APG Recipe: Blueberry Buckle

There are a few classic New England recipes that I love, and blueberry buckle is right at the top of the list. A buckle is basically the love child of a dense cake and a streusel, stuffed with fresh berries and topped with a spiced crumble layer. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, meaning it’s perfect for either a dessert or as a special breakfast treat (so… brunch, anyone?). A buckle studded with blueberries is one of my favorite comfort foods, and this one is so easy to make that it’s nearly foolproof.

My first memory of having blueberry buckle is from high school – a friend brought it to an after-school meaning, and I had no idea what she was talking about buckles and blueberries for. I was imagining some sort of bizarre puritan tradition, and was delighted to be handed a slice of what I then thought was a coffee cake on crack.

Except blueberry buckle, in my book, is ten zillion times better than coffee cake on crack.

The cake is dense and moist without being too heavy, and the sweetness of the berries is off-set by the lemon zest in the batter. I love how the spices complement the fruit and add a bit of depth to every bite. It’s perfect warm or room temperature, alone or with a custard or cream on the side. Basically, it’s how I imagine a Robert Frost poem would taste and smell.

Because I’m a nerd like that.

I’ve heard a lot of different reasons a buckle is named what it is, but the most common explanation is that the weight of the streusel topping keeps the cake from rising too high, causing it to look buckled or crumpled. In some areas of New England it’s called a slump, and people use various seasonal berries, but no matter what you call it, it’s delicious and a classic comfort food.

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It never clicked that a buckle was such a regional food until I made it for the missionaries when they came over for supper as a dessert one evening a few weeks ago, and Elder Carter asked a few weeks later if I could make that “blueberry thingy again” the next time they came for a meal. I had spent forever thinking that I was just an ignorant teenager until my buckle enlightenment.

Being so informed that not many people had heard of a buckle, I felt it was my duty as a New Englander to share the recipe with any who stumble across this little blog who might not have had the blessing of blueberry buckle. Spread the enlightenment, as it were. This recipe makes enough to fill a 9 inch pie pan or similarly sized baking pan, so if you’re feeding a crowd (by ‘a crowd’ I mean more than like two people, because this stuff is really good and you’ll want more for breakfast the next morning), double the recipe and use a 9×13″ baking pan.

{Also, can we just talk real fast about how amazing parchment paper is? It’s probably my favorite kitchen splurge, and I use it for everything. From lining baking pans to using it to wrap garlic for roasting, it makes clean up a breeze, especially with something sticky and sugary like berries (because let’s face it, scrubbing caramelized bits of blueberry from pyrex dishes is SO not my jam… actually, dishes in general are not my jam). Everyone should have a roll of parchment paper in their kitchen arsenal – it’s like God’s gift to bakers.}

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For Streusel:

½ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. packed light brown sugar
2 tbs. granulated sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
4 tbs. butter, softened

For Cake:

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
10 tbs. butter, softened
2/3 c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. salt
splash of vanilla extract
zest of half a lemon
2 large eggs
3 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)

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Preheat oven to 350°F and line a medium-sized baking dish with parchment paper (trim sides as needed, but allow enough to be able to grasp the paper to remove the buckle later) and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

For Streusel:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, both sugars, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg on low. Break up any lumps of brown sugar before adding butter. Mix until the butter is completely incorporated into the dry ingredients and resembles wet sand. The streusel should hold together when pressed. Transfer to another bowl. Feel free to treat it a little like play-doh – it’s pretty amusing.

For the Cake:
In a small bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, and baking powder; set aside. In the stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, salt, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, until everything is combined. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Make sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. The batter will be very thick. Remove from stand and gently fold in blueberries with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed.

Be aware that fresh blueberries will smash and turn your batter blue, so if you’re looking for a pretty, golden-colored buckle, using frozen blueberries will work better. They will, however, make the dough colder, and therefore a little harder to spread into the baking dish. At this point, spray your hand with some non-stick cooking spray and press it into the dish, making sure to fill the corners of the dish.

Transfer to prepared baking dish and press into an even layer. Pick up a handful of streusel and squeeze into a clump. Break off small pieces of the clump over the batter until completely covered.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the streusel is golden brown and a fork inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool about 20 minutes before lifting the buckle out of the pan. Serve warm or room temperature.

***

Feel free to download the recipe here to make it easier to print (and if you’re like me, to tape to the fridge or the cabinet to keep it visible but out of the way while baking):apg-blueberry-buckle-recipe

I hope you enjoy your little taste of New England!

…and good luck sharing. ;)

 

Cardinal Lessons

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Snow is as much a part of a New England life as Dunkin Donuts, maple everything, or the Yankees/Sox rivalry – it’s normal come winter, and we don’t think much of it. You keep your shovel and boots handy, stoke up a fire, and settle in til the roads are clear. Accordingly, I didn’t think much of the small storm that came through a few days ago, bringing with it some icy winds and several inches of powder, until I glanced out the window to the bird feeders at the edge of the tree line. Dozens of birds, from cardinals to woodpeckers, were braving the snow and wind to collect seed as the snow fell heavier and faster.

I ventured outside all bundled up with my camera in hand in the hopes of snapping a few photos in the the swirling snow, expecting to only get a few decent shots. I was surprised at how brave these little birds were, having this woollen clad monster standing as close as can be to their feeders, a black contraption snapping away in the silence, shifting to find better angles and trudging through the snow. img_5130-edit

It didn’t take long for me to realize two “Cardinal Lessons” were hidden in the midst of the snowy wind  – those little lessons God gives me when I’m paying attention to the everyday things that I often overlook. Without getting over-analytical or philosophical (you all really don’t need to get too deep into my head, so I’ll spare you), here they are.

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First.

His eye is truly on the sparrow.

Or in this case, the finches.

And you guessed it, we are those little finches (you may choose your bird in this metaphor, I suppose, so rock on you cardinals). Papa God’s looking out for us, taking care of us, giving us what we need if we venture outside our comfort zones. Just like these birds know they’ll get fresh seed from my dad (over the span of roughly 3 months he’s acquired nearly a dozen feeders and our birds have doubled in size, so they know he’ll feed them), we can be assured that the Lord will help us to receive what we need to press forward. He doesn’t discriminate or play favorites – those blessings are there for everyone.

I mean, occasionally He probably closes his eyes and sighs at the birdbrained things we do, but it’s only because He loves us enough to care, right?

But just think! God told us time and again in the scriptures how much He loves those sparrows of His – but He also told us that He loves us SO MUCH MORE.

How comforting is that? To know how much He loves us? To get a glimpse of that eternal and perfect love?

(and it’s a step up from being compared to the dust of the earth, so there’s that)

We’ve got to make the choice to participate, to learn and to grow and to accept what He gives. Accept the blessings, accept the love, accept at times the chastening. Not just accept, but receive. Make it a part of us, of who we are. He knows us individually and perfectly, and He’s keeping an eye on us, cheering us on, and helping to choreograph the blessings in our lives. He’s also offering loving, if stern, correction. If we gather up the courage to brave the storms, we know He’ll be there, hands outstretched and waiting for us.

And like my dad never seems to run out of birdseed for his birds, God will never run out of blessings to shower on us as we seek Him out.

Second.

Birds of a feather flock together.

Have you ever noticed that the more birds are gathered, the more daring they become? It’s because they’re comfortable and gather strength from one another. I’ve watched as a papa cardinal stands watch over a dozen assorted birds while they eat – from the slightly obnoxious woodpecker who hits metal more than he hits suet to the little chickadees who squabble over millet to the finches who refuse to be still for more than five seconds to the placid mourning doves who scour the ground for leftovers. And it’s not just the finches looking out for the other finches, it’s all of the little guys watching out for each other. It doesn’t matter what they are, just that they’re focused on the same thing. And when they’re all gathered together, not much fazes them. Together they’ll drive off the squirrels and aren’t scared by the dog tearing by like an idiot.

People are much the same. In addition to the short attention span we tend to share with our feathered friends, we gain strength from gathering just like they do. It’s a lot easier to see the blessings you’ve when you’re sharing them with those around you (and your birdfeeder gets replenished more frequently, so there’s that). And, God promised that when a few are gathered in His name, He’ll be there too (unless we’re all crows, because murder isn’t cool).

I know personally that I learn so much more when I’m able to do so alongside friends and family. I find strength each Sunday as I gather together with members of my congregation to partake of the sacrament, to serve, and to worship. I love that gathering is part of God’s plan! I mean, sometimes we ruffle each other’s feathers, but hey. The atonement is real.

Guys, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are just so cool. Yes, they’re perfect and infinite and  omniscient, but they’re also just really down with going with the flow and teaching us on the fly, in the everyday little moments. They have so many things to teach us if we’re paying attention. I mean, I had a ‘come to Jesus’ by chilling outside (literally) with the birds for forty five minutes. These are very personalized lessons they’re giving us, if we just look around with greater awareness (and a sense of humor, I mean, I’ve spent this entire post comparing us all to birds). And just because they’re small lessons doesn’t mean they’re no less important.

So let’s all remember that we’re  God’s sparrows (or flamingoes, toucans, or pelicans, I mean, you do you, hun), and that Father’s keeping an eye on us, and also that we’ve got the coolest flocks around to gather strength from. So let’s do it.

You bring the sunflower seeds, and owl bring the bird puns. Don’t make it hawkward.

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APG Travels: In Our Lovely Deseret

I spent a whirlwind 6 days in the Salt Lake Valley last week, visiting friends, celebrating a wedding, and eating far too much food that was too good to pass up. It was exhilarating, exhausting, and everything I needed to kick off the new year. It was such a blessing to be reunited with several of my mission companions and others that I served with, as well as making new friends and meeting up with old ones.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about Utah – the last time I was traveled to the Salt Lake valley, I spent 11 days in “Spirit Prison” (the missionary training center) struggling with altitude sickness, stress, and navigating food allergies in a dining hall with limited options. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the MTC, but it wasn’t easy. So Utah left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth (also a brown taste, considering I’m an eastern girl and love my green mountains and trees, and Utah is quite brown).

I was pleasantly surprised! Apparently, Utah and I are a better match in the middle of winter than in late summer. It doesn’t hurt that it’s an entirely different kind of cold than New England, meaning the temperatures hovering around freezing most of the week meant it felt pretty mild – perfect for adventuring around the Salt Lake Valley!

On Friday and Saturday, the day was spent celebrating Cassidy’s pending nuptials with a bachelorette party at a local crepe joint in Provo, her sealing, and then the reception. I expected to be a little emotional, watching a mission companion I love dearly (I rarely meet someone who I click with as quickly as I did her) get married for time and eternity. I did pretty good, no tears, until I saw her brother step forward for a long, tearful hug. Anyone left in the room who witnessed the love radiating through the room with dry eyes had dry eyes no longer by that point.

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Please ignore my crazy bangs and just appreciate the four of us mission-mates reunited for Cassidy’s bachelorette party.

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Blurry, but priceless.

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This is probably one of my favorite candids of Cass & her new husband, Spencer, came out of the temple.img_2307-edit

Isn’t she stunning?

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She & Spencer were married in the new Provo City Center temple, which is absolutely beautiful, inside and out. I love that after the old tabernacle burnt down, it was renovated and made into a second temple for the city.

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It was also such a blessing to meet up with friends – it was just the pick-me-up I needed and such a perfect start to 2017. I got the chance to explore Provo and Salt Lake, although I slacked on taking digital pictures (got loads of polaroids! I will post them once they are scanned and uploaded).

Here are some of the highlights:

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A session at the old Provo temple with Madeleine, one of my mission companions, which was double the experience because I never had the chance to attend the temple while at the MTC.

Exploring Center Street in Provo and Temple Square in Salt Lake with Ofa – isn’t she gorgeous? (And again, with my bangs)

Bookstores and bakeries galore!

I had heard about the Sweet Tooth Fairy bakery and how incredible their cupcakes are on social media, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they live up to their reputation! My red velvet cupcake I had on my cupcake date with Madeleine and Tessa was divine. And I probably spent a little too much money as I combed through Pioneer Book and Seagull Book in Provo. The perils of being a nerd.

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These crepes made my soul so happy, I went twice. :)

It wasn’t a crazy fancy trip, nothing huge, but it was definitely a lot of fun. I feel like the majority of what makes travel exciting is people – reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. So ten points to Utah for being home to the majority of my friends!

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xoxo,

Meg

Grace & Salt

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This afternoon was spent in the kitchen, baking cookies and brownies for the youth at church and a pan of from-scratch cornbread for dinner tonight. The house was quiet, the windows thrown wide open to let in the cool autumn air, and the dog kept me company as she curled up in a patch of sunlight coming through the back door. It was good.

Baking and cooking in an empty house gives me time to have a chat with my Father in Heaven – that’s part of the reason why I love it (though I’ll admit, the food is a big part of it too). To be honest, I was feeling entirely inadequate and more than a little hopeless. So I had a lot to talk to Him about.

Almost a month ago, I was called to be the 2nd counsellor in the Young Women’s presidency in my ward. I was heartbroken to be released as the gospel principles teacher (definitely went home and cried over it), but most of my anxiety came from feeling totally inadequate for the calling. I’m 24 years old – at least ten years younger than all the other youth leaders in the ward. I’m still new to the ward, I don’t know the youth or their parents, I’m unfamiliar with the new curriculum for Sunday lessons, and I don’t have my life figured out.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared of a bunch of 12 year old girls.

Most of it comes from not feeling like I’m enough. I have this burning desire to strengthen and love my girls, to help them gain a sure footing in the gospel of Jesus Christ, to help them believe in themselves and in each other. I want them to be fearless, to be brave, and to shout their own worth. I want them to shine.

And part of me felt like I wasn’t the one to help them do that. That I’m not qualified, that I’m not experienced enough, that I’m not the best person for the job.

I’m pouring this all out to Father as I measure out ingredients for bread and cookies simultaneously. A teaspoon of baking soda into this bowl, a cup of corn meal into the other.

One of the recipes noted that the teaspoon of salt was optional, which surprised me. Generally when you’re baking, salt is crucial – it balances the flavours, brightens the taste, and amplifies the other ingredients.

All of a sudden, as I was tossing a pinch of salt into a bowl, I was directed to the verse in Colossians that counsels Saints to

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

(Colossians 4:2-6)

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt.”

…what?

I was reminded of the scripture in Matthew praises and warns in the same breath – “Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”

Okay. I get that. Be the kind of disciple who is loyal and steady, lasting. A Saint who improves those around them simply by existing. Don’t be the kind of person who gets turned into a pillar of salt, though. #lotswife

But grace and salt?

Father and I chatted for the rest of the afternoon via His Word in between batches of cookies. I mulled it over even as I helped direct our youth in their dance rehearsal for the cultural celebration next month, as I tried to troubleshoot what really is an attempt to shepherd squirrels, to rally the troops, and to get some semblance of order in place before relying solely on the promise of bribery to get them through their paces.

And then I realized. It’s not about my proverbial salt and the grace that’s in me. It’s about His grace and what He needs my salt for.

Paul boldly declared in his letter to the Corinthians,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

(1 Corinthians 15:10)

God doesn’t call us because we’re qualified. Next to Him, none of us are. He doesn’t call us because we know everything, because we’re infinitely patient, or because we’ve somehow leveled up in the game of life. He doesn’t call us because we know the answers.

He calls us because He is graceful, and that grace is what makes the difference. He calls us because He can work with salt – with loyalty and with covenants. His grace gives us the strength, gives us the wisdom, gives us the confidence. It’s not us. It’s through us.

And it doesn’t just relate to the callings we receive or the trials we face. It’s about every second of every day. It’s the whole, the definition, the heart of it. It’s about the very heart of who we are.

So many of Satan’s lies revolve around us being inadequate. That we aren’t enough.

But because of the grace of our Father and the grace of our Savior, we are enough. They make us enough. They encompass every part of our existence, every recess of our minds, and every depth of our souls. We give it all we can, and they make all the difference.

American Evangelist Beth Moore put it perfectly.

“Grace is they eye-popping, knee dropping, earth quaking, pride breaking, dark stabbing, heart grabbing, friend mending, mind-bending, lame walking, mute talking, slave freeing, devil fleeing, death tolling, stone rolling, veil tearing, glory flaring, chin lifting, sin sifting, dirt bleaching, world reaching, past covering, spirit hovering, child defending, happy ending, heaven glancing, feet dancing, power of the Cross.”

We are grace and salt because They are grace and salt. They are compassionate and loyal, merciful and strong. Because of the love of God and the condecension of Christ, we are enough.

 

 

We are all enough.

 

 

 

{And remember, like JK Rowling said, “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” And because you’re enough, everything is possible. Even squirrel-wrangling, dance rehearsal centered youth nights that still draw the Spirit.}

 

 

Come to the Temple!

 

For anyone who follows me on social media, you’ll see that I’ve been posting updates about the LDS temple that was being built in Hartford and know that it’s dear to my heart. The construction has been completed, and the Church is hosting an open house for the public in the area to come and tour our temple before we dedicate it to the Lord (you can reserve a space in a free tour here).

I had the opportunity to attend the open house tonight with my family, which I had been looking forward to for months. It was first announced in October of 2010 that Hartford would be home to a temple, a sacred building dedicated to the worship of the Lord where members of the Church make further covenants with Heavenly Father and go to learn.

I remember the day it was announced like it was yesterday. It was my first General Conference away from home – I’d been at Southern Virginia for just over a month and was watching the sessions from the little chapel in Buena Vista. Because we have a temple in Boston and another in Manhattan, I wasn’t expecting an announcement for one to be built in Hartford, despite the fact that one had been announced decades earlier (and the plans had fallen through). President Monson announced that a temple would be built within the boundaries of my home stake during the first session that weekend.

And I bawled.

Uncontrollably.

I was overcome with gratitude, love, and excitement.

And the poor recently returned missionary boy sitting next to me looked at me, nonplussed, before handing me a tissue and a handful of animal crackers, patting me awkwardly on the shoulder with the hesitation and discomfort of a guy who had just come home from two years of “lock your heart” talks.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around the announcement of such a beautiful and sacred building being built in what was practically my backyard (in the New England sense, anyway). I was overjoyed, ecstatic, and the temple totally consumed my thoughts, prayers, and studies.

(For a more thorough explanation of why temples are important to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, check out this link or this video)

The week before I reported to the Missionary Training Center before my mission, I was able to watch the ground chosen for the temple be dedicated by President Monson, the prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During my mission, I received numerous emails and letters detailing the progress of the temple, and even a little jar of the dirt from the grounds from the groundbreaking ceremony (thanks, Mama Bird. No one could understand my excitement over a little tiny jar of New England soil, but it meant the world). Upon returning home, the first thing I wanted to do was go see the progress for myself, which meant braving the New England cold and snow just days after coming home tanned and warmed by the California snow. My heart was as full as the day our temple was announced.

I was bowled over tonight by those same feelings as we approached the temple just as the sun was setting (after being stuck in wicked Hartford traffic wherein I only hollered at one person, thankyouverymuch). I was so grateful, so excited, and was hit with a wave of joy that I can’t properly express in a few sentences.


I love the temple – it is my favorite place in the world to be. I go to the temple to draw closer to my Savior and to learn more about my Father in Heaven. I go seeking peace and the answers to many questions and concerns. I go because it is a reminder that this earth is a temporary home, and that my eternal home is with my Heavenly Father.

It was such a blessing to be able to introduce my family, who aren’t members of the Church, to the feelings of the temple – the sacred peace, the currents of joy, and the majesty of the House of the Lord.

To see my family walk through the rooms and corridors of the temple was incredible. I was able to quietly explain, along with presentations from members throughout the temple, what each room was used for, to point out my favorite paintings and the scriptures behind them, and to tell them my favorite parts of the temple. It was a blessing to see Tori’s face light up as she peered into the baptistry at the twelve oxen (she whispered to me, “is the whole temple like this?” her blue eyes wide with wonder) and to see my family reflected in the mirrors of the celestial and sealing rooms, glimpsing a symbol of eternity.

(Tori, as we were walking back to the car, boldly told her mom, “You can’t disbehave in the House of the Lord ’cause it’s sacred, and if you do, you automatically go to hell!” – no, I didn’t teach her that, and yes, it did make me nearly cry with laughter. Kerri promptly told her we are now going to show her a picture of the temple whenever she ‘disbehaves’ as a reminder to behave.)


I felt like walking through the temple gave my family a better understanding of why I love it, of why I do what I do and believe what I believe. The temple and the covenants made there are such a huge part of who I am and who I strive to be, and I feel that the open house gave my family a better grasp of the ‘what’ behind my love of the temple. And it was also an opportunity to share the feelings of the temple that can’t be done justice through description.

It was also heart-warming to be walking through the temple with our little tour group, only to be surprised by men, women, and youth I have known since I was a  youth myself, as well as members I’ve met since moving into the Norwich ward. It was a reminder that we’re all family, that the temple is about community and connection in Christ, that our similarities in the eternities transcend the differences we find in mortality.

(And it was such a sweet experience to see one of the sisters who was my young women’s leader when I was younger for the first time in years as I walked into one of the instruction rooms!)

So I guess this post is my formal invitation for my loved ones in the New England area, and to those who ever have the opportunity* to attend a temple open house:

Come to the temple.

Take the time to walk through the House of the Lord and feel the peace that fills the rooms and hallways, to learn about what we believe, and to feel the love of the Lord. We’re not going to shove you in the water of the baptismal font and declare you a member-under-duress (because we believe in agency, ya’ll). There’s nothing to make you uncomfortable. There’s no pressure. There’s only things to learn and questions to be answered and peace to enjoy. There’s nothing like it, and I want everyone to have experienced that peace and overwhelming joy at least once in their lives.

Come to the temple, my friends!

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*If you don’t have the opportunity, or have questions, please feel free to ask! I’d be more than willing to answer questions, have a conversation, or point you in the direction of answers! (Contact info in the ‘contact me’ section of the blog)