The Montreal Jewish community of the 1950’s and 1960’s was vibrant and growing, and from stories shared with me by my grandparents, I feel like everyone knew each other. Whether you lived in Côte Saint-Luc or NDG or Westmount or TMR, people were connected. My parents first met as children through a friendship my father made with my mother’s brother, and they found each other again years later, as teenagers.

LoveLike so many couples who stay together for many years, I firmly believe that their 50-year marriage is based on a strong foundational friendship. And a good sense of humour. Okay, a love of music too. Maybe also that one loves to cook and the other loves to clean (guess which one?).

And a commitment to family. On this point you may say to me, come on Alicia, of course family. But for them, the commitment to family has always been something central to everything they do. It’s extra special.

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Wow, the hair, and the green shag carpet.

1977. Yep, the baby is me!
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Early eighties in St. Agathe

So, my parents, Marla and Barry, got married on June 10th 1971. That was a Thursday, just like 2021. In 1971, a postage stamp was 8 cents, and the latest song playing on the radio was Joy to the World. The Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup (will they do that again this year?). They honeymooned in Europe, as they road tripped through England and France. My mother often recalls tales of the road, in particular strange stories of my father’s driving prowess across England.

They returned to Montreal ready to start their life together, in a small rental apartment. Even before they had children, as a couple in their early twenties, family was important to them. Whether it was a quick hello to my mother’s parents who lived a few blocks away or a weekend at my father’s parents’ country house, staying close to those they loved always mattered. They were always surrounded by their large families, from siblings to parents to grandparents, aunts, uncles and tons and tons of cousins.

My brother, Neil, was born a couple of years later, the first baby of the generation for our grandparents. My parents stretched themselves to buy the famous house on Avenue Méridian, that I think is the house they loved more than any other they have lived in (in the city) during their 50-year marriage.

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I never knew my mother gardened.

I came along a couple of years later, just a few weeks after my parents made the BIG move to Toronto, in 1976. They left behind their whole world, of family and friends, really the only world they ever knew. When Neil and I were little children, in the late 1970’s in Toronto, our parents built a whole new life for themselves, with new jobs, a new house, and many close friends. We had visits from our extended family in Montreal, but for the most part, in those first few years in Toronto, it was just us. They had started to build their own family, in their newly adopted city. And they always had each other.

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1980. Party of Five. Now that’s a good looking young family.

Our family grew again the year I turned four, when Darcie was born. My mother often reminds me of the days leading up to Darcie’s birth, when I, aged 3, looked at my mother and said…”I will love the baby, even if it’s a boy.”

Well, the baby girl, who my parents always called sweet, quiet, smiley and easygoing, grew to be the little sister I had asked for. The three kids were not a quiet group. The Richler family definitely had a reputation of being loud and sometimes boisterous (okay, Neil not so much, he was just the referee!), and we were always surrounded by tons of family and close friends.

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Happy, and….
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…Just a bit silly.

My parents raised us in a loving and warm home, where we were always encouraged, but not pushed, to be the best we could be. My mother was always my role model of how a woman could have a career and raise a family, and also have her own hobbies and passions. My father has always been the person I look up to as a mensch, as someone so highly regarded by his family, friends and peers. He has inspired me to be ambitious, but always to be honest and decent.

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That’s a great picture of me and my parents!

 

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Chanukah 2019

Were we the postcard Canadian family of the 1970’s and 1980’s? Maybe sometimes. Has everything been perfect for my parents for the past 50 years? Absolutely not. Do they fight? Of course they do, and yes, there can be screaming sometimes. But it’s a marriage founded on mutual respect and

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Summer 2010, with two new babies

friendship. They have raised three kids, celebrated Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings and welcomed eight grandchildren into the world. But they’ve also buried their parents, my mother’s brother and had to say good bye to countless friends over the years. They have seen the best of the world and the worst of the world over the last five decades.

And I believe today, on June 10th, 2021, that their marriage is stronger than ever. They still love music festivals and a nail biter hockey or baseball game. My mother still cooks some of the best food I have ever tasted, and my father is always by her side to eat that food and clean up after (and to vacuum too!). Their country house, that they built over 30 years ago, is still their favourite place on Earth. Bad jokes make them laugh. Chocolate makes them smile. Their grandchildren are central to everything they do. Their dogs, first Oscar and now Teddy, bring them both the greatest joy every day. And family is at the core of who they are.

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I feel fortunate that I could write this post today, as my parents celebrate their special milestone anniversary. Fifty years may have gone by, but the commitment they made and the love they share today is as strong as ever.

Love

 

From All Corners of the World

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My husband and I have a large extended family. And that large extended family lives all over the world. It is easy for a family to lose touch, and for relationships to fade away when brothers, sisters and cousins live far away from each other. Sheer distance and time zones bring on tremendous challenges to stick together and be close.

Our extended family is tight. And I mean all of our family – my aunts, uncles and cousins – David’s brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews – and everyone in between. Our three children have three aunts and four uncles (double that if you include spouses, and we do!), fifteen first cousins and countless great-aunts, great-uncles and other cousins too.

These relatives live all over the world, including Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Israel. It is because of this close relationship with our extended family that we are in Israel right now. Traveling to Israel from Canada is long and expensive. But it’s worth it, just to spend time with our extended family.

During our current visit to Israel we are celebrating a niece’s Bat Mitzvah, a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and even a nephew’s wedding party. They all kindly coordinated their events to occur close to each other to accommodate family who had to travel from all corners of the world (thank you!).

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That’s David in the middle, with his nephew, Ariel, at Ariel’s Bar Mitzvah.

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That’s my mother-in-law at the Kotel’s southern wall with grandchildren from four of five of her children.

I will admit, late December into early January is not my ideal time of year to travel overseas. I am an avid skier, winter storms can halt plans and the costs can be higher. But as I have stated many times, we tend, as a society, to stop everything and travel to the ends of the world when there is a crisis or death. But why don’t we do the same for a celebration – or better said in Hebrew, for a Simcha?

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It’s rare to get all five children together.

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That’s four of eight granddaughters.

For me, missing a family celebration, no matter where it happens in the world, is a missed opportunity. I understand that not everyone has the luxury to travel to see family. But if you can, then do it! But it’s not just about traveling to the other side of the globe – keeping in close touch with family is easier than ever. While some may say that technology is pulling us apart, with the new Screen Generation, it is also bringing us together.

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Cousins hanging out on New Years Eve.

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Three generation New Years Eve selfie

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Always a different group going out. This is dinner at the mall’s food court.

David’s large extended family, whose foundation and soul is their sacred home in St. Donat, Quebec, established a group on WhatsApp called St. Donat Suckers. This ever-growing chat group posts photos, thoughts, recipes and celebratory messages every day. We share our achievements and personal anecdotes.  Because of this wonderful piece of technology, no one feels they are missing anything, anytime.

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Our deck was a good hangout spot in Ein Gedi. Looking at the view or posting to WhatsApp.

Did you hear about that new sushi restaurant in West Seattle? How about the incredible hike in Northern New Zealand? Huge snowstorm in Ottawa. Nephew is engaged. Cousin bought a new house.

Facebook is great. So is Instagram. But the text message is quick and direct. While I travel through Israel I send regular text messages to a text message group I put together with my extended family. I post a photo of my son in a cave and seconds later I see a photo of Matthew’s cousins at the ski hill, ten thousand kilometers away.

We are all over the world, and yet we are together. And right now much of David’s family is together. All five siblings, and their spouses, most of the group of first cousins. His mother, of course. We all just spent a few glorious days together, in honour of our nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, in the desert by the Dead Sea. The desert air and stunning sea views are enough to energize me. Add in quality time with family and you have a winning combination.

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Matthew and David went on a super hike from the Dead Sea and up the mountainside with many cousins.

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Nessa enjoys breakfast and a story about monsters in Ein Gedi with her Uncle Terry.

We are headed home in a few days, back to work and back to school. We may not see many of these relatives for a year or more. But, I am sure we will not lose touch. It may be a twelve hour flight to Israel from Toronto, but it only takes seconds to press send on WhatsApp or text messaging. The world may seem huge at first, but our family keeps it small.

My Brother and his Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

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Have you ever had a terrible horrible no good very bad day? My brother had one of those on Saturday. I know I have had a day like that, when it feels like everything goes wrong. No matter what you do, how hard you try, you just can’t succeed. And it provides great content for my blog.

My brother, Neil, can best be described as a good person. He is kind, generous, friendly to everyone and well-loved. Whether a person is two years-old or ninety-nine, they adore him (except maybe my youngest child who cries when she looks at him). He deserves only good things. But some days that just doesn’t happen, even for Neil.

I believe that much of my early life was shaped by a book by Judith Viorst called Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.

Nothing goes right all day for the main character, Alexander. His mother forgot to put dessert in his lunch, the shoe store didn’t have the style he wanted, his night light burnt out and so much more. His answer to making things better: a move to Australia. It’s the reason for my fascination with Australia for so many years. Everything must be better in Australia, don’t you think?

So, if anyone in my family is having a bad day, it is a terrible horrible no good very bad day. I am reminded of the day a couple of years ago when I dropped my car keys into a sewer grate outside my children’s school during morning drop-off. The day went downhill from there.

So back to my brother. He had a terrible horrible no good very bad on Saturday. Here are three reasons why:

Neck Pain

Have you ever fallen asleep at night in a slightly strange angle and woken up with pain in your neck? You try to turn your head but the pain is awful and then you walk around feeling so stiff that you kind of look like Frankenstein’s cousin. Neil woke up on Saturday with THAT pain in his neck and only with a couple of applications of my parents’ “special” salve did he have some relief. But it was a rough start to his day.

Broken Glass

After a visit to the local country market and a few stops along the way home, we all sat down to a delicious lunch at our country house. We are a good-sized group up here this weekend, of ten people, and it was a feat just to get all ten of us around the table for lunch. My sister-in-law put out quite a spread and my mother brewed some fresh iced tea. Neil grabbed a large glass, filled it with ice and tea and took a sip. First some drops of liquid appeared at the bottom of the glass then the bottom fell out, literally. The actual bottom of the glass, full of cold liquid, fell off. The iced tea spilled all over Neil and of course the table. Who drinks from a glass that does that? My brother.

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It’s upside down, but here is the glass whose bottom fell off.

Ticked Off

The icing on the cake happened in the afternoon. It was a hot day, and we are lucky enough to have a pool at our country house. What better thing to do on a hot day than lounge in the pool? Note that this is not a city pool. We are in the countryside, surrounded by fields and a forest. That means critters large and small. We are often joined in the pool by mosquitos, horse flies and wasps. A new visitor joined us this summer, the tick.

Neil has a unique high-pitched yelp he lets out when he stubs his toe, walks into a sharp corner of a table or, as we know now, is bitten by a tick. While the children splashed in the pool and the adults relaxed on noodles, suddenly Neil began to thrash and scream. He leapt out of the pool and grabbed his upper leg. We saw some blood coming out and a distinct bulls eye marking. We found the culprit (the bug) in the water and scooped it out, still alive. It was a tick.

No one wants to be bitten by a tick. It hurts and this nasty bug can sometimes carry Lyme Disease. We all pulled out our iPhones and read about what to do. We saved the tick in a bag and decided that Neil’s best course of action was a visit to the local walk-in clinic. The tick is now at a lab being tested and my brother just took one heavy dose of antibiotics to ensure that he won’t be sick (though the side effects of this heavy-duty dose may give him a second terrible horrible no good very bad day).

Some people say that good, and bad, things come in threes. So, Neil had his three experiences that came together to give him his terrible horrible no good very bad day.

Some days are like that.

Even in Australia.

I am not a Bandwagon Toronto FC Fan

Toronto FC

Matthew and I are fans of the Mighty Toronto FC, our local Major League Soccer (MLS) club that won the big championship this past weekend. Unlike the bandwagon we joined when the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup a couple of weeks ago, we are the real thing. Well, kind of.

Soccer, or as the rest of the world (except Canada and the United States) calls it, football (no, not the NFL or CFL), is a sport I have always enjoyed. Okay, when I say enjoyed, I mean to say that I enjoy watching. I’m not much of a soccer player. It’s not in my top group of sports that I follow, like baseball, hockey and basketball, but I like it.

I remember when Toronto FC joined the MLS back in 2007, and wow, they were bad. But aren’t expansion teams supposed to be terrible? I watched the odd game and kind of followed them during that first season, and I monitored the team’s progress over the following years as their record steadily improved.

I think my story is quite similar to many others across North America who follow MLS. You won’t find millions of diehard soccer fans across the US and Canada like you may see in Europe or South America. But the MLS fans are loyal. They love soccer and they love their local team.

Toronto FC fans are great, and I want to send a shout-out to all of you who have been watching the games on TV and going to the matches over the past 10 years. Soccer is an exciting sport to watch, and there is always tremendous athleticism on display. Fans are always treated to a great show.

And this year’s Toronto FC team was something special.

This incredible group of athletes broke so many MLS records. The team finished the season with 69 points, which was of course a new league record. It also won a special soccer triple crown: the 2017 Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield and of course the MLS Cup this past weekend. This team is the perfect example of a true champion.

And Matthew and I have been following Toronto FC’s rise to become league champions for a couple of years. We watched the disappointing loss in the league championship game last year, when it all came down to a shoot-out. Wow do I hate shoot-outs (that’s for another day). How can a 90-minute, hard-fought match come down to a few free kicks on a goalie? Really? But I digress.

We knew early on that this season was THE ONE. This team was almost unbeatable, and it was like magic on grass every time they played. I knew who my favourite player was – of course, Jozy Altidore, who dons the jersey with the big number 17 on the back. Matthew agreed with me, of course!

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Matthew was thrilled to meet Jozy Altidore in Chicago

We even had the opportunity, in amazing seats, to see our team play – and win – in Chicago this summer. While we did not receive a warm welcome at Toyota Park from the local Chicago Fire fans, we didn’t care. Our team won! On that day in August we knew we were hooked. And we knew that Toronto FC could go all the way.

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Of course we had to take a selfie from our seats at Toyota Park this summer.

And oh they did. With grace and style. This is a team to remember and to celebrate. We watched every minute of the championship game on Saturday and sat on the edge of our seats as Toronto FC dominated early on. And then MY player, Mr. Jozy Altidore, scored the big goal. And we knew they could do it.

Congratulations to Toronto FC. And congratulations to the loyal fans. Let the celebrations continue.

Do Most of us Really Understand Religion?

job security

A couple of weeks ago I wished all my readers a Happy New Year. When the sun went down on September 20th, it was the start of a new year, according to the Jewish calendar. The first month of the year is called Tishrei. It begins with Rosh Hashana, ten days later we mark Yom Kippur and a few days later, on the 15th of the month, we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot culminates in Shemini Atzeret and Simcha Torah. So, there’s a whole bunch of Jewish holidays crammed into a three-week period every year. Rabbis and scholars tell me that it’s a time of reflection, when sins are considered and our fates are sealed. It is a time of year that for those who observe, religion plays a central role in life. But instead of considering my sins or how good a person I am, I have been thinking more about the question, do most of us really understand religion?

Jews around the world marked Yom Kippur on Friday night and Saturday of this past weekend. The literal translation into English is Day of Atonement. Many people would consider Yom Kippur to be the holiest day of the year. It’s the day of repentance, the day we reflect on our lives and hope that our fates are sealed into the book of life.

The holiday, like all Jewish holidays, begins at sundown. First, we eat before we fast for almost 25 hours (what would a holiday be, no matter what religion you observe, without food?). Then, as the sun sets, the most highly attended prayer service of the year for Jews, begins. Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre is not actually a service rather it is the prayer which opens the holiday of Yom Kippur. Jews around the world have been raised and told by their parents, grandparents and friends that THIS is the holiest night of the year. THiS is the service you must attend, if you are going to go to synagogue just once each year.

The prayer is in Aramaic, a language that is related to Hebrew, but it’s not Hebrew. I am going to make a guess here that the majority of people who are packed into synagogues around the world, who stand there and quietly chant this solemn prayer, have no idea what it means or why they are standing there stuffed into the room with a bunch of well-dressed strangers.

The words the congregation hears, said three times are:

All vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligation, pledges, and promises that we vow or promise to ourselves and to God from this Yom Kippur to the next—may it approach us for good—we hereby retract. May they all be undone, repealed, cancelled, voided, annulled, and regarded as neither valid nor binding. Our vows shall not be considered vows; our renuncia- tions shall not be considered renunciations; and our promises shall not be considered promises.

Then everyone in the room says three times (in Aramaic):

“The entire congregation of the people Israel shall be forgiven, as well as the stranger who dwells among them, for all have erred.”

Then the Rabbi (or cantor) closes with the famous prayer, in Hebrew, She-hecheyanu, : “Barukh atah Adonai, our God, ruler of time and space, for granting us life, for sustaining us, and for bringing us to this moment.”

Then the rest of the night is spent reciting the evening service, known in Hebrew as Ma’ariv.

I have attended many a Kol Nidre service in my 41 years. I have also spent hours at synagogue on Yom Kippur, as I flipped through the prayer book to check how many more pages until I could go home. I read, speak and write Hebrew and can confidently say I understand a fair amount of what’s written in Jewish prayer books. But, does being in synagogue, reading and reciting prayers, and listening to the Rabbi speak make me feel more religious? Does it help me grasp what religion is? For me, definitely not.

Do people suddenly discover religion on Yom Kippur? Do they alight to some spiritual plateau that I have yet to find? Will I ever find it?

This year, I will admit, I did not attend synagogue to hear Kol Nidre chanted. I have been fighting a cold for almost two weeks and didn’t have the strength to get to synagogue. I sent David with the three kids so that I could have a quiet evening at home. I will tell you that those precious few hours in my quiet house gave me the opportunity for true reflection (when I started to ask this question, do most of us understand religion).

By Saturday afternoon I felt better and joined David and the children at synagogue for Yom Kippur’s concluding service, called Ne’ilah. It is the least attended service of the Jewish holiday season, but it’s my favourite. It’s the one when I don’t check to see how many pages are left or stand miserably, pushed up beside some well-dressed stranger.

I find Ne’ilah uplifting, maybe even a bit exciting. As I stood there, as the service came to its climax, as the Book of Life was being sealed for yet another year, I suddenly realized what religion meant for me. It’s not about prayers or fasting or keeping kosher or other observances.

It’s about community.

The Ne’ilah service ended and the Havdalah service began. Havdalah, another Hebrew word, literally means “separation.” It is a wonderful, special ceremony that is performed to separate the Jewish Sabbath (or Holidays) from the rest of the week.

I stood there, holding my baby, arm in arm with my children, as we blessed the candles, spices, wine and the new week. Our synagogue group stood strong together and sang, not because we shared a religion or because we felt more devout but because we were a community. I think, as human beings, we all seek out community.

So maybe I was wrong. Maybe on this Yom Kippur I did finally reach that spiritual plateau. I did not find religion, but I found community.

Forward to School

forward to school

School starts on Tuesday. In how many hours is that? Everyone talks about the kids going back to school, but this week I heard it stated another way, forward to school. I like that. Starting a new school year is not about going backwards, it’s about moving forward. My kids will start a new grade, with new school supplies and new shoes. I hope they will make new friends, renew old friendships and maybe even learn something new too.

I am ready to move forward to school. The last week of summer vacation is hard on all parents. We love our children and we love to spend time with them. But really, the first day of school is a blessing for parents. All routines in our house have disappeared and there is too much screen time happening. They have been going to bed late and sleeping in (well one sleeps in and the other two get up early).

Julia’s bedroom floor is covered in discarded clothes and toys. Matthew prefers to wear his pyjamas all day. Nessa refuses to nap. I am trying to balance work and quality time with the kids that does not include screaming at them or cleaning up their messes.

Yes, I am ready to move forward to school.

I believe that the start of a new school year is the perfect time to start new routines and set new rules in the house. As children get older they can take on some responsibilities. The questions for me are, what responsibilities, and how much do I give them?

My daughter is messy – okay, she is really messy. Her bedroom can easily move from clear skies to hurricane status in minutes when she plays in there. Clothes, dolls, toy kitchen accessories and tiny knick knacks seem to be everywhere. When she wants to avoid her little sister, she finds other key spots in the house to play, and as the summer winds down and she is home a lot, her messes are everywhere.

She responds well to rewards and punishments, but there are no set rules of how to govern her behaviour. The messier her bedroom and surrounding rooms become, the more disorganized she becomes. She has a tendency to lose things as her piles build. Not great for the start of school. So, we need to put a system in place as we move forward to school.

My son is actually quite a neat and tidy child. In his case, he responds well when given tasks and chores that show him we respect that he is getting older. He easily switches from an active and vibrant kid to a lazy adolescent who starts glassy-eyed at the TV or iPad. So, I have to catch him before that screen turns on.

I have to move forward with regular small chores, like making his bed in the morning, throwing laundry in the basket, setting and clearing the kitchen table at meal time and helping watch his baby sister when I am making dinner.

Then there is homework. My kids do not receive a ton of homework, but once school ramps up they both expect to have some most days. Some assignments may be due the following day, end of the week or weeks later. This year I need to set up a routine for doing homework in the house. The kids each need a consistent place and time to do their homework each day, as they both respond well to routine. And that has to happen from day one once they go forward to school.

So, today is Thursday, which means five more sleeps until the early morning preparations happen to get the kids up and out the door for their first day of school. I will let them laze around in their pyjamas, screens on and toys scattered for a few more days. And then we get serious and focus on a new school year. My very best to everyone as we get ready to go forward to school.